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Natural Resources Canada

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) encourages innovation and expertise in earth sciences, forestry, energy and minerals, and metals to ensure responsible and sustainable development of Canada's natural resources.

Assessment: C

(Received an F in 2008–2009)

  • NRCan improved its performance in 2010–2011. Its deemed refusal rate was 13.2 percent, and its average time to complete a request was 59 days. NRCan completed all the requests it received between September 2010 and March 2011 on time, and closed all 24 of the long-standing requests in its backlog.
  • NRCan attributed this improved performance to its Re-engineering ATIP initiative, launched in September 2010. This multi-faceted initiative involved, among other things, revising the delegation order so that the coordinator is now the only person who may act for the minister with regard to exemptions and other access matters.
  • NRCan satisfactorily implemented all five of the Office of the Information Commissioner's (OIC) 2008–2009 recommendations. The OIC is issuing six new recommendations to prompt further performance improvement (2010-2011 Recommendations).
QUICK FACTS
2008–2009 2010–2011
Number of requests carried over from previous fiscal year 72 41
Number of new requests 365 354
Number of requests completed 370 363
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed 64,462 73,774
Deemed refusal rate 22.4%* 13.2%*
Average number of days to complete a request 65 59
Number of consultation requests received 170 147
Percentage of required extension notices submitted to the OIC <85% >85%
Number of complaints registered with the OIC 11 5
Number of complaints the OIC resolved 1** 1**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information operations, as of the end of the fiscal year 5.6 7.0
Follow-up on 2008–2009 recommendations

Delegation order.............................................. Met expectations

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

Average completion time............................... Met expectations

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

Extension notices............................................ 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 .

*   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

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) improved its performance in 2010–2011. Its deemed refusal rate was 13.2 percent, and its average time to complete a request was 59 days. NRCan completed all the requests it received between September 2010 and March 2011 on time, and closed all 24 of the long-standing requests in its backlog.

NRCan launched its Re-engineering ATIP initiative in September 2010. This multi-faceted initiative involved, importantly, revising the delegation order so that the coordinator is now the only person who may act for the minister with regard to exemptions and other access matters.

Ultimately, the plan resulted in increased internal accountability, brought attention to the access function across the institution, and focused the attention of NRCan's leadership on the need to improve after NRCan received a failing grade on the 2008–2009 report card. An institution-wide, director general-level committee now provides executive oversight for access operations. Chaired by the Director General, Corporate Secretariat and Parliamentary Affairs Branch, the committee's specific objective is to improve NRCan's average completion time for requests. The committee also considers issues related to institutional access policy and processing procedures, training and sharing of best practices across the institution. Further, the deputy minister identified improving access performance as a corporate priority for 2010–2011. As a result, access performance measures were added to the performance management agreements of NRCan executives.    

The access office has also seen an increase in resources. The number of full-time equivalents grew from 5.6 in 2008–2009 to 7 in 2010–2011, although there is funding available for 12 positions. There has been a renewed emphasis on training, which is delivered to a variety of staff, including directors and program managers, and has served to reinforce the re-engineering program. NRCan reports that software tools continue to present significant challenges for officers and managers, which has resulted in inefficiencies and eroded confidence in the accuracy of software-generated reports. However, the office has invested in a new system for processing and redacting records, which it hopes will lead to efficiencies and better reporting accuracy. There were also plans to renovate and expand office space in December 2011.

NRCan has observed a general improvement in the time required for consultations. However, the prolonged time taken by certain institutions to turn the consultation requests around continues to impact NRCan's processing times.

Follow-up on the 2008–2009 recommendations

The OIC issued five recommendations to NRCan 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 the October 2010 progress report, go here.)

  1. NRCan amended the delegation order, as per the OIC's recommendation, such that only the coordinator has delegated authority for exemptions and other access matters. This is the optimal arrangement in the OIC's view.
  2. NRCan allocated new resources to the ATIP program, including staff, equipment and upgraded office space.
  3. As recommended by the OIC, NRCan reduced its average completion time, and has struck a director-general committee to strive for further improvement.
  4. NRCan reduced its deemed refusal rate by 41 percent from 2008–2009.
  5. NRCan met the OIC's 85-percent standard for acceptable performance in terms of submitting the required notices of extensions of longer than 30 days, as per the OIC's recommendation.

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

This graph shows the sources of Natural Resources Canada's workload for the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Comparing 2008–2009 to 2010–2011, the institution saw an 11-percent decrease in its workload. This was due to decreases in all three categories of incoming work: new requests (3 percent), requests carried over from the previous fiscal year (43 percent) and consultation requests (14 percent). The number of pages reviewed for requests completed increased by 14 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 Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) completed within the timelines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act rose from 68 percent to 91 percent. The remaining requests were completed late: 111 requests in 2008–2009 and 28 in 2010–2011. In addition to decreasing its pool of overdue requests, NRCan completed them more quickly, finishing 79 percent within 30 days after the deadline in 2010–2011, compared to 54 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 Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) reported to have taken in 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. NRCan submitted fewer than 85 percent of the required notices in 2008–2009, at which point the OIC issued a recommendation that NRCan improve its performance in this area. In 2010–2011, NRCan submitted more than 85 percent of the required notices. The OIC notes the increased number of extensions NRCan took in 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 Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that NRCan delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about NRCan's use of the time extensions allowed under the Act. Overall, the number of complaints of which NRCan was the subject decreased by 55 percent from 2008–2009 to 2010–2011. There were no complaints about deemed refusals in 2010–2011, and the number of time extension complaints dropped by half from 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 Natural Resources Canada in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. The number of complaints decreased by more than half in 2010–2011 from the level in the two previous reporting periods.

 

Resolved*

Not substantiated

Discontinued

Pending

Total

2008–2009
Administrative 1 4 1 0 6
Refusals 0 0 1 2 3
Cabinet confidences 0 2 0 0 2
Total 1 6 2 2 11
2009–2010
Administrative 2 2 1 0 5
Refusals 1 3 0 1 5
Cabinet confidences 0 1 0 0 1
Total 3 6 1 1 11
2010–2011
Administrative 1 0 1 1 3
Refusals 0 0 0 2 2
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 1 0 1 3 5

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

2010–2011 recommendations

Although NRCan's performance was better in 2010–2011 than it was in 2008–2009, a "C" grade is tenuous and indicates that there is still room for improvement. As a result, the OIC is issuing the following recommendations.

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Minister of Natural Resources and the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Canada demonstrate leadership in overseeing the progress and compliance with the Access to Information Act of the access to information office.

RESPONSE: Natural Resources Canada ATIP officials continue to meet weekly with Minister's staff to brief on the division's progress and compliance with the Access to Information Act. The Deputy Minister and the senior level cadre are briefed weekly at the DM's Operations Committee by the ADM of the branch responsible for access to information via the division's weekly report—"ATI at a Glance."   

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Natural Resources Canada set out fixed time frames within which consulted institutions have an opportunity to provide their severing recommendations. Failing that, Natural Resources Canada, as the government institution in receipt of the request, would determine for itself any applicable exemptions.

RESPONSE: NRCan's Access to Information division will continue to look at innovative approaches to working with colleagues from other government departments to improve performance as it relates to the timeliness of consultations. Fixed timelines will continue to be a part of the consultation process.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Natural Resources Canada review and document the criteria it uses for extensions to ensure that they are reasonable and legitimate.

RESPONSE: NRCan ATIP officials will continue to ensure that reasonable and legitimate criteria are used when determining the need for extensions. In particular, the ATIP division is disciplined in ensuring the new TBS directives are consistently applied in all cases.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Natural Resources Canada reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

RESPONSE: NRCan has improved its deemed refusal rate significantly since its last reporting period. NRCan will maintain the new processes that have contributed to this success and continue to look for new ways of doing business to ensure its compliance rate improves. Our current calculations for fiscal year 2011–2012 demonstrate a 2% deemed refusal rate.

5. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Natural Resources Canada continue to strive to reduce its average completion time.

RESPONSE: Over and above implementation of all of the OIC 2008–2009 report card recommendations, NRCan has put a number of mechanisms in place that will assist in its goal to reduce its average completion time. These include building the proper governance of ATIP processing via the DG ATIP Committee, weekly briefings with the Minister's Office, weekly briefings to the department's Senior Management Team at the Deputy Minister's weekly Operations Committee, performance measures in executive performance agreements, the introduction of e-tools to facilitate processing, improved tracking mechanisms, and state of the art facilities for the ATIP team, to name a few.

6. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Natural Resources Canada report on its progress implementing these recommendations in its annual report to Parliament on access to information operations.

RESPONSE: NRCan will address the progress on implementing these recommendations in the upcoming annual report to Parliament on access to information.