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Report Cards


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Institutions assessed in 2008–2009

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is a national and international leader in marine safety and in the management of oceans and freshwater resources. DFO develops and implements policies and programs in support of Canada’s scientific, ecological, social and economic interests in oceans and fresh waters, and works towards ensuring these resources benefit current and future generations.

2008–2009 report card at a glance

whole star whole star whole star empty star empty star
C

  • Deemed refusal rate was 13.2 percent.
  • Average time to complete a request was 86 days. At the same time, more than 50 percent of the extensions DFO took to consult with other institutions were for more than 150 days.
  • This average level of compliance is consistent with report card assessments in several other years.
  • DFO has a backlog, but it did reduce it in 2008–2009 and is striving to eliminate it by the end of March 2010.
  • Leadership supported hiring and training access to information staff:
    • DFO launched a recruitment and retention program to attract and retain staff, and filled several positions in 2008–2009.
    • The access to information office, through a strong training committee, also delivered training, both for its own staff and for employees throughout the institution.
  • A plan has been launched to modernize the technology used in the access to information office. As part of this plan, DFO is upgrading its case management software. The institution has also launched a five-year plan to improve information management systems.
  • DFO fully complied with the requirement to submit notices of extensions of more than 30 days to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

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

Number of requests carried over from 2007–2008
103
Number of new requests
396
Number of requests completed
409
Deemed refusal rate
13.2%*
Average time to complete a request (in days)
86
Number of consultation requests
155
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
33
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved
11**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information office, as of March 31, 2009
18.8
 

* 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

Access to information officials at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) stated during the report card interview that access to information is endorsed at all levels, starting with senior management, yet it was unclear to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) whether the institution has a concrete plan in place specifically designed to achieve better compliance with the Access to Information Act. The institution has been assessed as part of the report card process almost every year since 1999, and has never achieved the optimal level of compliance.

In 2008–2009, DFO’s deemed refusal rate was 13.2 percent. DFO continued to operate under the burden of a backlog of access to information requests in 2008–2009. The files that remain are requests for large volumes of records, or large batches of requests from a single requestor.

It is commendable that DFO decreased its backlog in 2008–2009 (and hopes to eliminate it by the end of March 2010), through the work of consultants. This is particularly noteworthy since DFO’s average number of pages per request is between 1,000 and 1,500. Furthermore, DFO continued to process upwards of 20 requests that each involved 30,000 pages.

The institution stressed that it experienced a chronic shortage of experienced senior access to information analysts in 2008–2009. In response, DFO initiated a recruitment and development program to aid retention of knowledgeable access to information staff, and completed several staffing actions in 2008–2009. A portion of the senior access to information staff time was spent training junior analysts in 2008–2009. The institution has a strong access to information and privacy training committee to provide training to all DFO staff.

Information management was a challenge for DFO in one regard. A portion of its records are located primarily in the regions. When certain key employees left records-holding units last year, institutional knowledge (such as where records were located) was lost with them. The entire process for searching for records was compromised by such circumstances. DFO launched a three-year plan to improve the technology used in the access to information office, including its case management software, as well as a five-year plan to improve information management systems across the institution.

DFO’s average completion time of 86 days is of some concern to the OIC, as is the fact that more than 50 percent of the extensions it took under paragraph 9(1)(b) of the Act to consult with other institutions were for more than 150 days.

Individual initiatives at DFO seem to the OIC to hold the promise of improved compliance in coming years. However, the institution’s track record has not been stellar. The OIC calls on the leadership at DFO to make a concerted and organized effort to improve compliance and for senior managers to clearly communicate to all employees the importance of timely responses to access to information requests.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the deputy minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada continue to take a strong leadership role in establishing a culture of compliance throughout the institution. Such a role requires the leadership of the minister.

Response

Agreed. DFO’s access to information office is fortunate to have the continuing support of both the deputy minister and the minister.

DFO’s training and awareness initiatives, targeting every level of the organization, will highlight the importance the minister and deputy minister attach to this commitment.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Fisheries and Oceans Canada strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Response

Agreed. DFO has a strategy in place with the objective of continuous improvement of our compliance rate and reducing our deemed refusal rate.

The ongoing strategy includes the following:

  • a recruitment and retention program to address the shortage of trained analysts in the federal access to information community; DFO is building its capacity in order to achieve enduring results;
  • a review and streamlining of process flows;
  • a national training program for DFO staff across the department to build awareness of access and privacy;
  • a working group comprised of the department’s access to information, information management, library services and communications groups to review and promote awareness of information management and access to information, especially with respect to record-keeping practices at DFO;
  • the access to information and privacy modernization three-year capital plan initiated in 2009 to evaluate and procure replacement software for current and obsolete case management and redaction system; it is anticipated that the new system will allow such things as the provision of records from the program electronically, and faster searching and processing capabilities; and
  • ensuring access to information staff have the tools they need to work efficiently and effectively.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Fisheries and Oceans Canada develop and implement a clear plan to tackle the backlog of access requests.

Response

Agreed. DFO has been working systematically to reduce the backlog of requests in deemed refusal and was in fact successful in closing more than 20 overdue files last fiscal year, consisting of more than 118,000 pages of records.

DFO plans to continue the systematic reduction of files in a deemed refusal state, and has invested additional resources to do so. The Access to Information and Privacy Secretariat is working towards a goal of eliminating the backlog by March 31, 2010.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the deputy minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada devote the resources to meet the time requirements of the Access to Information Act and reduce the average completion time.

Response

Agreed. The deputy minister has consistently supported the Access to Information and Privacy Secretariat through the appropriate annual resource levels, and the provision of additional resources when requested through a substantiated business case.

DFO’s average completion time is mainly affected by delays in obtaining responses from other government departments. Eliminating the backlog mentioned above should significantly reduce the department’s average completion time.

5. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Fisheries and Oceans 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

Agreed. Information management has been recognized as a departmental priority for 2010–2011.

DFO has established a five-year strategy for information management and is planning to adopt next-generation information solutions. The department’s vision for information is “Information used for decision-making and program delivery at DFO/Canadian Coast Guard is accurate, relevant, comprehensive and timely.” The strategy includes a strengthened evaluation function to provide advice on performance measurement and to evaluate the effectiveness of programs producing objective information for decision making. In addition, DFO has established a strategy for identifying and addressing any gaps between its current Info Source submission and annual report, and Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat expectations.

 

How long requests completed late were overdue, 2008–2009

DFO reported that it completed 27 of the requests it received in 2008–2009 after their due date. This graph shows how long these requests stayed open beyond that deadline

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 DFO reported to have taken in 2008–2009. DFO supplied this information in the notices it sent to the OIC under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. DFO fully complied with the requirement to submit these notices.

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

DFO received a small but increasing number of deemed refusal complaints each year (1; 2; 5). The proportion of resolved deemed refusal complaints to the total was high in each of the three years (100 percent; 50 percent; 60 percent).

Time extension complaints

Time extension complaints

The total number of time extension complaints increased each year (6; 9; 11). In contrast, the number of resolved complaints decreased by 60 percent from 2006–2007 to 2007–2008; however, it more than tripled by 2008–2009 (from 2 to 7).


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

This table sets out the complaints the OIC registered against DFO 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 6 1 1 0 8
Refusals 10 12 2 3 27
Cabinet confidences 6 1 0 0 7
Total 22 14 3 3 42
2007–2008
Administrative 3 5 4 0 12
Refusals 6 2 1 10 19
Cabinet confidences 0 2 0 1 3
Total 9 9 5 11 34
2008–2009
Administrative 11 4 4 1 20
Refusals 0 1 2 10 13
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 11 5 6 11 33

The total number of administrative complaints against DFO increased each year (8, 12, 20), and the number of resolved administrative complaints increased from 3 in 2007–2008 to 11 in 2008–2009.

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