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Appendix A: Status update from Treasury Board Secretariat on systemic issues

The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) issued five recommendations to Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) related to the systemic issues identified in the 2008–2009 special report. Since then, TBS has provided updates to its response to these recommendations, first to report on its work in 2009–2010 and now to summarize developments in 2010–2011 and subsequently. Both are presented below.

OIC recommendation 1

That the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat assess the extent to which institutions implement the best practices on the delegation of powers, duties and functions pursuant to section 73 of the Access to Information Act with the view to achieving appropriate, efficient and transparent delegation orders.

Context

In the Commissioner's April 2010 Special Report to Parliament it was noted that the Commissioner's office uncovered oral evidence that delegation orders have a direct and significant impact on the ability of institutions to meet the statutory deadlines for responding to requests for information. The Report also referenced the best practices developed by the Treasury Board Secretariat. Among the 18 best practices, one recommends that ATIP Coordinators be delegated full authority by the head of the institution for the administration of the Act.

TBS 2009–2010 response

In the spring of 2010 TBS issued a number of best practices, which included the following regarding delegation:

That the Access to Information Coordinator be given full delegated authority by the head of the institution for the administration of the Act; and

That the head of the institution delegate functions as far down within the Access to Information Office as possible. For example, extension and third party notices can be delegated to Access to Information Officers, as well as to the Coordinator. In response to the Commissioner's recommendation, TBS reviewed the delegation orders of 24 institutions that were assessed by the Office of the Information Commissioner for the period 2008–2009 as part of its Report Card initiative. It also analyzed statistical data provided by the same institutions. It was found that in most institutions ATIP Coordinators have full delegation. It was also found that delegation by itself is not a determinant factor in meeting statutory timelines. Delegation is, however, an important element and can eliminate unnecessary levels of approval. To ensure that delegation is properly addressed, the Policy on Access to Information requires heads of institutions to consider whether any of their powers, duties or functions under the Act should be delegated. Furthermore, the Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act requires heads to respect certain principles when delegating, such as:

  • Heads can only designate officers and employees of their government institution;
  • Powers, duties and functions are delegated to positions identified by title, not to individuals identified by name;
  • Persons with delegated authorities are to be well informed of their responsibilities;
  • Powers, duties and functions that have been delegated may not be further delegated; and
  • The delegation order is to be reviewed when circumstances surrounding the delegations have changed.

TBS 2010–2011 response

On July 20, 2011 the Secretary of the Treasury Board sent an email to all Deputy Ministers and Heads of Agencies encouraging them to consult the TBS Website for new fact sheets and best practices for the delegation orders.

OIC recommendation 2

That, as part of the Management Accountability Framework, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat review current criteria to ensure that they are measuring the overall performance of federal institutions in meeting their obligations under the Access to Information Act.

TBS 2009–2010 response

The Management Accountability Framework (MAF) sets out the Treasury Board Secretariat's expectations of senior public service managers in a number of areas for good public service management, including on the administration of the Access to Information Act. Activities related to the Act's administration have been assessed under MAF since fiscal year 2005–2006. Assessments comprise a review and analysis of institutions' annual reports to Parliament, their Info Source chapters and a number of other reports to determine if institutions are providing complete, comprehensive and up-to-date descriptions of their functions, programs, activities and related information holdings. This year, the Secretariat added new requirements that are focused on governance and capacity, which are intended to evaluate the ability of institutions to administer the ATIP program, including the way institutions are organized to respond to ATI requests, whether procedures are established for ATI specialists and program officials and whether training is being delivered and taken. Areas assessed are reviewed on an annual basis to ensure the continued effectiveness of MAF.

It is, however, important to note that MAF is not the only assessment tool. Parliament put in place a mechanism to ensure accountability for the administration of the Access to Information Act. Section 72 of the Act requires the head of each government institution to present to Parliament an annual report on the administration of the Act within their institution. TBS also collects, in accordance with the Act, statistical data to assess institutions' compliance. Data collection will significantly be expanded in the coming year. Further details on this point are provided in the TBS response to recommendations 3 and 4. TBS is committed to continue working with the Office of the Information Commissioner and institutions in order to ensure the effectiveness of reporting and compliance activities.

TBS 2010–2011 response

Additional questions on governance and capacity were introduced in MAF 2010–2011 in order to evaluate the ability of institutions to administer the ATIP program. For MAF 2011–2012, the Secretariat added new questions to assess compliance with policy instruments to broaden assessment beyond legislative reporting requirements. As such, TBS evaluated institutions' responses to ATI requests, procedures established for ATI specialists and program officials, and training delivered and taken.

The methodology for assessments continues to be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure the continued effectiveness of MAF.

OIC recommendation 3

That the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat collect annual statistics in accordance with Recommendations 3, 4 and 5 included in the 2007–2008 Special Report.

OIC recommendation 4

That the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, together with relevant institutions, assess the magnitude of consultations between federal institutions and the impact of such consultations on institutions' workloads with a view to allocating appropriate resources for this function.

TBS 2009–2010 response

TBS has been collecting statistical data from institutions on their application of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act since the Acts came into force in 1983. Data is consolidated and published yearly in the Info Source Bulletin. Beginning in April 2011, TBS will be expanding its requirements for the collection of annual Access to Information statistical data. Institutions will be required to compile and report annually on new data elements, such as number of pages processed, timelines, extensions, consultations and delays. The new data will provide a better understanding of the workload of institutions, the complexity of requests, causes of delay and will enable TBS to better assess compliance of institutions with the Access to Information Act. The results of the new data elements will be published in the Fall 2012 edition of the Info Source Bulletin. TBS will continue to work closely with institutions to assist them with the transition to the new data collection requirements.

TBS 2010–2011 response

Starting in May 2012, TBS will collect the results of the new data elements on areas such as consultations, fees, time extensions, and deemed refusals, that will be published in the Fall 2012 edition of the Info Source Bulletin.

TBS will continue to work closely with the institutions to assist them with the transition to the new data collection requirements.

In terms of workloads associated with consultations, TBS has amended the Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act (directive) to limit inter-institutional consultations in a continuous effort to reduce delays. While consultations related to sections 15 (exemptions related to international affairs and defence) and 16 (exemptions related to law enforcement and investigations) were previously mandatory under the former Directive, consultations are now limited to 2 circumstances:

  • Where the processing institution requires more information for the proper exercise of discretion to withhold information;
  • Where the processing institution intends to disclose sensitive information.

OIC recommendation 5

That the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, in collaboration with relevant institutions and agencies, develop and implement, as a matter of urgency, an integrated human resources action plan to address the current shortage of access to information staff.

TBS 2009–2010 response

The Access to Information and Privacy Community is comprised of dedicated professionals who strive to provide good service to Canadians. TBS has actively been supporting the ATIP Community in a variety of ways. It meets with the Community regularly, develops tools and guidance and offers
a wide range of awareness sessions on ATIP-related topics. Since April 1, 2008, 134 sessions have been delivered, with 1,617 participants attending. Another 26 sessions are planned for this coming year.

In addition, the Secretariat launched last spring an initiative to address the recruitment and retention challenges of the Community to ensure it has the capacity to deliver ATIP services now and in the future. With key stakeholders and several representatives from ATIP offices across the federal public service, generic organizational models, work descriptions, and competencies to standardize the work across the public service are being developed. These tools will form the basis for the launch of a collective staffing process, as well as the design and implementation of a broader community development and learning strategy.

TBS 2010–2011 response

The TBS' commitment to training remains strong. TBS has for several years offered a training program to meet the specific needs of the ATIP community, providing on an ongoing basis, free of charge and in both official languages, sessions on a variety of ATIP-related topics. Since April 1, 2008, 159 sessions have been delivered, with over 1,960 participants attending. Another 16 sessions are scheduled to the end of the 2011–2012 fiscal year.

In Fall 2011, the Treasury Board Secretariat consulted the ATIP community to better understand the challenges it faces and assess its strengths and identify its needs. The conclusions contributed to the development of the training plan for 2012–2013. This plan will be posted before the end of the fiscal year 2011–2012 in order for ATIP staff to inform their individual learning plans.

The Secretariat is also addressing broader issues related to community development. For example, the Community Development Initiative (CDI) launched in 2010 addresses the recruitment and retention challenges of the Community to ensure it has the capacity to deliver ATIP services now and in the future. With key stakeholders and several representatives from ATIP offices across the federal public service, generic organizational models and work descriptions were finalized and will be submitted to the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO) for validation. Contracting for a competencies dictionary to standardize the work across the public service is currently under way. These tools will form the basis for the launch of a collective staffing process, as well as the design and implementation of a broader community development and learning strategy. The Secretariat will keep the Community updated on developments.

In addition, the Canada School of Public Service and the Treasury Board Secretariat have undertaken work to meet federal employee learning needs with respect to Access to Information. A cornerstone is the Access to Information and Privacy overview course which is currently offered by the Canada School. The course, which was piloted during the summer of 2010, is available across Canada in both official languages. The Canada School is responsible for reviewing and updating all of its courses which have components related to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act to ensure they reflect changes brought to the ATIP legislation, recent jurisprudence as well as the new policy instruments. Specifically, the Canada School is targeting training to ensure a learning continuum that starts with the Orientation of all new public servants, and the four mandatory Authority Delegation Training courses for public service managers. The Canada School maintains attendance records for all authority delegation training courses and is in a position to provide statistical information on the successful completion of the mandatory online assessment tools that aim at confirming the knowledge acquisition through this training.

Finally, the Secretariat regularly provides briefings on ATIP for senior officials. The Secretariat also offers individual briefings on access to information and privacy to Governor in Council appointees.