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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.

Assessment: A

(Received a C in 2008–2009)

  • DFO turned in a very strong access to information performance in 2010–2011. Its deemed refusal rate was 4.4 percent, and its average completion time for requests it received and completed in 2010–2011 was 39 days. DFO was able to eliminate its backlog, and the number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) received about DFO in 2010–2011 dropped by two thirds from 2008–2009 levels.
  • DFO attributes its significantly improved performance to senior management support, an amended delegation order that allowed a bottleneck in the access office to be cleared, a big drop in complaints volume and the elimination of its backlog.
  • DFO satisfactorily implemented all five of the OIC's 2008–2009 recommendations. The OIC commends DFO for its performance and encourages it to become a leader in the access to information community (2010-2011 Recommendations).
QUICK FACTS
2008–2009 2010–2011
Number of requests carried over from previous fiscal year 103 67
Number of new requests 396 368
Number of requests completed 409 368
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed 253,621 420,006
Deemed refusal rate 13.2%* 4.4%*
Average number of days to complete a request 86 74
Average number of days to complete a request received in 2010–2011 n/a 39
Number of consultation requests received 155 165
Percentage of required extension notices submitted to the OIC >85% >85%
Number of complaints registered with the OIC 33 11
Number of complaints the OIC resolved 12** 3**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information operations, as of the end of the fiscal year 18.8 23.1
Follow-up on 2008–2009 recommendations

Leadership........................................................ Met expectations

Deemed refusal rate........................................ Met expectations

Backlog............................................................. Met expectations

Resources......................................................... Met expectations

Records management..................................... Met expectations

See report card text for details. For the full text of the recommendations and the institution's initial response, go here.

*   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 OIC used to calculate this rate.)

** A complaint is resolved when the OIC finds it has merit and the institution resolves it to the Commissioner's satisfaction. The number of complaints reported here is current as of November 2011. As a result, the figure for 2008–2009 may be different from what appeared in the 2008–2009 report card.

Report card

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) turned in a very strong performance in 2010–2011. Its deemed refusal rate was 4.4 percent, and its average completion time for requests it received and completed in 2010–2011 was 39 days (although this rises to 74 days when long-standing requests that were completed are taken into account). DFO was able to eliminate its backlog, and the number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) received about DFO in 2010–2011 dropped by two thirds from 2008–2009. By all of these measures, DFO's performance has improved since the previous report card.

At that time, DFO was already well aware of its marginal performance and was initiating discussions at the senior management level about how to improve. One of the results of those discussions was to amend the delegation order to add the Deputy Director, ATIP Operations, and give her full signing authority. This helped to alleviate the bottleneck that was situated there. The result was "fabulous," according to DFO access officials, who reported that requests moved more fluidly and there was a better focal point for control of files and performance of individual teams.

According to the coordinator, having to deal with only one third of the previous level of complaints has freed up analysts to devote their energy to keeping their current files moving.

DFO used consultants to eliminate its backlog and took steps to cooperate with the OIC in resolving a number of long-standing complaints. The coordinator said that DFO hopes to continue to use consultants in order to manage any voluminous and difficult requests that come in, since these can bog down analysts for months and imperil the progress of current requests.

DFO continues to have some information management challenges, with the institution's unwieldy record holdings in all corners of Canada. In addition, DFO reported sometimes having retrieval issues, when, for example, operational priorities coincide with access requests.

As part of a pilot project, DFO introduced a position devoted to policy and governance of its access to information and privacy program. One of the tasks assigned to that position is to look at how to improve training and awareness of access and privacy across the institution, including communication of the importance of the duty to assist principles. DFO also reported increased collaboration between the access office and the Information Management Branch to identify and implement additional ways of communicating the two groups' messages, in the hopes that increased awareness would result in, for example, achieving more effective and faster search and retrieval of records.

DFO has invested in updating both hardware and case management and redaction software for the access program. The DFO website provides valuable information for both internal and external audiences and, for the public, a comprehensive page that includes the contact information for staff (by name) in headquarters and the regions.

The OIC has observed some very lengthy extensions, as reported in the notices DFO sends to the OIC for extensions of longer than 30 days. DFO officials said that requests often involve issues with lengthy historical antecedents (the decline of Pacific salmon stocks and the impact of mining projects on lakes and waterways, for example), which require voluminous, lengthy and labour-intensive searches and consultations with other institutions. DFO expects this to continue as the public's focus on environmental issues and stewardship increases. DFO routinely contacts other government institutions with whom they are consulting for an estimate of the expected turnaround time of the consultation.

Follow-up on the 2008–2009 recommendations

The OIC issued five recommendations to DFO with the 2008–2009 report card. The following summarizes the subsequent developments at the institution in response. (For the full text of the recommendations and the institution's response, go here.)

  1. With regard to senior management leadership related to the access function, DFO reported that senior executives have historically been supportive of the access function, and that their support is expected to continue. DFO also reported, however, that the Treasury Board Secretariat's Management Accountability Framework (MAF) has been instrumental in bringing senior management attention to how the access program is managed. This level of engagement has contributed to the program's improved compliance. DFO's access to information coordinator now reports to the deputy minister through two levels—a senior assistant deputy minister and a director general, rather than just a director general.
  2. DFO is closing in on an ideal deemed refusal rate, in line with the OIC's recommendation. This can raise concern about the overuse of extensions to ensure compliance. DFO reported that about half of its consultations have to go through Privy Council Office–Cabinet Confidences Counsel, and therefore require extensions to complete. Nonetheless, DFO was able to complete the majority (78 percent) of its new requests within 30 days.
  3. DFO used consultants to eliminate its backlog. It hopes to be able to continue to employ consultants for large and difficult requests that take analysts' time away from new requests. This should help keep a new backlog from forming.
  4. Despite its ongoing concern about a lack of qualified personnel to draw from among the competitive access community, DFO is a well-resourced institution with sufficient personnel to take on its workload.
  5. Records management continues to be a reported challenge at DFO; however, with training and new hardware and software, it does not appear to be hampering performance, since the institution was able to reduce its average completion time for new requests to 39 days.

Access to information workload, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

This graph shows the sources of Fisheries and Oceans Canada's workload for the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Comparing 2008–2009 to 2010–2011, the institution saw an 8-percent decrease in its workload. This is largely accounted for by the 35-percent decrease in the number of requests carried over from the previous fiscal year. The percentage changes for new requests (7-percent decrease) and consultation requests (6-percent increase) nearly cancel each other out. The number of pages reviewed for requests completed increased by 66 percent.

Access to information workload, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

Text Version

How long it took to complete new requests, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

Between 2008–2009 and 2010–2011, the proportion of new access requests Fisheries and Oceans Canada completed within the timelines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act increased from 92 percent to 99 percent. The remaining requests were completed late: 27 requests in 2008–2009 and 3 in 2010–2011.

How long it took to complete new requests, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

Text Version

Number and length of time extensions taken, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

This graph shows the number and length of the time extensions Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) reported to have taken in 2008–2009 and 2010–2011. The institution supplied this information in the notices it sent to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. DFO met the OIC's 85-percent standard for acceptable performance in this area in both 2008–2009 and 2010–2011. The OIC notes DFO's increased use of extensions of 121–150 days and more than 180 days.

Number and length of time extensions taken, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

Text Version

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

These graphs show the number and outcome of two types of complaint registered against Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009: 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. The number of complaints in both categories declined in 2010–2011 from already low levels in 2008–2009.

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

Text Version

* Resolved complaints are those that the Office of the Information Commissioner finds to have merit and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner's satisfaction.

Number and outcome of complaints received by the Office of the Information Commissioner, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) registered against Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. The OIC has registered fewer complaints against DFO in each year since issuing the 2008–2009 report card.

 

Resolved*

Not substantiated

Discontinued

Pending

Total

2008–2009
Administrative 11 5 4 0 20
Refusals 1 4 7 1 13
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 12 9 11 1 33
2009–2010
Administrative 4 1 2 0 7
Refusals 1 2 0 6 9
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 2 2
Total 5 3 2 8 18
2010–2011
Administrative 2 3 0 0 5
Refusals 1 0 2 3 6
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 3 3 2 3 11

* Resolved complaints are those that the OIC finds to have merit and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner's satisfaction.

2010–2011 recommendations

In light of DFO's outstanding performance, the OIC challenges it to assume a leadership role in the access to information community, and issues the following recommendations for continued improvement.

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Fisheries and Oceans Canada maintain its strong performance from the efforts of its access to information office as well as the sustained support and oversight of its leadership.

RESPONSE: Agreed. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will strive to maintain its strong performance through the ongoing efforts of the access to information office. DFO senior management will continue to support access to information through sound leadership and oversight.

ATIP will do this by continuing to offer ATIP training on a regular basis to all employees and will provide periodic messages through the departmental electronic bulletin to inform DFO staff of new developments in the ATIP field.

ATIP will also explore additional ways to provide training and increase awareness of ATIP by using Web 2.0 technology to provide training sessions, and by publishing, periodically, responses to frequently asked questions in the weekly departmental electronic bulletin/newsletter.

Finally, we will continue to inform senior management of ATIP developments, and of our effectiveness in meeting deadlines by making periodic presentations to the Departmental Management Board.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Fisheries and Oceans Canada report on its progress implementing this recommendation in its annual report to Parliament on access to information operations.

RESPONSE: Agreed. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will include a section devoted to the Office of the Information Commissioner's 2010–2011 report card findings in the 2011–2012 departmental annual report to Parliament on the administration of the Access to Information Act