Informal Treatment of Requests:
The ATIP Division continues to routinely and actively assess the requests it receives for informal treatment. Given the immense amount of third party confidential information contained in Health Canada’s record holdings, along with the many complex horizontal issues in which it is involved, the informal treatment of many of its requests is not always possible. In order to mitigate this, informal requests are now made easier with the posting of all ATI request titles on our website for the public to access.
Portfolio Approach to Treatment of Requests:
Health Canada continues to use a portfolio-style approach for the completion of its access to information requests. This approach involves the assignment of ATIP Analyst Teams to the management of program-specific requests. For instance, all tobacco-related requests are assigned to the Team dealing with that specific area of the Department.
This approach has proven invaluable in an environment with an ever changing landscape. It has provided a stable framework that fosters effective communication between the portfolio teams and their respective program areas. It has developed employees with a more fulsome knowledge of the information being requested by requesters, and most importantly, a consistent approach to the treatment of requests, ensuring the most expeditious treatment possible.
OPI/ATIP Working Group:
The OPI/ATIP Working Group established in the 2009-2010 reporting period remains of considerable interest to Health Canada staff across the Department. With an ever growing membership, the Working Group continued to cultivate a culture of access to information, promoting open government and transparency.
Training and Awareness Initiatives for HC employees:
Health Canada continues to deliver general training to raise employees’ awareness of their responsibilities under the Act. As well, its ATIP Division offers and provides specialized training designed to respond to specific clients’ needs. The ATIP Division delivered nine (9) ATI training courses with 99 attendees during the 2010-2011 fiscal year. In 2010 training material was made available on the Health Canada intranet site for all employees to assist them in processing ATI requests in an effective and timely manner.
Reduction in Backlog Files:
Health Canada remains focused on the elimination of its backlog files. The ATIP Division was responsible for a 44.6% reduction of the backlog files carried over into the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
The elimination of the backlog files remains a key commitment of the ATIP Division as it moves towards its target of 90% compliance.
ATIP Transformation Plan – New Initiative:
In June 2010, Health Canada implemented an ATIP Transformation Plan. The objective of the Plan was to achieve 90% compliance with the Access to Information Act by November 2011.
Health Canada's Transformation Plan is a five pronged approach aimed at upholding strong access to information practices and principles in order to facilitate optimal compliance. They include: a reduction in backlog files; communications and notification of public interest files; Departmental proactive disclosure; enhanced communications with Offices of Primary Interest and requesters in line with the Duty to Assist Principles; and a highly diligent monitoring approach intended to reduce any new requests from resulting in deemed refusal.
As of March 31, 2011, the ATIP transformation actions resulted in an 84.2% compliance rate for the Department, a rate which exceeds those of the past six years, and still continues to rise.
Proactive Disclosure - Posting of Completed Access to Information Requests – New Initiative:
In June 2010, Health Canada began posting a listing of its completed access to information requests, allowing for greater access to information that had been previously processed. This vehicle permitted a much quicker method of access as well, given that no further actions were required on the record set prior to disclosure to the requester.
As a result, since the 2009-2010 reporting period, the ATIP Division has seen a significant increase (366%) in the number of requests received for previously disclosed records. Prior to the posting of the listing in June 2010, a total number of 15 requests for previously disclosed records was received for the entire fiscal year 2009-10. In the 2010-2011 reporting period, however, the ATIP Division has processed 55 of these requests, with the vast majority (90%) of them being received after the June 1, 2010 posting.
These requests are processed under the FAST TRACK protocol and are routinely provided within the first week of receipt.
Streamlined Approval Process – New Initiative:
Health Canada’s ATIP Division has further streamlined its approval process to improve the timely response to requesters when their requests result in a NIL response, or they have been closed due to failure of response (abandoned). These responses are managed by the Divisional Intake Unit and are presented to Management promptly for expeditious review and disclosure.
Early Intake Unit (EIU) – New Initiatives:
Since its inception in February 2009, the Early Intake Unit of the ATIP Division continues to play a crucial and effective role in the front-end management of all access to information requests received by the Department. Their tasks include the acknowledgement of the requests, all necessary clarification and negotiation between the OPIs and the requesters, the retrieval of records relevant to the requests, the invoking of any necessary search extensions, and the time management of the files up to the receipt of records from the OPIs.
The mandate of the Early Intake Unit has been modified to include the administration and management of a Complaint Protocol. The protocol consists of early communications with the OIC upon receipt of the complaint, prompt communications with ATIP staff for response to the OIC, and internal follow up to the resolution of the complaint. The EIU provides a single window for the OIC when requesting information relating to the status of complaints currently being actioned by Health Canada.
Auditing of Completed Requests
The EIU is also mandated to conduct an audit of all completed requests to ensure that all necessary actions, documentation, and justifications are placed on the file prior to it being placed in storage. This has been extremely beneficial as it provides the ATIP Division with an opportunity to ensure that all statistical information in the case management system is accurate and up-to-date as needed for its numerous statistical reporting purposes.
Branch Retrieval Data to OPIs – New Initiative:
The ATIP Division continues to provide performance statistics to its Offices of Primary Interest on their retrieval of records. It gives the program areas a snapshot of their retrieval turnaround times and clearly indicates which areas of the Department require attention. This information is routinely provided to the Branch Assistant Deputy Ministers, allowing them to measure, examine and improve the performance of their Branch. The dissemination of this information has created a Department-wide discussion on access to information, and assisted in the identification and resolution of ATI-related issues.
Communication and Notification – New Initiative:
HC recognizes the need to brief senior management and prepare communications on access to information requests it deems of public interest. In support of this operational need, HC has eliminated its “Hi-Sens” process and implemented a new communication and notification procedure. This new procedure runs parallel to, but is distinct from, the processing of access to information files. This new procedure enables the department to respect the legislated timelines for releasing access to information requests. In parallel, program and communication branches prepare the necessary briefing and communication material in support of departmental operations. Less than 3% of all requests fall into this category.
IM Training – New Initiative:
Health Canada’s ATIP Division partnered with its colleagues in Records Management and in Security Management to provide Information Management (IM) Awareness sessions. These sessions delivered an introduction to privacy, access to information, security considerations when dealing with information management.
These introductory sessions illustrated important linkages between ATIP, information security and records management, and served as a platform to encourage more in-depth training in the various topics covered.
Enhanced Communications – New Initiative:
The ATIP Division is working more closely with its OPIs and its requesters to ensure that each access to information request results in a meaningful and timely response to the requester, through effective communications and negotiations.
To assist with this objective, the ATIP Division has developed and provided training to its staff on the essential skills of proficient communications. As well, it has developed tools for its Early Intake Unit to facilitate a move towards improved and helpful consultations with both OPIs and requesters.
Health Canada is hopeful that a reduction in large, unmanageable requests will assist it in its goal of achieving 90% compliance.
Reduction of Late Files – New Initiatives:
The pillar of the ATIP Transformation Plan is the reduction of files resulting in deemed refusal. To reduce the number of late files, the ATIP Division has examined their processing model and introduced efficiencies to their overall process. As well, a significant number of files were processed under its "FAST TRACK" protocol aimed at ensuring the timely completion of those requests not requiring consultation or a review of a voluminous record set.
To further reduce files resulting in deemed refusal, the ATIP Division deployed a number of temporary resources (consultants and overtime) to assist with file completion.
Health Canada is hopeful that these late file reduction activities will afford the Department the opportunity to improve its compliance rating while reducing the number of late files carried over into future fiscal years.
Continuing its efforts to further stabilize its workforce, HC hired more qualified and experienced staff in response to a higher amount of ATI requests. This action was in an effort to avoid the use of temporary resources to assist the processing of requests. Specialized training has been developed and is given to new staff and OPIs on a regular basis. These actions are in an effort to create a strong ATI workplace that responds quickly and efficiently to the Canadian public.
Performance Reporting – New Initiative:
To ensure Health Canada is meeting its compliance objectives, regular reporting on key performance indicators was initiated.
Key Performance Indicators
A number of key performance indicators were identified as being essential to improved overall compliance by which the Department would be measured. These performance indicators were reported to senior management and the Offices of Primary Interest on a routine basis, allowing them to follow the progress being made under the ATIP Transformation Plan.
The targets are as follows:
• Monitoring of new files to reduce deemed refusal
• Branch retrieval time and delays
• Proactive disclosure initiatives and progress
• Backlog file reduction progress
• Consultations on large files with requester(s)
Health Canada is hopeful that measuring these targets on a routine basis will illustrate those areas seeing improvement and those areas requiring attention.
Improved Information Management – New Initiative:
An IM Strategy has been developed based on the Treasury Board IM Services Model and Health Canada is currently working on an Implementation Plan to help Branches meet its IM objectives.
A Business Case was developed and presented to Senior Management for approval. The project was approved by Senior Management and will be implemented across Health Canada over the next 3 years.
IM Performance Measures are currently under review and will be used to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the IM Program at Health Canada.
The overall goal of the measures mentioned above is to improve Information Management across Health Canada, thus contributing to better business outcomes including ATIP and MAF results.