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National Defence

National Defence complements the role of the Canadian Forces and is responsible for policy, resources, interdepartmental coordination and international defence relations. The Canadian Forces command, control and administer all military strategy, plans and requirements.

Assessment: B

(Received a D in 2008–2009)

National Defence's performance in 2010–2011 was above average. Its deemed refusal rate was 9.2 percent, its average time to complete a request was down by nearly one quarter, and it largely eliminated its backlog. National Defence also made improvements to its access process—streamlining requests and ensuring extensions were reasonable and justified. As a result, complaints against National Defence dropped from 226 in 2008–2009 to 68 in 2010–2011.

National Defence access officials reported that clearing the backlog has freed analysts to work on current requests and avoid a recurrence of aging requests. Efforts to communicate closely with requesters proved helpful in responding to access requests effectively.

National Defence satisfactorily implemented four of the OIC's five 2008–2009 recommendations and continues to disagree with the fifth. The OIC has issued three recommendations to prompt further improvement (2010-2011 Recommendations).

QUICK FACTS
2008–2009 2010–2011
Number of requests carried over from previous fiscal year 674 306*
Number of new requests 1,669 1,483
Number of requests completed 1,761 1,479
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed 188,272 253,002
Deemed refusal rate 15.8%** 9.2%**
Average number of days to complete a request 125 95
Average number of days to complete a request received in 2010–2011 n/a 49
Number of consultation requests received 440 485
Percentage of required extension notices submitted to the OIC >85% >85%
Number of complaints registered with the OIC 226 68
Number of complaints the OIC resolved 111+ 17+
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information operations, as of the end of the fiscal year 61
(36.69)++
43.94
Follow-up on 2008–2009 recommendations

Time extensions: frequency.......................... Met expectations

Time extension: proper application.............. Met expectations

Record-retrieval resources........................................ Disagreed

Information Support Team............................. Met expectations

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

See report card text for details. For the full text of the recommendations, as well as the institution's initial response and October 2010 progress report, go here.

*    Of these requests, 233 came in right at the end of 2009–2010 but 73 were already overdue at the beginning of the new fiscal year.

** 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.

++ For 2010–2011, National Defence changed how it allocates its staff between privacy, information and shared functions. The number in parentheses shows how this would apply retroactively to 2008–2009, for comparative purposes.

Report card

National Defence's performance in 2010–2011 was above average. Its deemed refusal rate was 9.2 percent, its average time to complete a request was down by nearly one quarter, and it largely eliminated its backlog. National Defence also made improvements to its access process—streamlining requests and ensuring extensions were reasonable and justified. As a result, complaints against National Defence dropped from 226 in 2008–2009 to 68 in 2010–2011.

National Defence access officials reported that clearing the backlog has freed analysts to work on current requests and avoid a recurrence of aging requests. National Defence also made efforts to communicate closely with its requesters in order to streamline, clarify and inform them of the next steps in the access process or any stumbling blocks.

Establishing expectations from the beginning and staying in touch has proven key, access officials said, to dealing efficiently with requests, particularly those submitted in bulk. National Defence gets many such requests, with requesters commonly asking for all the records on a given subject. The coordinator reported that seeking agreement from the requester to split a request into more manageable parts can result in increased application fees but likely means the information can be released more quickly. Access staff said that even though requesters did not always like what they were being told, there was increased clarity and mutual understanding about the process.

Follow-up on the 2008–2009 recommendations

The OIC issued five recommendations to National Defence with the 2008–2009 report card. The following summarizes the subsequent developments at the institution in response. (For the full text of the recommendations, the institution's response and October 2010 progress report, go here.)

1. In 2010–2011, National Defence took only half of the extensions (584) that it did in 2008–2009 (1,192) which still amounts to about half of its caseload being extended for more than 30 days.

2. The OIC is concerned that nearly one third of the complaints it registered against National Defence in 2010–2011 pertained to extensions. National Defence applied extensions to 38 percent of its new requests but reported to have initiated tighter controls on taking extensions, requiring the responding areas of the institutions to document their rationale for recommending them. The improvements related to both recommendations 1 and 2 are satisfactory to the OIC; however, National Defence should continue to strive for improvement in these areas.

With regard to extensions for searching through large volumes of records, the access coordinator voiced a need for clear direction from Treasury Board Secretariat on what defines a high-volume request, arguing that increased complexity has rendered previous volume thresholds obsolete at National Defence. National Defence considers a request comprising 250 pages to be a large volume for requests requiring multiple consultations and internal deliberation. The coordinator did note that National Defence does review complaint resolutions from the OIC as a guide for how to administer volume thresholds.

3. The OIC and National Defence continue to disagree that an appropriation of more staff to the locales where it is experiencing delay in retrieving records would improve its compliance. In 2008–2009, National Defence argued, for example, that in Afghanistan, fighting the war was its top priority. The OIC's position was that, as Canada settled into its continued presence there, National Defence should have found a way of expediting record retrieval as a normal course of business, such as dedicated resources to this role. The OIC maintains this position, noting that other security-based institutions have embedded an access resource within security operations to manage the flow of requests in real time.

4. The Information Support Team provides expert consultation to the access office on matters of operations security in order to balance security requirements and speed of review. The OIC recommended that this extra level of review not cause additional delay. National Defence reported that team members come on site to review records, and that they have undergone training from access management to frame their justification for exemptions in ways that are consistent with the Access to Information Act.

5. National Defence had a backlog of 674 cases at the end of 2008–2009, prompting the OIC's recommendation that it must be reduced. As of November 2011, it stood at 24 files, none from earlier than 2010. Since clearing the backlog, National Defence has reported that its current inventory is far easier to deal with. Only 73 of the 306 requests National Defence carried over into 2011–2012 were overdue.

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

This graph shows the sources of National Defence's workload for the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Comparing 2008–2009 to 2010–2011, the institution saw an 18-percent decrease in its workload. Notably, the number of requests carried over from the previous fiscal year fell by 55 percent. At the same time the number of new requests and consultation requests decreased, by 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively. The number of pages reviewed for requests completed increased by 34 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 National Defence completed within the timelines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act decreased from 96 percent to 94 percent, with a smaller proportion of time extensions (38 percent in 2010–2011 versus 52 percent in 2008–2009). The remaining requests were completed late: 51 requests in 2008–2009 and 75 in 2010–2011. While the pool of overdue requests grew by nearly one third, National Defence completed 53 percent of these requests within 30 days after the deadline in 2010–2011, compared to 38 percent in 2008–2009.

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 National Defence 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. National Defence met the OIC's 85-percent standard for acceptable performance in this area in both 2008–2009 and 2010–2011.

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 National Defence in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that National Defence delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about National Defence's use of the time extensions allowed under the Act. The number of both deemed refusal complaints and time extension complaints fell between 2008–2009 and 2010–2011, in line with an overall drop in complaints against National Defence over the same period.

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

Text Version

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 National Defence in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Overall, the number of complaints against National Defence has fallen by 70 percent since 2008–2009. This decrease is most striking in the administrative category (82-percent decrease), which includes deemed refusal, fee and time extension complaints.

 

Resolved*

Not substantiated

Discontinued

Pending

Total

2008–2009
Administrative 105 34 42 0 181
Refusals 6 21 12 3 42
Cabinet confidences 0 3 0 0 3
Total 111 58 54 3 226
2009–2010
Administrative 41 13 15 1 70
Refusals 4 8 5** 13 30
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 45 21 20 14 100
2010–2011
Administrative 13 6 8 5 32
Refusals 4 7 8 16 35
Cabinet confidences 0 0 1 0 1
Total 17 13 17 21 68

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

** The OIC began using new disposition categories in 2010–2011. There was one refusal complaint registered in 2009–2010 and closed in 2010-2011 in the new Settled category, which comprises complaints about minor errors, settled to the Commissioner's satisfaction without a finding. For statistical purposes, this complaint was placed in the Discontinued category.

2010–2011 recommendations

National Defence's improved performance in 2010–2011 prompts the OIC to recommend that National Defence take actions that, in the OIC's view, would further enhance it.

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that National Defence consider alternative methods of document retrieval so that its operations are not imperiled, but requesters' rights are respected.

RESPONSE: National Defence uses various methods of document retrieval, taking both expediency and security into consideration. The current methods do not imperil operations. DND is aware of the rights of requesters and strives as much as possible to respect them. It should be noted that as National Defence information storage and retrieval technology changes over time the methods of document retrieval are reviewed and refined on an ongoing basis.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that National Defence reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

RESPONSE: The goal of National Defence is to respond to applicants in the least time possible considering the complexity of the requests received. There are, though, extenuating circumstances outside of the control of the Department that make the achievement of a deemed refusal rate of zero extremely challenging, Some requests fall into deemed refusal while undergoing consultations with organizations not under the control of National Defence. DND tracks the average response times for consultations and attempts to take appropriate extensions based upon historical information and thus keep the applicant informed of when to reasonably expect a response. In other cases it is the nature and complexity of the request that creates the challenge. DND continues to work with applicants to appropriately scope requests in order to add clarity so that the requests may be processed in a timely manner. In the same vein, all requests are vetted upon receipt in order to ensure that they meet all of the requirements of section 6 of the Act and to determine if the applicant has submitted more than one request within the text of their correspondence. If so, multiple requests can be assigned simultaneously, resulting in the processing of more manageable concurrent requests and quicker response times.  

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that National Defence report on its progress implementing these recommendations in its annual report to Parliament on access to information operations.

RESPONSE: National Defence will report progress in responding to the above recommendations in its annual report to Parliament on access to information operations.