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Report Cards


Year


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Institutions assessed in 2007–2008 and reassessed in 2008–2009

Natural Resources Canada

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) encourages innovation and expertise in earth sciences, forestry, energy and minerals and metals to ensure the responsible and sustainable development of Canada’s natural resources.

2008–2009 report card at a glance

whole star empty star empty star empty star empty star
F

  • Deemed refusal rate was 22.4 percent. This is more than double the rate for 2007–2008.
  • The average time to complete a request was 65 days, but this is an improvement over the 2007–2008 average of 88 days.
  • NRCan informed the Office of the Information Commissioner about extensions of more than 30 days 17 percent of the time.
  • The access to information office had four access to information coordinators in two years.
  • Delegation of authority is diffuse, with assistant deputy ministers having the same authority as the access coordinator and, consequently, signing off on release packages.
  • All but the most routine requests are held up in the minister’s office.
  • NRCan introduced a graduated progression program to recruit and retain staff.
  • NRCan reports that its information management structure is strong, allowing for ease of records retrieval.
  • With additional funding for three new positions, NRCan believes it is now staffed adequately for the workload.

Some facts about access to information operations at NRCan in 2008–2009

Number of requests carried over from 2007–2008
72
Number of new requests
365
Number of requests completed
370
Deemed refusal rate
22.4%*
Average time to complete a request (in days)
65
Number of consultation requests
170
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
11
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved
1**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information office, as of March 31, 2009
5.6
 

* Percentage of carried over and new requests delayed beyond the deadlines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act. (See Appendix B for the formula the Office of the Information Commissioner used to calculate this rate.)

** A complaint is resolved when the Office of the Information Commissioner finds it has merit, and the institution resolves it to the Commissioner’s satisfaction.


Follow-up on 2007–2008 report card

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) spent 2007–2008, the year of its first report card, trying to cope with a several-year increase in requests of 79 percent without a corresponding increase in capacity. The institution ended the year with a deemed refusal rate of 10.7 percent. The increase in requests was due in part to the Chalk River nuclear reactor issue and the growing public and media interest the environment. NRCan committed to reviewing its entire process in light of the Office of the Information Commissioner’s (OIC) concern about the surge in numbers of requests deemed “highly sensitive” and also to find efficiencies in its cumbersome approval process. It was imperative that NRCan improve its zero notification rate to the OIC of extensions of more than 30 days. The OIC is not satisfied that an overall, meaningful effort was undertaken to improve compliance with the Access to Information Act, in response to the recommendations in the 2007–2008 report card.

2008–2009 report card

The combination of staffing instability, a diffuse delegation of authority and senior officials being inappropriately involved in approvals resulted in an unacceptable level of access to information compliance at NRCan in 2008–2009. The deemed refusal rate doubled from 2007–2008. There were four coordinators and a 50 percent staff turnover in two years. At one point, the access to information office was without a coordinator for two months, requiring senior management to step in. The coordinator’s position was subsequently reclassified downward, from director to manager.

There is evidence of requests being delayed within the delegated assistant deputy ministers’ offices. These senior officials have the same authority as the coordinator and must sign off proposed release packages. In addition, the minister’s office holds up all but the most routine requests for approval. This is inappropriate.

Despite these considerable challenges, NRCan was able to complete about half of the new requests it received in 2008–2009 in fewer than 30 days and reduce its average completion time for a request to 65 days, from 88 days in 2007–2008. It also took almost no extensions under paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Act to account for the impact of large requests on operations. While the overall number of complaints to the OIC increased from 2007–2008 to 2008–2009, more than one third (36 percent) were unsubstantiated. Delay-related complaints (those involving overdue requests and NRCan’s use of time extensions) increased slightly over the last three fiscal years, with four each in 2006–2007 and 2007–2008, and six in 2008–2009.

The access to information office has begun to recruit and retain staff with a graduated progression program. In recent months, the staffing situation has stabilized, with an almost full staff complement and a new coordinator in place in the fall of 2009.

NRCan reports a strong information management structure, including a Wiki-type central registry for administrative documents, to which access to information staff have access, and from which records can be retrieved.

Access staff acknowledge that it will take time to make access to information a priority at NRCan. The OIC notes that this should not be at the expense of requesters. It will monitor NRCan’s compliance carefully, and look for improvement in the coming years.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Natural Resources Canada minister’s office strictly follow the delegated authority order in order to eliminate inappropriate levels of approval.

Response

Briefing sessions have been held with the minister’s staff on the Access to Information Act. NRCan is reviewing its processes to ensure maximum efficiency.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada allocate the necessary human and financial resources, both in the access to information office, as well as in the program areas, in order to comply with the Access to Information Act.

Response

The Access to Information and Privacy Secretariat is now adequately resourced for the volume of requests that it receives. Additional funding for three positions was provided in 2008–2009. NRCan is closely monitoring resources levels.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Natural Resources Canada continue to reduce its average completion time for requests.

Response

Completion time has been reduced substantially. Further reductions in processing time will require a commitment from other departments to complete the consultation process in a timely fashion. NRCan will continue its commitment to processing requests as quickly and effectively as possible. Recommendations will be provided to the departmental senior management committee before the end of the fiscal year.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Natural Resources Canada reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Response

While staffing has stabilized, it occurred late in this fiscal year. The trend in compliance will likely continue into the next report card cycle before the improvement from this stabilization will be noted. NRCan will continue to strive to improve its compliance rate.

5. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Natural Resources Canada comply with the Act and notify the Office of the Information Commissioner of all the extensions it takes for more than 30 days.

Response

Unfortunately, this administrative issue was not identified until late this fiscal year, so this issue is likely to continue to be noted in next year’s report card process. This will be corrected immediately.


Deemed refusal rate, 2007–2008 to 2008–2009

This graph shows the deemed refusal rate for NRCan for the last two reporting periods. This is the percentage of carried over and new requests delayed each year beyond the timelines set out in the Access to Information Act.

Deemed refusal rate, 2006 to 2008–2009

How long requests completed late were overdue, 2008–2009

NRCan reported that it completed 76 of the requests it received in 2008–2009 after their due date. This graph shows how long these requests stayed open beyond that deadline.

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints to the OIC, 2006–2007 to 2008–2009

Number and length of time extensions reported in 2008–2009

This graph shows the number and length of the time extensions NRCan reported to have taken in 2008–2009. NRCan supplied this information in the notices it sent to the OIC under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. NRCan submitted the notices 17 percent of the time in 2008–2009; the OIC expects this figure to be 100 percent in 2009–2010.

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints to the OIC, 2006–2007 to 2008–2009

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints to the OIC, 2006–2007 to 2008–2009

These graphs show the number and outcome of two types of complaint registered against NRCan in the last three reporting periods: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that NRCan delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about NRCan’s use of the time extensions allowed under the Act. Resolved complaints are those that the OIC finds to have merit and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner’s satisfaction.

Deemed refusal complaints

Deemed refusal complaints

There were very few deemed refusal complaints against NRCan in the last three reporting periods (0; 1; 2).

Time extension complaints

Time extension complaints

There were very few time extension complaints against NRCan in the last three reporting periods (4; 3; 4). All of these complaints were either not substantiated or discontinued in 2007–2008 and 2008–2009.


Number and outcome of complaints to the OIC, 2006–2007 to 2008–2009

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the OIC registered against NRCan in each of the last three reporting periods. Resolved complaints are those that the OIC finds to have merit and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner’s satisfaction.

  Resolved Not
substantiated
Discontinued Pending Total
2006–2007
Administrative 1 3 0 0 4
Refusals 1 1 3 4 9
Cabinet confidences 1 0 0 1 2
Total 3 4 3 5 15
2007–2008
Administrative 2 2 1 0 5
Refusals 1 0 0 0 1
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 3 2 1 0 6
2008–2009
Administrative 1 4 1 0 6
Refusals 0 0 0 3 3
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 2 2
Total 1 4 1 5 11

Nine of the eleven complaints registered against NRCan in 2008–2009 were either not substantiated or pending at year-end. Only one was resolved.

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