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This chapter brings to light system-wide trends that are affecting the capacity of institutions to fulfill their obligations under the Access to Information Act. We describe five system-wide interconnected issues that emerged from information obtained from the institutions selected for this year’s review: information management, time extensions, consultations, human resources and leadership.
If institutions are not able to efficiently manage information requested under the Act, then it follows that they will have difficulty in responding to requests in a timely and complete manner. In fact, we have observed a definite trend toward an increase in the volume of pages reviewed by institutions, some of which appears to be the result of poor information management retaining multiple copies of electronic mail messages, for example. Poor information practices such as this increase exponentially the time taken to complete information requests since each of these multiple records must be reviewed in the absence of a single, authoritative archived email.
There are many similar examples of the challenges the federal government must confront to adapt its access to information regime to a dynamic, fast-paced and digital environment. This regime was shaped in the 1970s and developed in the 1980s around the realities of the government at that time. It has not kept up with dramatic changes to the context it is required to operate in that were brought about mainly by advancements in technology, such as the Internet. Too much continues to be done conventionally. Not only does this digital divide affect the delivery of services and information to requesters, it also has a tremendous impact on the capacity of federal institutions to provide complete, accurate and timely responses to requesters. Outmoded, inconsistent or inefficient records management practices and systems, for example, slow down the process of finding and retrieving records and also puts into question the thoroughness of the search. As one representative from an institution observed, “the information management challenge has not yet been solved.”
On the other hand, work to improve records management is under way. In 2002, the Access to Information Review Task Force said that “there cannot be better access to information without better information management.2” We concur but note that seven years later there is an even more urgent need for leadership and government-wide action in this area.
2 Access to Information: Making it Work for Canadians, June 2002, p. 5.
That the Treasury Board Secretariat, in collaboration with the relevant institutions
- conduct an assessment of information management practices in federal institutions;
- develop an action plan to address deficiencies in information management in federal institutions;
- measure the federal institutions’ performance on the use of effective information practices on an ongoing basis; and
- ensure that federal institutions are properly resourced to develop and sustain effective information management practices.
That the Treasury Board Secretariat develop and maintain state of the art training on information management practices and tailor such training to the needs of the Access to Information regime.
Response to recommendation 1 and 2
The Treasury Board Secretariat acknowledges the importance of the management of government information in its vision statement:
"In the Government of Canada, information is safeguarded as a public trust and managed as a strategic asset to maximize its value in the service of Canadians."
In 2007, the Secretariat developed the Framework for the Management of Information in the Government of Canada to achieve this vision. With the framework as a foundation, the Secretariat launched the Government of Canada's Information Management Strategy and Action Plan in 2008, which identifies a series a specific, concrete deliverables to be developed each year to support improved information management across the Government of Canada.
The Secretariat's activities in support of the Strategy and Action Plan include the launch, in June 2008, of an inventory of initiatives and best practices, as well as the ongoing development of an Outreach and Engagement Plan to raise employee awareness of their information management responsibilities and the value of information management in improving the delivery of service in the Government of Canada. The Secretariat recently completed the Information Management Competency Standards which will be published by the Canadian General Standards Board in the coming months. The Secretariat is working closely with the Canada School of the Public Service to develop an action plan to facilitate the Canada School's review of information management course materials to incorporate best practices and emphasize responsibilities related to access to information and privacy (ATIP).
In addition, the Secretariat obtains data on information management practices within individual departments through the annual Management Accountability Framework (MAF) assessment process. The MAF process is used to monitor departments' compliance with the Policy on Information Management and the Directive on Information Management Roles and Responsibilities. Departments are required to demonstrate that they have an information management strategy in place to reduce complexity and duplication, promote alignment, interoperability and information sharing, and optimize service delivery within the organization and across the Government of Canada. Furthermore, departments need to demonstrate that they are making progress on the implementation of that strategy. The Secretariat is developing a roadmap for MAF that will establish the evolving approach to measure compliance with the Policy on Information Management for the next five fiscal years. As we move forward, an assessment of the progress made by institutions on the implementation of the Directive on Recordkeeping, which is currently under development, will be key for MAF.
Furthermore, the Secretariat developed an Information Management Internal Services Profile that will allow institutions to assess the relative effort required and their capacity to support information management as an internal service and will lead to the development of service standards and key performance indicators associated with information management as an internal service. The Secretariat has also initiated the development of a framework for measuring information management performance in departments subject to the Policy on Information Management, both at the departmental level and government-wide.
Finally, in the summer of 2008, the Secretariat established the Resourcing Working Group. Composed of Assistant Deputy Ministers, the mandate of the working group is to explore options, such as reallocation of funds and establishing
shared services, for resourcing ongoing improvement in information management capacity across government. An Information Management Resourcing Framework is currently in development.
Data gathering for the review period has given rise to serious concerns about the quality of the information the OIC obtained from institutions.
The combination of greater emphasis on contextual factors and our interest in qualitative information, along with the traditional quantitative data, created challenges for institutions in responding to the questionnaire and for us in analyzing the data.
We recognize that this situation was due in part to relatively short notice we gave institutions about the type and scope of information we were gathering. We also recognize that some institutions were not able to provide this information without undue interference with their operations. At a minimum, we were able to obtain similar information to what is provided annually to the Treasury Board Secretariat3, but we did uncover irregularities and inconsistencies between this data and what institutions provided to us, which is a cause of concern.
We conclude that the data collected by the Treasury Board Secretariat does not provide an accurate picture of the performance of institutions and that more and better data is essential to properly assess individual and systemic performance.
That the Treasury Board Secretariat collects the following additional annual statistics, starting in fiscal year 2010–2011:
- the number of pages reviewed for requests: in total and on average per request;
- the number of pages reviewed for incoming consultation requests : in total and on average per consultation request ;
- the number of pages disclosed in part or in total;
- the number of requests completed within statutory timelines;
- the average time to complete a request.
The review process for 2007-2008 specifically focused on institutions’ use of time extensions to gather evidence on the impact it has on delays. Federal institutions must complete access to information requests within 30 days of receipt or take a time extension.4 This can only be done if specific conditions described in section 9 of the Act apply (see box below for more information). The length of these extensions is not constrained by any statutory limitation. The only norm is for the extension to be for a “reasonable period of time.”
Paragraph 9(1)(a) allows an institution to extend the deadline for responding to an information request that involves a large volume of records (or a search through a large volume of records) such that meeting the 30-day limit would impose an “undue burden” on the institution’s operations.
Paragraph 9(1)(b) allows an institution to extend the deadline if consultations that are required in order to respond to the request cannot be completed within 30 days.
Paragraph 9(1)(c) allows an institution to extend the deadline in cases where notice of the request and of the federal institution’s intent to disclose information must be given to a third party pursuant to section 27.
A requester unhappy with delays due to time extensions can complain to the OIC but, beyond that, checks and balances on the use and length of time extensions are limited and the compliance model in the Act is weak. Federal institutions are only required by law to notify the Information Commissioner of any extension beyond 30 days (as per paragraph 9(2) of the Act). Further, there is no sanction provided in the Act for failure to provide this notice. As observed during the review of notices received during 2007–2008, institutions did not consistently comply with this requirement.
There is also limited guidance on the use of time extensions and their duration. The TBS Manual indicates that “extensions should be geared to the amount of work required in processing a request and be for as short a time as possible.5” Jurisprudence from the Federal Court indicates that the institutions must state cogent, genuine reasons for the extension, and for its length.
In terms of the Act, completing an information request means to give written notice to the requester as to whether or not the requested record will be released in whole or in part, and, if access is to be given, to provide the record in whole or in part.
Treasury Board Policy Suite/Requests/Extensions, http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=13779§ion=text#cha14
Canada (Information Commissioner) v. Canada (Minister of External Affairs)  3 F.C. 514, at 526.
The OIC looked at historical trends in the timeliness of responses to information requests, bearing in mind the Act’s intention is that institutions will normally respond to requests within 30 days. We started with the premise that extensions should only be required for a small number of requests and be as short as possible under the circumstances. Although we cannot draw firm conclusions from the data we gathered as to whether extensions were justified in all cases, our analysis shows a trend toward greater use of time extensions and for longer periods of time. This trend is not explained by overall growth in the number of information requests that occurred during the same period. We would have hoped to see, at worst, that the growth in the use of extensions was no greater than growth in the number of information requests. In fact, we mostly saw the opposite.
The OIC must be cautious about drawing firm conclusions on the basis of a three-year set of data drawn from a small set of institutions. There are also some irregularities and inconsistencies in the data available on extensions. Our conversations with individual institutions produced several plausible explanations for the growing significance of extensions over the past several years. Nonetheless, we have gathered sufficient evidence to question whether the degree to which extensions are being used can be fully justified under the Act.
For instance, some institutions have made significant gains in improving their deemed refusal scores, while simultaneously making greater use of time extensions. This may of course be perfectly legitimate. Indeed, some cases of deemed refusals in previous years might have been due to institutions not taking extensions in circumstances in which it would have been appropriate to do so. Having said that, we cannot help but wonder whether the coincidence of improved deemed refusal scores and increased use of extensions is evidence of institutions focusing more on their report card scores than on fulfilling the fundamental objectives of the Act. The use of long extensions as an insurance policy against having requests fall into deemed refusal status (by being delayed beyond the statutory timelines in the Act) is a tactic we learned about in our interviews.
The OIC is also concerned that institutions are using extensions as a way to cope with chronic understaffing of access to information units and with deficiencies in records management. As noted earlier, extensions should be the exception rather than the norm for a unit that is adequately resourced and has an efficient information management framework. When one or both of these elements are not present, and this is often the case, federal institutions may be tempted to use extensions to help them manage their workload while at the same time keeping within statutory timelines.
More discipline is required on the use of time extensions. The OIC will closely monitor the notices institutions submit to us, comparing them to the number of extensions they report to the Treasury Board Secretariat as having taken during the year. We will also undertake a systemic investigation of the use of extensions across federal institutions.
There is also a need for better and stronger data on extensions in order to assess whether their use is consistent with the objectives of the Act.
That the Treasury Board Secretariat clarify the methodology for reporting on time extensions and, starting in 2010–2011, break down the reporting requirements of extensions into the following categories:
- number of requests extended pursuant to section 9;
- for each reason for the extension (searching, consultations, third party), the length of the extension:
- less than 30 days;
- 30–60 days;
- 61–90 days;
- 91–120 days;
- 121–150 days;
- 151–180 days;
- 181–210 days;
- 211–250 days;
- above 250, by units of 50 days.
- for each reason for the extension (searching, consultations, third party), the average actual time it took to receive a response.
Consultations create challenges for the administration of the Act. Yet they have not received the special attention they deserve. The whole question of consultations has largely flown under the radar as evidenced by the fact that statistics are not collected on the volume of consultation requests institutions handle each year. Apart from case-by-case information gathered in complaint investigations and through this report cards process, there is no data on how consultation requests are treated by institutions.
Responses to our questionnaire and our interviews with institutions suggest that there are two aspects of concern with respect to consultation requests: the first is the volume and their impact on institutions’ workload; the second is the delays caused by consultation requests.
The volume and impact of consultations is of particular interest. The need to consult arises from system-wide interdependencies between institutions, which are a natural consequence of the growing connectedness or horizontality of government operations. It is becoming increasingly rare for any one particular policy or operational issue and the documents related to them to be of interest solely to one federal institution. As a result, consultation requests are increasing the workload of institutions. For example, requests for consultation sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) represent as much as 58 percent of their overall workload; for Justice Canada, it is as high as 75 percent. This burden on institutions is not currently recognized, measured or appropriately resourced.
The second aspect relates to delays resulting from consultations particularly mandatory consultations that create a noteworthy system-wide bottleneck.7 The institution in receipt of the request remains responsible for completing the request within the statutory timelines and is dependent upon the efficiency and goodwill of the consulted institution. Whenever an institution determines that consultation is necessary, it will invoke an extension based on an estimate of the time to complete the consultation. Ideally, this estimate is consensually determined with the consulted institution. If the time required for consulting is underestimated, the responsible institution will very likely find itself in violation of the statutory timelines. If it is overestimated, the request will take longer than necessary. Our finding, in the case of some institutions, of a sizeable gap between the length of time claimed for an extension for the purpose of a consultation and the actual time taken to get a response from the consulted institution, is troubling in this regard.
Institutions have developed and adopted various practices in order to manage the risk of long delays resulting from consultation requests. For example, an institution might release the information not subject to consultation and consider the matter closed.
There is no shortage of good ideas for institutions to pick from to improve consultations. We have observed effective or expeditious consultations where institutions work closer together. For example, Justice Canada and Library and Archives Canada use collaborative instruments such as memoranda of understanding to expedite the processing of requests subject to consultations. National Defence instituted a tasking team to concentrate on incoming and outgoing consultations. Justice Canada also introduced a fast-track process to respond to low-risk requests for consultations on solicitor-client privilege.
It stands to reason that, if an institution has to choose between allocating scarce resources to an information request for which it is accountable, or handling a consultation request from another institution for which it is not accountable, the institution is likely to focus on its own information request in order not to jeopardize its performance rating. But what is optimal for the institution when considered in isolation is not necessarily optimal for the access to information system as a whole. One institution’s risk management strategy becomes another institution’s problem, as well as a problem for the information requester.
7 The Treasury Board Secretariat requires all requests involving matters relating to international affairs, defence or national security (section 15) and matters relating to law enforcement and penal institutions (section 16) to consult with relevant institutions. Matters related to Cabinet confidences (section 69) are also subject to mandatory consultations.
That the Treasury Board Secretariat collects annual statistics, starting in fiscal year 2010–2011, on consultations pursuant to paragraphs 9(1)b) and 9(1)c):
- For consultation requests sent to other federal institutions:
- number of consultation requests sent;
- number of mandatory consultation requests sent pursuant to:
- section 15;
- section 16;
- section 69;
- number of pages sent for review;
- average time to receive a response;
- overall ;
- for mandatory consultations;
- For consultation requests received from other federal institutions:
- number of consultation requests received;
- number of pages reviewed;
- average time to respond;
- For consultation requests sent to third parties (pursuant to paragraphs 9(1)b) and 9(1)c) ):
- number of consultation requests sent;
- average time to receive a response;
Response to recommendations 3, 4 and 5
Collection of Statistics
Since the coming into force of the Access to Information Act in 1983, the Treasury Board Secretariat has been collecting statistical information through institutional annual reporting, which it then publishes on a yearly basis in the Info Source Bulletin. More recently, the Federal Accountability Act broadened the mandate of the President of the Treasury Board with respect to statistics. In this regard, the Treasury Board Secretariat is in the process of reviewing the collection of statistics to ensure that they are useful and provide a comprehensive picture of the government's access to information and privacy (ATIP) program. The Secretariat is striving to achieve a balanced approach that will encourage sound practices within institutions to foster quality and timeliness.
As an initial step in this project, the Secretariat reviewed provincial and international jurisdictions with similar access to information and privacy regimes to examine approaches and the collection of statistical information. It was found
that the Canadian Government is at the forefront in the area of reporting on its overall performance. The Secretariat also consulted the ATIP community, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and your office to determine what data would
be most useful to all parties, while at the same time ensuring that an undue administrative burden is not placed on government institutions.
Next, the expertise of Statistics Canada was sought to assist in a review of the proposed data collection and the content of the new statistical reporting forms. In addition, the Secretariat is chairing a working group that provides ongoing
feedback and will participate in a pilot project to test the feasibility of the proposed collection. At this time, the Treasury Board Secretariat is considering the collection of additional data related to delays, consultations and extensions,
among others. As next steps, consultations will be undertaken with software providers to ensure
that the proposed collection is achievable. The Secretariat will continue to consult your office and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. It is expected that the collection of additional statistics will begin in 2010-2011. The Secretariat will then be in a better position to assess the compliance of government institutions with the provisions of the Act and the Regulations.
The Secretariat issued additional guidelines on the use of extensions in September 1999 in its Implementation Report No. 67. In addition, detailed guidance is provided in the training session on extensions offered to the ATIP Community by the Treasury Board Secretariat. Also, as part of the Policy Suite Renewal initiative, the Secretariat is in the process of reviewing all guidance documents. It will further revise the guidance on extensions during that exercise. Moreover, as part of its project on the collection of statistics, the Secretariat will develop a user's guide on the methodology for reporting all data elements.
That the Treasury Board Secretariat, together with relevant institutions, assess the magnitude of the consultations between federal institutions including mandatory consultations pursuant to sections 15, 16 and 69 of the Act, and their impact on the workload of these institutions with a view to allocate resources to this function.
It is recognized that the consultative process is an important part of the work conducted by institutions to respond to requests made under the Access to Information Act. It is for this reason that the Secretariat is taking a careful look at including consultations in its revised statistical requirements. The data will help identify areas requiring greater attention. Ultimately, the head of each government institution is responsible for the administration of the Access to Information Act within his or her institution.
Human resources and training
Every institution interviewed for this report referred to the difficulty of identifying, attracting and retaining staff qualified to work in access to information units. The general view is that demand for access to information staff far outstrips the supply. As an illustration of the instability of the access to information workforce, four out of the ten coordinators working for the institutions reviewed this year changed during this report cards process.
The human resource shortage has become especially acute following the proclamation of the Federal Accountability Act, which created a sudden demand for staff to serve in access to information units by increasing the number of institutions subject to the Act by 37 percent. More than 250 institutions are now subject to the Act.
Many access to information coordinators reported that they are attempting to cope with this problem over the short term by hiring consultants to deal with especially time-consuming files and/or to reduce information request backlogs. While access to information managers observed that the use of consultants has its place, especially with respect to highly technical files where outside expertise may be required, they would prefer not to use consultants as a means to manage the normal workload. They regard the practice as unsustainable over the long term, from the perspectives of both human and financial resource management. They express concern about the long-term human resource capacity of their institution, and of the Government of Canada in general, to meet its obligations under the Act.
The need for training access to information staff was a recurring theme during this year’s report cards process. Some institutions have put forward initiatives such as mentoring and coaching programs as well career development initiatives. These programs, however, even if they eventually achieve their goals, will not provide system-wide relief. We believe the way forward is to set standards for recruiting access to information specialists and recognize them as professionals, according to a certification process. In April 2007, during an appearance before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, the Information Commissioner said:
“If I can just make a parallel here with internal audit, the Government of Canada, Treasury Board, has set standards for recruitment of internal auditors. They set standards for recruitment of financial officers, and certification is required. I believe the same thing should apply to ATI coordinators, so that a deputy minister who gets a report from his coordinator's office that says “This has to be divulged” can look at that report with the same kind of confidence as if he were getting it from an SFO or from an internal auditor.” 8
A year later, in its Access To Information Request For The Department Of Foreign Affairs And International Trade Internal Report Entitled “Afghanistan 2006: Good Governance, Democratic Development And Human Rights,” the Standing Committee recommended that the Government provide mandatory and extensive training to access to information and privacy coordinators, such as the Information Access and Protection of Privacy Certificate Program at the University of Alberta, and be certified pursuant to national standards.9 In its formal response, the Government of Canada indicated that the Treasury Board Secretariat was currently renewing its curriculum of courses as well as exploring various training and certification options.
We trust that the Standing Committee will follow up on its recommendations early in the 40th Parliament. We feel strongly that training and certification are integral parts of any solution to the staffing shortage. It is also a major factor in the retention of qualified people in the access to information and privacy community in the public service.
That the Treasury Board Secretariat, in collaboration with relevant institutions and agencies, develop and implement, as a matter of urgency, an integrated human resources action plan to address the current shortage of access to information staff.
That the Treasury Board Secretariat accelerate its review, development and implementation of an extensive training program for access to information specialists, and establish certification standards for federal professionals.
Access to information officials in several institutions described how their offices had undertaken training programs to raise awareness among colleagues about the Actin general and about the role and functions of the access to information unit. Their general impression is that, by helping to build understanding of and eliminate misconceptions about the Act and the methods of the ATI unit, these training programs have helped improve relations between the access to information unit and other parts of the organization and have led to more efficient processing of information requests. One interviewee said that “these efforts have a high payoff. They reduce considerably the back-and-forth between the access to information unit and offices of primary interest.” In this regard, it is worth noting that there is currently no mandatory staff training on access to information in federal institutions.
That the Treasury Board Secretariat in collaboration with the Canada School of Public Service and the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada develop an integrated learning strategy for all employees of the public service.
Treasury Board Secretariat Response to recommendations 7, 8 and 9
The Treasury Board Secretariat recognizes the importance of organizing and providing training and development opportunities related to the Access to Information Act. To this end, the Policy on Access to Information contains a requirement for heads of institutions to make their employees aware of the policies, procedures and legal responsibilities under the Act. The Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act will contain more specific requirements to increase awareness for all employees and to provide opportunities for officials who have functional responsibility for the administration of the Act to gain greater knowledge of the Act.
The Secretariat has for several years offered a training program to meet the specific needs of the ATIP community, providing on an ongoing basis, free of charge and in both official languages, sessions on a variety of ATIP-related topics. The Secretariat's commitment to training is evident in its efforts. Since April 1, 2008, 51 sessions have been delivered, with 628 participants attending. Another 26 sessions are planned for this fiscal year, and additional sessions may be added depending on registration. As the common learning provider to public servants, the Canada School of Public Service will assume the responsibility of delivering the ATIP Community training program. In addition, the Canada School, with the expertise of the Treasury Board Secretariat, will undertake the development of new courses to meet the growing needs of the ATIP Community.
Further, the Treasury Board Secretariat conducted a survey of the ATIP community to better understand the challenges it faces, assess its strengths and identify its needs. The conclusions drawn from the responses to the survey provided information that will be crucial in terms of the continued improvement of training program and examining how to alleviate difficulties affecting the community. The Secretariat, in collaboration with CSPS, is also examining broader issues related to community development, including competency profile development and, in the longer term, the possible professionalization of all ATIP practitioners within the Governmentof Canada.
The Canada School and the Treasury Board Secretariat will undertake further work towards identifying federal employee learning needs with respect to Access to Information within the first quarter of the 2009-2010 fiscal year. This should culminate in the establishment of an integrated learning strategy. A cornerstone is the Access to Information and Privacy overview course which is currently under development by the Canada School with the support of the Secretariat. The course, which will be piloted during the summer months, should be available across Canada in both official languages by September 2009. Also, commencing 2009/2010 fiscal year, the Canada School will be reviewing and updating all of its courses which have components related to Access to Information and Privacy Acts to ensure they reflect changes brought to the ATIP legislation, recent jurisprudence as well as the new policy instruments.
Specifically, the Canada School will be targeting training to ensure a learning continuum that starts with the Orientation of all new public servants, and the four mandatory Authority Delegation Training courses for public service managers. The Canada School maintains attendance records for all authority delegation training courses and is in a position to provide statistical information on the successful completion of the mandatory online assessment tools that aim at confirming the knowledge acquisition through this training.
In addition, the Secretariat prepared an introductory presentation on ATIP for senior officials. The presentation was sent to all Deputy Ministers to assist them in briefing their Ministers' Offices. The Secretariat also offers individual briefings on access to information and privacy to Governor in Council appointees. Finally, the Secretariat provides strategic advice and support to the ATIP community by issuing guidance documents on emerging issues and by holding regular community meetings. It also offers immediate assistance to ATIP officials on specific issues through its toll-free number or by electronic mail.
Canada School of Public Service Response to Recommendation 9
The Canada School and the Treasury Board Secretariat will undertake further work towards identifying federal employee learning needs with respect to Access to Information within the first quarter of the 2009-2010 fiscal year. This should culminate in the establishment of an integrated learning strategy. A course, which will be piloted during the summer months, should be available across Canada in both official languages by September 2009.
More specifically, the Canada School will continue its work with representatives of the Treasury Board Secretariat to identify the nature and scope of training and the field of Access to Information required by employees of the public service. Furthermore, work is in progress in collaboration with the Treasury Board Secretariat to redesign a course that will provide a sound knowledge base for public servants. This course will certainly be an important part of the integrated learning strategy.
Currently, the Canada School offers a continuum of required training courses spanning from the Orientation to the Public Service program for all new public servants, to four mandatory Authority Delegation Training courses for public service managers at all levels. These courses convey key information on Access to Information from a legislative perspective, articulating roles and responsibilities, formal disclosure processes and the function of Access to Information units within departments and agencies. The School, with the support of the Treasury Board Secretariat, intends to review these courses during the 2009-2010 fiscal year at which time the ATIP components will be updated.
Many access to information coordinators remarked on the critical importance of executive leadership to their institution’s performance. For example, one official observed that attitudes in his institution toward access to information compliance shifted significantly after the executive team sent a clear message to all staff that there would be zero tolerance for anything less than full co-operation with requests for information under the Act. Another official observed that a significant increase in resources for his access to information unit would not have been possible without firm support from the Deputy Minister. Unfortunately, there are also examples of inadequate leadership and this has a ripple effect in an institution, leading staff to believe that access to information is not a priority. One official observed that many senior executives are still unaware of their institution’s obligations under the Act.
We have also heard from some access to information coordinators that a culture of openness is completely dependent on who makes the decisions in the institution and how well the organization supports its leaders. A good performance on access to information in the past would be no guarantee of future good performance if the leadership were to change.
Since the Treasury Board Secretariat has overall responsibility within the federal government for ensuring that all federal institutions subject to the Act implement their responsibilities properly, we would expect to see it exercising high-profile and forceful leadership in this area. Specifically, as suggested by the recommendations above, we would expect the Treasury Board Secretariat to be playing a much stronger role in undertaking data gathering and analysis of how the access to information system is working, including trends brought to light in this report, and developing a government-wide approach to dealing with the shortage of staff, deficiencies in records management, the need for a learning strategy and professional development for all employees on access to information. We would also expect the Treasury Board Secretariat to monitor closely the compliance of federal institutions with respect to their responsibilities under the Act.
That, as part of the Management Accountability Framework, the Treasury Board Secretariat review current criteria to ensure that they are measuring the overall performance of federal institutions in meeting their obligations under the Access to Information Act.
Parliament put in place a mechanism to ensure accountability for the administration of the Access to Information Act. Section 72 of the Act requires the head of every government institution to table an annual report on the administration of the Act within their institution before the House of Commons and the Senate. While this legal requirement applies to all 255 institutions subject to the ATIP legislation, only 20% of those institutions are assessed pursuant to the Management Accountability Framework (MAF).
As part of the MAF, activities related to the administration of the Access to Information Act have been assessed since fiscal year 2005-2006. The Treasury Board Secretariat assessed the performance of 53 institutions in the first year and is currently assessing the performance of 49 institutions for fiscal year 2007-2008. This evaluation comprises a review and analysis of the institution's annual report, its Info Source chapter, Departmental Performance Report, Report on Plans and Priorities, Program Activity Architecture structure and website to determine if the institution is providing complete, comprehensive and up-to-date descriptions of its functions, programs, activities and related information holdings. The annual report of the Information Commissioner is also reviewed to establish if issues specific to an institution were identified.
The methodology used for the assessments is reviewed each year and revised as required. It is anticipated that the ongoing review and refinement of the MAF methodology will continue in the future to ensure alignment with new policies, directives as well as the new statistical data collected. This refinement process will ensure the harmonization of all compliance assessment processes and reduce the administrative burden on institutions.