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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.