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Report Cards


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Institutions assessed in 2008–2009

Environment Canada

Environment Canada’s mandate is to preserve and enhance the quality of the natural environment, conserve Canada’s renewable resources, conserve and protect Canada’s water resources, forecast weather and environmental change, enforce rules relating to boundary waters, and coordinate environmental policies and programs for the federal government.

2008–2009 report card at a glance

whole star empty star empty star empty star empty star
F

  • The deemed refusal rate was 36.9 percent.
  • The average completion time was 97 days.
  • It took an average of 26 days to retrieve records, due in large part to a reorganization that led to the responsibility for records changing.
  • 28 percent of overdue requests were completed more than 90 days late.
  • Environment Canada had a large backlog, although it did reduce it, through the work of consultants.
  • Environment Canada submitted notices of extensions of more than 30 days 47 percent of the time.
  • The total number of complaints increased significantly from 2007–2008 to 2008–2009 (from 35 to 54), as did the number of administrative complaints (from 16 to 38).
  • An increase in interest in environmental issues has led to a corresponding increase in requests and pages reviewed in recent years.
  • The access to information office is sufficiently resourced but was staffed at only half of its capacity at times during the year. Environment Canada has created a professional development program to recruit and retain access staff.
  • Senior management supports the access to information office by pushing for continuous staffing actions and the hiring of consultants.
  • A new document collaboration and storage system is currently being implemented.
  • Environment Canada no longer has to process access to information requests on behalf of Parks Canada, since Parks Canada created its own access to information office on April 1, 2009.

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

Number of requests carried over from 2007–2008
276
Number of new requests
892
Number of requests completed
914
Deemed refusal rate
36.9%*
Average time to complete a request (in days)
97
Number of consultation requests
212
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
54
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved
20**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information office, as of March 31, 2009
8.8
 

* 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

Environment Canada’s access to information office described the last three years as challenging. This period coincides with an increase in public interest in environmental matters, which translated in 2008–2009 into a 35 percent increase in requests and a 55 percent increase in the number of pages reviewed from the year before. There was also a sizeable backlog of 276 files. The institution did not have the internal capacity to meet its legislated access to information obligations on a consistent basis in 2008–2009. It had a deemed refusal rate of 36.9 percent and its average completion time was 97 days. More than one quarter (28 percent) of the overdue files were completed more than 90 days after their original due date. Finally, Environment Canada only notified the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) of extensions of more than 30 days 47 percent of the time.

Reorganization at the institutional level resulted in a significant loss of corporate knowledge, including among senior management. The responsibility for records often changed, which contributed to delays in searching for and locating records. It took an average of 26 days to retrieve records, which is unacceptable.

The problems with records retrieval were a major factor hampering Environment Canada’s ability to achieve greater compliance. Access to information officials stated that they probably should have claimed more time extensions under paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Access to Information Act than they did, but in too many instances the deadline for extending a request had already passed before that became apparent.

The OIC resolved 18 delay-related complaints (those about overdue requests and problems with time extensions) against Environment Canada in 2008–2009. These accounted for all but two of the resolved complaints for the year.

Staffing affected Environment Canada’s compliance in 2008–2009; at times, only 9 of the available 18 positions in the access to information office were filled. In the view of access officials, finding and retaining qualified access to information staff is the biggest challenge they face to achieving better compliance. It should be noted that the office did complete continuous staffing actions to address these shortages. And, while it has so far been unable to fill all its vacant positions, the institution did design and implement the ATIP Professional Development Program. Environment Canada is also using the services of consultants to process requests.

Looking ahead from this first report card, the OIC expects to see improved compliance on the part of Environment Canada in future years, particularly as interest in the environment is unlikely to wane. As of April 1, 2009, the institution no longer processes access requests for Parks Canada, which set up its own access to information office. This should help Environment Canada manage its workload; however, a full staff complement and improved records management systems are crucial to any dramatic improvement in compliance.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the deputy minister of Environment Canada allocate sufficient resources on a permanent basis to stabilize and ensure a full access to information staff complement and meet the requirements of the Access to Information Act.

Response

Environment Canada recognizes that in order to meet the requirements of the Access to Information Act, financial resources and qualified access to information personnel are required. Despite ongoing efforts, the access to information office has been unable to fill all its vacant positions through selection processes due to high staff turnover (retirement, relocation, promotions in other government departments) and a government-wide shortage of access to information personnel. Recognizing this situation, the Corporate Secretariat has designed and implemented the ATIP Professional Development Program while pursuing ongoing staffing actions. Environment Canada is also using the services of consultants to process requests.

Two PM-04 senior advisors were hired in November 2009 and one junior policy analyst was hired on January 4, 2010. Four junior analysts recruited through the ATIP Professional Development Program are expected to be in place by early February 2010. A new selection process is being launched to increase capacity at the PM-04 level.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Environment Canada develop a clear plan to tackle the backlog of access requests.

Response

Environment Canada recognizes the need to reduce the backlog of requests and has hired consultants to focus on processing older files. While progress has been made, this project will be ongoing, since many files require consultations with other government departments or third parties.

Until Environment Canada has sufficient personnel to take over the processing of the backlog files, it will continue to use the services of consultants to accomplish this task.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Environment Canada identify and implement the necessary enhancements to records management systems to ensure a quick and proper search of records in response to an access to information request.

Response

Records Management Services is in the rebuilding process at Environment Canada.

A new chief of records management services has been hired for February 1, 2010. Policies and procedures, awareness sessions and training are being rolled out across the department. A SharePoint technology-based document collaboration and storage system is currently being implemented across the department.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Environment 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

Environment Canada has an established procedure to send copies of extensions of more than 30 days to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Particular attention will be given to ensure compliance with the established procedures.

 

How long requests completed late were overdue, 2008–2009

Environment Canada reported that it completed 147 of the requests it received in 2008–2009 after their due date. This graph shows how long these requests stayed open beyond that deadline. It is of concern that 56 percent of these requests were late by more than 30 days.

How long requests completed late were overdue, 2008–2009

Number and length of time extensions reported in 2008–2009

This graph shows the number and length of the time extensions Environment Canada reported to have taken in 2008–2009. Environment Canada supplied this information in the notices it sent to the OIC under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. Environment Canada submitted the notices 47 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 for two types of complaint registered against Environment Canada in the last three reporting periods: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that Environment Canada delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about Environment Canada’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 total number of deemed refusal complaints increased over the three years (4; 7; 17). The OIC resolved all of these complaints in 2006–2007 and 2007–2008, and 76 percent of them in 2008–2009.

Time extension complaints

Time extension complaints

The number of time extension complaints tripled between 2007–2008 and 2008–2009 (from 6 to 18); however, the OIC found 12 out of the 18 time extension complaints in 2008–2009 to be not substantiated.


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

This table sets out the complaints the OIC registered against Environment Canada 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 10 5 4 0 19
Refusals 3 5 3 2 13
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 13 10 7 2 32
2007–2008
Administrative 9 3 4 0 16
Refusals 4 4 0 8 16
Cabinet confidences 0 2 0 1 3
Total 13 9 4 9 35
2008–2009
Administrative 19 13 4 2 38
Refusals 1 4 1 9 15
Cabinet confidences 0 1 0 0 1
Total 20 18 5 11 54

The total number of complaints increased significantly from 2007–2008 to 2008–2009 (from 35 to 54), as did the number of administrative complaints (from 16 to 38). The number of resolved complaints was the same in the first two years (13) but increased by 54 percent to 20 in 2008–2009.

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