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Report Cards


Year


Institutions assessed in 2008–2009

Canada Revenue Agency

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) administers the federal Income Tax Act, as well as the tax laws for most provinces and territories. It also delivers economic and social benefit and incentive programs through the tax system.

2008–2009 report card at a glance

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D

  • Deemed refusal rate was 15.1 percent.
  • Average time to complete a request was 73 days.
  • CRA’s backlog grew to more than 900 files by the end of the year.
  • CRA’s delegation order gives authority to approve the release of records to multiple senior managers.
  • CRA extended one quarter of new requests under paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Access to Information Act to accommodate operational pressures; 52 percent of these extensions were for more than 90 days.
  • The Office of the Information Commissioner resolved 89 out of 96 complaints it registered against CRA about its use of time extensions in 2008–2009.
  • CRA cited the increasing volume of pages to review (650,000 pages in 2008–2009) and the impact on operations of bulk requesters as enormous challenges.
  • CRA is introducing an intake unit to triage requests, dedicating new resources to the backlog and exploring technological innovations, such as a common information platform for easy information records storage and retrieval, to improve compliance.

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

Number of requests carried over from 2007–2008
690
Number of new requests
1,770
Number of requests completed
1,540
Deemed refusal rate
15.1%*
Average time to complete a request (in days)
73
Number of consultation requests
125
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
302
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved
110**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information office, as of March 31, 2009
44
 

* 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.


2008–2009 report card

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) was assessed as part of the report card process each year from 1999 to 2004 and achieved various rates of compliance with the Access to Informaton Act during that time. In response to recommendations contained in the Office of the Information Commissioner’s (OIC) 1999 report card, CRA began to improve its compliance through concerted attention, resources and effort. The institution reported that a change in culture, the addition of substantial and permanent human resources, sound technology and training initiatives were key to its success in achieving optimal compliance ratings from 2003 through 2005. Fast forward to 2008–2009 and, given some challenging circumstances, the institution’s compliance worsened, such that its deemed refusal rate in 2008–2009 was 15.1 percent. To compound the problem, the backlog of requests grew rapidly, with CRA carrying 920 requests over into 2009–2010 (representing 808,000 pages).

CRA defines its workload as increasingly complex, since it engages with the provinces and territories in tax-related matters. The number of pages to review has also significantly increased in the last few years. The workload has largely been due to two frequent requesters, who accounted for 35 percent of CRA’s backlog at the start of 2008–2009. Strategies to manage the workload include a triage system, through which CRA handles incoming requests informally, if possible, to cut down on unnecessary administration. Although the current practice at CRA is to have the access to information coordinator and sub-delegates sign off on the majority of access requests, the August 2009 delegation order gives signing authority to a long list of senior officials, including the commissioner, deputy commissioner, assistant commissioners, deputy assistant commissioners, chief audit executive, director general of program evaluation, and the directors and assistant directors of the access to information office.

The OIC is concerned with CRA’s use of extensions under paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Act, which 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 program operations. Of the 1,770 new requests CRA received in 2008–2009, it extended 25 percent under paragraph 9(1)(a). According to the notices CRA submitted to the OIC, 52 percent of these extensions were for more than 90 days. CRA reported that it uses these extensions to compensate for operational pressures in the access program, citing Appendix A of Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s Implementation Report No. 67 as the basis for doing so.

There has been a clear increase in the number of complaints to the OIC about CRA’s use of time extensions. In 2008–2009, the OIC resolved 89 of 96 such complaints. Complaints the OIC resolved about requests being completed late nearly doubled (from 8 to 15) from 2007–2008 to 2008–2009.

Despite the CRA’s worsening compliance, there is demonstrated commitment within CRA’s access office and among senior officials to address the challenges. Access officials report that they have set up an intake unit to assist with the efficient processing of files and have dedicated two full-time resources to reducing the backlog. CRA also has satellite access to information offices in Vancouver and Montréal. Away from the National Capital Region, these have stable staffing situations, which could be a model for other institutions.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Minister of National Revenue amend the delegation order to ensure greater autonomy of the access to information coordinator.

Response

CRA recognizes that the delegation order may lead to the assumption that all those listed in the schedules exercise their delegations. However, in practice, those who exercise this delegation are limited to those directly involved in access to information operations, namely, the access to information director, assistant directors and managers, and the assistant commissioners of the Pacific and Quebec regions, the two regions where CRA’s access to information satellite offices are located.

The access to information office will review the delegation order in light of the OIC’s comments to determine whether it should be amended. Following this review, the office will bring forward the analysis to senior management for a decision regarding appropriate delegations. The OIC will then be provided with our assessment for their feedback.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency review and continue to document the criteria it uses for extensions taken under paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Access to Information Act to ensure that the extensions are reasonable and legitimate.

Response

CRA agrees that extensions taken under paragraph 9(1)(a) should be reasonable and legitimate, and will continue to explore the means of reducing the use of these extensions.

The access to information office recognizes that extensions of greater length were claimed in 2008–2009; however, the use of extensions is in large part attributable to the exponential growth in the page volume of requests over the past several years. In the first six months of the current fiscal year, for instance, the pages equivalent to the access requests received exceeded one million—greater than the total pages (more than 650,000) received in 2008–2009.

CRA believes that putting aside other critical work in order to direct all possible efforts to avoid time extensions would interfere unreasonably with the processing of other requests and addressing other legislated requirements.

It should also be noted that the use of extensions under section 9 in such circumstances has been legitimized by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat in Appendix A of Implementation Report No. 67, which states the following:

“The interference with your institution’s operations may be considered ‘unreasonable’ if processing the request within 30 days would require … such a high proportion of the resources of the ATIP office that it would have a significant negative impact on the processing of other requests.”

The access to information office will scrutinize the use of paragraph 9(1)(a) to ensure the extensions are reasonable and legitimate, and to examine whether improvements can be made to existing processes and procedures to expedite the processing of requests. In particular, access to information officials will consult with the OIC to discuss ways to mitigate the impact of bulk requests, which currently strain our operations and impact our ability to comply with the Act within legislated timeframes. Moreover, the access office will closely monitor the effectiveness of new initiatives, such as the introduction of an intake unit, to make any necessary adjustments to its operations.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency develop a clear plan to tackle the backlog of access requests.

Response

CRA agrees with this recommendation, and notes that it has already taken concrete steps to address the backlog with notable success. In October 2009, the access to information office diverted two full-time employees and dedicated two additional temporary resources to processing the backlog. As a result of these measures, of the 920 backlog files noted in this report, 515 have been closed—a reduction of 56 percent.

Diverting resources within the office to address the backlog must continually be balanced with the need to respond to incoming requests. Within this context, the office will continue to explore innovative ways to reduce the backlog, including process and technology improvements. Towards this end, CRA will consult with other access to information offices across government to consider best practices for possible implementation within its office. CRA will also work with the OIC to seek innovative means to mitigate the impact of bulk requesters upon our operations.

In its review of the delegation order, the access to information office will explore the feasibility of expanding delegations within the office to expedite the processing of the backlog.

The office recognizes that reducing the backlog will, in part, depend on having the necessary staff to undertake the processing in a timely manner. Towards this end, the office will undertake the staffing processes outlined in its staffing plan to ensure vacancies are quickly filled with candidates from the resulting pools.

Success of these actions will be carefully monitored, and regular updates on progress will be provided to senior management.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Response

CRA will continue to strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate. Our continued efforts to reduce our backlog will, over time, result in a reduction in our deemed refusal rate. Given the exponential increase in pages being processed, however, CRA recognizes that progress towards this goal will be incremental. Under the circumstances, the access to information office will strive to ensure that the deemed refusal rate does not increase.

By reducing the backlog, as outlined above, the office will incrementally reduce the deemed refusal rate. Within this context, the office will continue to explore innovative ways to maximize efficiencies through process, procedural and technology improvements. Towards this end, the CRA will consult with other offices across government to consider best practices for possible implementation within the office.

As well, in its review of the delegation order, the office will explore the feasibility of expanding delegations within the office to expedite the processing of requests.

The office recognizes that reducing the deemed refusal rate will hinge on ensuring it has the necessary staff to process requests in a timely manner. Towards this end, the office will undertake the staffing processes outlined in its staffing plan to ensure vacancies are quickly filled with candidates from the resulting pools.

Success of these actions will be carefully monitored, and regular updates on progress will be provided to senior management.

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

Response

CRA fully agrees with this recommendation and will put further processes in place to ensure complete compliance with this recommendation. It is our understanding that the OIC calculated our compliance rate for 2008–2009 to be 85 percent; however, according to our records, our compliance rate is 91 percent. CRA will work with the OIC to clarify why the CRA and OIC calculations are based on different methodologies, in order to rectify this discrepancy.

The access to information office will consult with the OIC to ensure the reporting methodology used by both institutions is synchronized. As well, internal processes and procedures will be reviewed, and best practices will be implemented and communicated to staff through a variety of communication vehicles. CRA will implement necessary measures to ensure that it is fully compliant with the Act in this regard.

 

How long requests completed late were overdue, 2008–2009

CRA reported that it completed 92 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 CRA reported to have taken in 2008–2009. CRA supplied this information in the notices it sent to the OIC under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. CRA submitted the notices 85 percent of the time in 2008–2009; the OIC expects this figure to be 100 percent in 2009–2010.

Number and length of time extensions reported in 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 CRA in the last three reporting periods: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that CRA delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about CRA’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

The number of deemed refusal complaints increased significantly from 2007–2008 to 2008–2009 (11; 24). The proportion of these complaints that the OIC resolved was high each year (100 percent; 73 percent; 63 percent) but was decreasing.

Time extension complaints

Time extension complaints

The number of time extension complaints rose from 12 in 2007–2008 to 96 in 2008–2009. The proportion of these that the OIC resolved was high in each of the three years (100 percent; 58 percent; 93 percent).


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

This table sets out the number and outcome of complaints the OIC registered against CRA 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 17 5 0 0 22
Refusals 4 4 8 24 40
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 21 9 8 24 62
2007–2008
Administrative 29 4 4 3 40
Refusals 6 12 6 52 76
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 35 16 10 55 116
2008–2009
Administrative 106 5 10 20 141
Refusals 4 1 10 146 161
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 110 6 20 166 302

The number of complaints against CRA that the OIC resolved has risen by more than five times since 2006–2007 (21 to 101). In 2008–2009, the OIC resolved more than one third of the complaints it registered against CRA (110 of 302), although 166 complaints were pending at year-end. Administrative complaints accounted for 96 percent of the resolved complaints in 2008–2009 (106 of 110).