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Report Cards


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Institutions assessed in 2008–2009

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) is the focal point for social policies and programs in Canada. The institution is responsible for strengthening Canada’s social foundations by fostering the welfare of citizens, families and communities, as well as their participation in society.

2008–2009 report card at a glance

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C

  • Deemed refusal rate was 10.2 percent.
  • Average completion time was 80 days.
  • The merger of the access to information functions of Service Canada and HRSDC resulted in initial problems in processing access requests, as was expected by the institution. However, officials said that they believe the merger will be beneficial for requesters over the long term.
  • Amalgamation of the two offices resulted in some staff departures, but the staffing levels have since stabilized.
  • The backlog inherited from Service Canada affected HRSDC’s overall compliance; however, the backlog has since been cleared.
  • The delegation of authority was diffuse; however, in September 2009, HRSDC’s corporate secretary communicated to all senior executives that access to information officials retain the delegated authority for releases.
  • HRSDC submitted the notices to the Office of the Information Commissioner about extensions of more than 30 days 98 percent of the time.

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

Number of requests carried over from 2007–2008
78
Number of new requests
295
Number of requests completed
406
Deemed refusal rate
10.2%*
Average time to complete a request (in days)
80
Number of consultation requests
129
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
11
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved
4**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information office, as of March 31, 2009
15
 

* 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

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) experienced an atypical year in 2008–2009: its access to information office merged with that of Service Canada three months into the year. The case of HRSDC illustrates the challenges to an institution of a merger, particularly when there is little time to plan.

HRSDC’s merger meant that physical and human resources as well as distinct administrative processes had to be reconciled, all while still having to process requests. HRSDC also inherited a large backlog from Service Canada. HRSDC reported that records related to an access request were left behind during the move but were later recovered.

The integration of the two institutions’ access to information functions required the amalgamation of two teams of analysts with varying levels of experience and expertise. The reorganization led to staff departures, including at the management level, which resulted in HRSDC having three successive access coordinators in a year.

At the time of the merger, the access to information and privacy operations unit comprised 26 employees, which later stabilized at 22, in terms of both management and staff. HRSDC indicated that the merger will be beneficial for requesters over the long term.

Although the merger and the physical move led to delays in processing requests, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) is encouraged to see that HRSDC sustained at least an average level of compliance; its deemed refusal rate was 10.2 percent. However, the OIC is concerned that this may have been possible through the use of time extensions under paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Access to Information Act, which allow institutions to take more time for requests that involve searches through or for a large volume of records that result in “unreasonable interference with operations.”

The OIC is also concerned about HRSDC’s delegation order, which gives everyone from the deputy ministers to the director and manager of the access office the authority to release records, which can cause delays. However, in September 2009, HRSDC’s corporate secretary communicated to all senior executives that access to information officials retain the delegated authority for releases.

HRSDC has been assessed as part of the report card process on a number of occasions, most recently in 2004–2005, and with varying success. While recognizing that 2008–2009 was an odd year for the institution, the OIC expects its compliance to improve in coming years. A first encouraging sign is that HRSDC virtually eliminated its backlog in January 2010.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada revise the delegation order to clearly show that the access to information coordinator and officers have the delegated authority without reference to other officials for decisions made under the Access to Information Act.

Response

HRSDC’s practice is that decisions on the release of information in response to access requests are largely taken at the access director and manager level, as provided for in the current delegation instrument.

Senior officials are also named in the instrument. In a department the size of HRSDC, and one with its complex structure (responsible for a wide range of policies, programs, services, and having a national headquarters in the National Capital Region, as well as several diverse local and regional offices throughout Canada), the access director is well served by having the support of senior portfolio management.

In September 2009, the corporate secretary of HRSDC communicated to all senior executives that “the Director, Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Division retains the authority to determine whether documents should be released, as per the delegation signed by the Minister of HRSD.”

An enhanced protocol was prepared and communicated to all senior staff on their responsibilities with respect to scoping and providing records in response to access requests in an effective and timely manner.

It is noteworthy that HRSDC continues to be proactive with regard to the exercise of authority at the director level.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada develop a clear plan to tackle the backlog of access requests.

Response

The backlog has been cleared.

As of January 14, 2010, eight active requests were in deemed refusal status, generally due to unusually large volumes and/or extensive required consultations, for example with the Privy Council Office.

HRSDC will continue to proactively manage access to information operations in order to ensure that appropriate action is taken on all requests and to avoid backlogs.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Response

HRSDC continues to strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero and maintains its zero tolerance policy for late responses.

The following activities as well as other approaches to facilitate awareness and compliance will continue into the future:

  • Reports on access to information re distributed weekly to all senior executives and presented weekly to the senior management table.
  • In October 2009, the quarterly access to information management report was implemented and is distributed, as above, to all executive heads.
  • In the summer of 2009, a protocol was developed and forms were updated to assist offices of primary interest in meeting their objectives with respect to access-related deadlines, as mentioned above.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada review the criteria it uses for extensions taken under paragraph 9(1)(a) to ensure that the extensions are reasonable and legitimate.

Response

Generally, HRSDC determines whether or not a 9(1)(a) extension is warranted based on volume of records to review. The benchmark used is 300 pages of records (as per an approach suggested by the OIC in the past). Input will be sought from the OIC on best practices in this regard.

 

How long requests completed late were overdue, 2008–2009

HRSDC reported that it completed 17 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 HRSDC reported to have taken in 2008–2009. The institution supplied this information in the notices it sent to the OIC under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. HRSDC submitted these notices 98 percent of the time.

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

Deemed refusal complaints

Deemed refusal complaints

In 2008–2009, the OIC resolved two out of three deemed refusal complaints it registered against HRSDC.

Time extension complaints

Time extension complaints

HRSDC received no time extension complaints in the first two reporting periods and only two in the third.


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 HRSDC 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 2 1 1 1 5
Refusals 2 1 0 1 4
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 4 2 1 2 9
2007–2008
Administrative 1 1 3 0 5
Refusals 1 4 1 0 6
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 2 5 4 0 11
2008–2009
Administrative 3 1 1 0 5
Refusals 1 0 0 4 5
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 1 1
Total 4 1 1 5 11

The overall number of complaints against HRSDC varied little over the three years (9; 11; 11), as did the number of resolved complaints (4; 2; 4), although there were 5 files pending at the end of 2008–2009.

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