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Chapter 2. Turning Things Around: Progress Report on Previous Recommendations and Commitments
In last year's special report, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) made recommendations to institutions on how to improve their performance and to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat to address systemic issues across the government. The OIC also made commitments to improve in some of its areas of responsibility. The following offers a progress report on each of these items.
2008–2009 Report Cards
The OIC began preparing report cards to measure institutional performance with the Access to Information Act in 1999. In 2007, the OIC redesigned the process to gather information that would provide a more complete picture of each institution's performance and allow the OIC to make more targeted recommendations.
Last year, the OIC assessed the performance of 24 federal institutions and made recommendations to each to improve performance. The institutions responded with plans for how they would proceed to achieve better results. Of the 24 institutions assessed, 13 performed below average or worse. The OIC asked these 13 to provide a progress report on their efforts to respond to the recommendations. Table 3 summarizes those reports. The full text can be viewed on the OIC's website. Although it is too early to estimate or fully measure the progress towards stronger compliance with the Act, work is clearly under way to implement most of the recommendations.
The OIC will re-assess all 24 institutions next year, including reviewing the practices about which the OIC and institutions have differing views.
*The recommendations are organized into the themes. Some recommendations cover more than one theme. In addition, some institutions did not receive a recommendation under one or more themes. Finally, the three red "not initiated" boxes reflect recommendations with which the institution did not agree.
Highlights of progress towards greater compliance with the Act
The following are highlights of the positive work reported by the institutions with below average of worse performance for 2008-2009.
Increase in resources
- Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada re-allocated $2.7 million to access to information functions. The institution also hired nine experienced consultants to work on reducing the large backlog of unanswered requests and created 10 new full-time positions.
- Transport Canada and Correctional Service of Canada now have a full complement of staff.
Improvements in response times
- The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) reported having significantly improved their deemed refusal rate during 2010-2011. As of October 2010, CSIS had completed 100 percent of requests on time. During the third quarter, NRCan completed approximately 93 percent of requests on time.
- The Privy Council Office (PCO) and National Defence reported having significantly reduced their average request completion time. The PCO average decreased from 157 days in 2008–2009 to 94 days in 2010–2011. National Defence reduced its average completion time from 125 days to 86, as of October 2010.
Change in the delegation order
- The President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency each approved a revised delegation of authority order that provides more authority to the respective institution's access to information coordinator.
Streamlining review and approval processes
- Health Canada replaced its Hi-SENS approval process with a notification process, and reports that this change has resulted in increased timeliness and improved compliance.
- The Canadian International Development Agency implemented a new process whereby the Minister’s Office is informed of records to be disclosed 72 hours in advance, but does not approve the release package.
- Environment Canada and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) reported having significantly reduced their backlog of unanswered requests, with CIDA having completed 99 of 102 such requests and planning to complete the three remaining files by March 31, 2011.
Closer monitoring of performance
- The Canada Revenue Agency developed a comprehensive redress plan to address issues of staffing, training, processing of requests and the backlog.
- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported having made significant progress on the deliverables outlined in the multi-year action plan it updated in 2009. These measures include allocating adequate resources to the access function, fully delegating authority for access decisions to the access to information manager, reducing the backlog of unanswered requests by 50 percent, and taking a more streamlined approach to processing requests.
Recommendations to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
The OIC identified a number of systemic issues in last year's special report: delegation orders, leadership, time extensions, consultations and resources, and made several recommendations to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) to address them. Appendix B contains the full TBS response. The following is a summary.
The OIC recommended that TBS assess the extent to which institutions implement best practices related to the delegation of powers, duties and functions under section 73 of the Access to Information Act with the view to achieving appropriate, efficient and transparent delegation orders. TBS reports that it has reviewed the delegation orders of the 24 institutions the OIC assessed last year and found that the delegation order is not a determining factor in meeting timelines but can eliminate unnecessary levels of approval.
The OIC recommended that TBS develop criteria as part of the Management Accountability Framework to ensure it is measuring the overall performance of federal institutions in meeting their obligations under the Access to Information Act. TBS responded that it has added new requirements focusing on governance and capacity that are intended to evaluate the ability of institutions to administer the access program.
In the last two special reports, the OIC recommended that TBS collect enriched annual statistics to provide a more accurate picture of institutions' use of time extensions. Beginning in April 2011, TBS will be expanding its requirements for statistical data. It will compile and publish the results in the fall of 2012.
In the last two special reports, the OIC recommended that TBS assess the magnitude of the consultations that federal institutions carry out with each other in the course of responding to access requests and the impact of such consultations on institutions' workloads, with a view to allocating appropriate resources to this function. TBS took no specific action in 2009-2010 to assess the impact of consultations. As part of the new requirements for the collection of statistical data, however, institutions will report on consultations. The results will be published in the fall of 2012.
In the last two special reports, the OIC recommended that TBS develop and implement an integrated human resources action plan to address the government-wide shortage of access to information staff. TBS launched an initiative in the spring of 2010 to develop work descriptions and competencies to standardize the work across the public service. It also plans to launch a collective staffing process.
Office of the Information Commissioner Commitments
Classification of Complaints: New Disposition Categories
In its 2007-2008 special report, the OIC committed to reviewing the way it classifies complaints to develop and implement a new set of disposition categories. The OIC uses these categories to describe the outcome of complaint investigations.
In 2009-2010, the OIC consulted its employees, access to information coordinators and members of the public regarding proposed categories. The new disposition categories are simpler, more accurate and adhere to the terminology of section 37 of the Access to Information Act. The following are the categories the OIC began using on April 1, 2010:
- well founded with recommendations—resolved
- well founded with recommendations—not resolved
- well founded, resolved without recommendations
- Not well founded
The OIC is confident that these new dispositions will yield better reporting data for future report cards, given the more precise classifications.
Practice Direction on Time Extensions
In its 2008-2009 special report, the OIC committed to publishing a practice direction on time extensions taken by institutions to prevent interference with the institution's operations due to the need to search through or for a large volume of records (as per paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Act). Following consultations with various stakeholders, including access to information coordinators and requesters, the OIC will publish the practice direction by the end of March 2011.
In the 2008-2009 special report, the OIC observed that institutions did not consistently comply with the statutory requirement in paragraph 9(2) of the Act to notify the OIC of all time extensions longer than 30 days. In addition, the notices that institutions did send varied in terms of content and the justifications for the extensions taken. The OIC concluded that more compliance and clarity were required to make this monitoring tool as useful as was intended, and made the following three commitments in that regard:
- to develop and implement a template for the notification of time extensions and explore ways to send notices using electronic tools;
- to publish a practice direction on the notification procedures under paragraph 9(2) of the Act; and
- to review and assess the extension notices.
As part of the initiative to improve the reporting of time extensions, OIC employees who are responsible for processing the notices were trained to identify irregularities and to consistently input the information the notices contain into a database. The OIC also reviewed and assessed the extension notices it received during 2009-2010. The monitoring of the notices yielded valuable information regarding individual institutions' use of time extensions. The OIC will begin to publish this information online, in a reusable format, in April 2011. This will allow institutions to track their own performance and monitor their progress compared to other institutions. Table 4, below, contains an example of the aggregated information about time extensions, which the OIC will also begin to publish this spring.
The OIC will develop a template notification form. The OIC is also exploring electronic notification options to facilitate notification as well as the processing of the notices, with a view to implementing an electronic filing process in 2011-2012.