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Office of the Auditor General of Canada

The Auditor General is an Officer of Parliament, who is independent from the government and reports directly to Parliament. The Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG) conducts legislative auditing and, in certain cases, monitors federal departments and agencies, Crown corporations, territorial governments and other entities. The OAG’s main legislative auditing duties involve carrying out financial audits, performance audits, special examinations, sustainable development monitoring and environmental petitions, and assessments of agency performance reports.

2009–2010 report card at a glance

Rating: A (Outstanding)

  • The OAG’s deemed refusal rate was 4.5 percent, having completed one request after its due date. The OAG sent a partial release of information to the requester while awaiting the results of a consultation.
  • The OAG’s average request completion time was 20.8 days.
  • The OAG received almost twice as many consultation requests as access requests.
  • The access to information coordinator has fully delegated authority for access decisions, which is respected throughout the institution.
  • The institution did not take any extensions of more than 30 days, and therefore had no obligation to notify the Office of the Information Commissioner.
  • The OAG has a stable access unit and sufficient resources to continue to comply with the legislation.
  • The OAG has made a significant investment in software, enabling the coordinator to process requests efficiently.

Quick facts

Number of requests carried over from 2008–2009
3
Number of new requests
19
Number of requests completed
20
Deemed refusal rate*
4.5%
Average time to complete a request (in days)
20.8
Number of incoming consultation requests
36
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed
2,613
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
7
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved**
6
Number of full-time equivalents responsible exclusively for access to information, as of March 31, 2010
0.95
 

* 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 C 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.

2009–2010 report card 

This graph shows the sources of the OAG’s workload since it became subject to the Access to Information Act on April 1, 2007. In 2009–2010, the OAG received fewer new requests than it did the previous year, but carried over more requests. Requests for consultations from other institutions greatly contributed to the OAG’s workload each year. In 2009–2010, the OAG received almost twice as many consultation requests as access requests.

The Office of the Auditor General of Canada’s (OAG) access to information office demonstrated commendable performance in fulfilling its responsibilities under the Access to Information Act in 2009–2010. It had an average request completion time of 20.8 days and required no time extensions to complete requests. It reported that it completed only one request after its due date, the result of consultation-related delays. In that case, the OAG provided a partial release of information to the requester while awaiting the results of the consultation.

Access to information workload, 2007–2008 to 2009–2010

The OAG made a smooth transition to being subject to the Act. In the months leading up to the April 1, 2007, start-up, the OAG’s executive committee developed a framework and vision for the new access to information office. In building its capacity, the institution consulted frequently with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, as well as with access to information coordinators in other institutions. The OAG posted information on its intranet on access to information processes and guidelines. It also posted contact information for the access to information office on its website; however, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) is of the view that this web presence should be expanded to provide the public with more comprehensive information about access.

The access office is staffed with one full-time resource, who had worked in access to information prior to coming to the OAG. The office also has a back-up resource who can help when the OAG receives a larger than expected volume of requests and who covers vacation periods. A consultant provided initial training on access to information, but the coordinator now delivers training to a broad spectrum of employees, including new employees and senior management. The access office reports to the Director, Knowledge Services and Access to Information and Privacy, and is overseen by the Chief Knowledge Officer, reflecting the cultural importance of information to the OAG. With recent investments in access and information management software, the unit is well resourced.

Exemptions and exclusions applied by the institution, 2009–2010

This graph shows how often the OAG applied the various exemptions and exclusions in the Act to the records it released in 2009–2010. It used the section 16.1 exemption (investigations) most often.

The OAG has its own exemption under paragraph 16.1(1)(a) of the Access to Information Act, under which no audit-related documents may be disclosed. At the same time, the OIC must be able to investigate complaints against the OAG and be satisfied that access officials have used the exemption properly—a task made particularly challenging due to the large number of documents involved in most audit-related requests. In March 2010, the OIC and the OAG developed a protocol requiring the OAG to provide the OIC with only a sample of documents when the paragraph 16.1(1)(a) exemption is involved, which the OIC then reviews. Under the protocol, the OIC reserves the right to obtain or review additional documents when required. The application of this protocol is in the preliminary phases, and will be reviewed as needed.

Prior to the OAG coming under the Act, the Auditor General emphasized the importance of the exclusion of audit documents to the House of Commons Legislative Committee on Bill C-2. The Auditor General noted that, without the exclusion, the OAG’s ability to audit and provide a comprehensive and reliable product to Parliament would be compromised, and that, if audit records could be disclosed, the OAG might not receive the required level of candour and openness from those interviewed during audits.

As soon the OAG became subject to the Act, it began to receive requests for audit material, suggesting that requesters might have been attempting to obtain information about other institutions via requests to the OAG. The number of such requests has subsequently decreased, an indication that requesters may now understand that audit documents are exempted from release.

The OAG has a streamlined records retrieval process, an efficient records system and a network of collaborative, cooperative and disciplined employees throughout the organization that help respond to requests. The OAG’s culture of accountability and transparency—resulting from the organization’s auditing role, which requires free access to information in a timely manner—bolsters the work of the access office.

The access to information coordinator has fully delegated authority for access decisions, and reports that the organization has no formal approval process for or interference with release packages. The coordinator informs the Chief Knowledge Officer of any sensitive files but ultimately decides what is released. This, combined with a manageable workload, contributes to the timely release of documents. Although the OAG received twice as many consultation requests as access requests (due to it auditing so many organizations that are themselves subject to the Access to Information Act), this apparently does not have a negative effect on performance.

Senior management at the OAG considers release of information as its default activity and recognizes that transparency is an essential feature of public sector accountability. This attitude is reflected in the organization’s access to information statistics. Based on a favourable average request completion time, a commitment of resources and a model system for retrieval and release of records, the OAG receives a grade of A for 2009–2010.

The OIC commends the leadership of the OAG for meeting its obligations under the Access to Information Act, and for its strong culture of transparency. The OAG is well positioned to continue meeting its commitments.

In light of the OAG’s outstanding performance, the OIC challenges it to assume a leadership role in the access to information community. Sharing its established best practices and taking action to publish completed requests online will contribute to progress community-wide.

Number and outcome of complaints received by the OIC, 2007–2008 to 2009–2010

Resolved Not substantiated Discontinued Pending Total
2007–2008
Administrative 0 0 1 0 1
Refusals 0 1 1 0 2
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 0 1 2 0 3
2008–2009
Administrative 0 0 0 0 0
Refusals 0 0 0 0 0
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 0 0 0 0 0
2009–2010
Administrative 0 0 0 0 0
Refusals 0 0 0 7 7
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 0 0 0 7 7

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the OIC registered against the OAG in each of the three reporting periods since the OAG became subject to the Act on April 1, 2007. Resolved complaints are those that the OIC finds to have merit and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner’s satisfaction. The OIC received seven complaints about the OAG in 2009–2010, an increase from the three complaints it received over the two previous years. Six of the 2009–2010 complaints have since been found to be not substantiated, with the outcome of the seventh pending.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Office of the Auditor General reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Response

In the 2011–2012 fiscal year, the OAG will continue to work toward a deemed refusal rate of zero.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Office of the Auditor General provide requesters with more detailed information about the access to information function on its website.

Response

  • The OAG will continue to expand its access to information presence on its external website.
  • The OAG will consult with other federal government departments and review the access information made available on their websites.
  • The OAG will review the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s recent recommendations and make changes to its web presence. The goal is to have this review completed and implemented by the end of May 2011.
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