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Canada Revenue Agency

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) administers tax laws for the Government of Canada and for most provinces and territories. CRA also delivers economic and social benefit and incentive programs through the tax system.

Assessment: D

(Received a D in 2008–2009)

  • CRA’s performance in 2010–2011 reflects its enormous challenges—including receiving 46 percent more new access requests than in 2008–2009 and having to review more than 1.1 million pages—notwithstanding significant efforts and support from senior leadership. CRA’s deemed refusal rate was 33.5 percent, and the average time to complete a request was 146 days. The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) received 502 complaints against CRA in 2010–2011, the majority of which pertained to delay.
  • CRA took concrete steps to eliminate its backlog of 500 long-standing requests (there were about 100 left at the end of 2010–2011). CRA took this action to make operations sustainable and improve performance over the long term.
  • CRA responded satisfactorily to two of the OIC’s five 2008–2009 recommendations and partially to a third. The OIC is still concerned about CRA’s delegation order and deemed refusal rate. The OIC has re-issued recommendations on these points, along with new ones to prompt CRA to take measures that, if successful, would lead to a decrease in its request and complaint volumes (2010-2011 Recommendations).
QUICK FACTS
2008–2009 2010–2011
Number of requests carried over from previous fiscal year 690 1,043
Number of new requests 1,770 2,589
Number of requests completed 1,540 2,605
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed 575,231 1,116,015
Deemed refusal rate 15.1%* 33.5%*
Average number of days to complete a request 73 146
Average number of days to complete a request received in 2010–2011 n/a 56
Number of consultation requests received 125 116
Percentage of required extension notices submitted to the OIC >85% <85%
Number of complaints registered with the OIC 302 502
Number of complaints the OIC resolved 137** 171**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information operations, as of the end of the fiscal year 44 38.3+
Follow-up on 2008–2009 recommendations

Delegation order........................... Did not meet expectations

Time extensions............................ Met expectations

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

Deemed refusal rate...................... Did not meet expectations

Extension notices......................... Did not fully meet 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 differ from what appeared in the 2008–2009 report card.

+  The actual staff complement for CRA’s access to information and privacy office was 79 full-time equivalents (FTEs). When reporting on its staff complement to the Treasury Board Secretariat, CRA apportions the number of FTEs according to the ratio of access and privacy files in its inventory. Therefore, the 38.3 FTEs noted here does not represent a decrease in staff from 2008–2009, but rather an increase in the ratio of privacy to access requests, for which staff were proportionately assigned.

Report card

The Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) performance in 2010–2011 reflects its enormous challenges. It received 46 percent more new access requests than in 2008–2009, and officials had to review more than 1.1 million pages for the requests it closed (the highest volume among institutions in the 2010–2011 report card process). CRA’s deemed refusal rate was 33.5 percent.

CRA made a conscious decision in 2010–2011 to focus on the backlog of more than 500 long-standing large and complex files to make operations sustainable and improve performance over the long term. Some of these files dated from as far back as 2006. When CRA made this decision, it did not anticipate receiving such a large increase in requests and page volumes in 2010–2011.

A dedicated team did reduce the backlog to about 100 files by the end of 2010–2011. While doing so, however, CRA’s new requests surged, particularly from frequent requesters, and the deemed refusal rate increased. Also, by completing older files, the overall average time to complete a request doubled from the 73 days CRA had achieved in 2008–2009 to 146 days (although it is 56 days when looking just at requests received and completed in 2010–2011). Complaints to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) rose by two thirds to reach 502, by far the most of any of this year’s cohort. Two requesters were responsible for 78 percent of the complaints the OIC registered against CRA in 2010–2011.The majority of these complaints were delay-related, although 40 percent of them were subsequently discontinued. Exemption complaints were also high, at 105, along with 95 complaints in the “no records/incomplete response” category. CRA has worked closely with the OIC to resolve them.

There are indications stemming from OIC complaint investigations that CRA had been applying exemptions and exclusions without specifying the precise parts of the records to which they apply in a limited number of files. This is having an impact on the OIC’s ability to advance complaint investigations when CRA has to retroactively apply the exemptions and exclusions. At the time of writing, CRA appears to have corrected the deficiencies, and reported that a new redaction system requires analysts to attach a rationale to exemptions when taking them.

CRA has long received bulk requests from two requesters. The institution dealt with this by establishing a dedicated team to manage these requests. In financial terms, CRA estimates that it had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2010–2011 to respond to one of these requesters. The OIC acknowledges the trying circumstances under which the CRA operates, and that these bulk requests and the corresponding complaints challenge CRA’s ability to be responsive to requesters. These circumstances have also had a significant impact on CRA’s performance and deemed refusal rate and the OIC’s workload.

According to Treasury Board Secretariat statistics, requests to CRA increased by 44 percent in the 2010-2011 reporting period. Some institutions have had success in reducing the number of incoming requests by taking a proactive approach to access to information, by making certain types of records available on their Internet sites in an effort to be transparent. This approach can sometimes divert the number of formal requests to the institution.

Following the institution’s “D” grade on the 2008–2009 report card, CRA senior management allotted 21 new full-time equivalents for access to information and privacy operations at headquarters as well as the regional offices in Montréal and Vancouver. This was part of an extensive business plan developed in September 2010. An additional 37 full-time equivalents were added in September 2011. Further new resources were brought on to address auxiliary matters in the access and privacy office, such as training, communications and information technology. Managers in the regional offices now have greater delegated authority (as do all access managers) and no longer require regional assistant commissioners to approve request responses. This has had a cohesive effect on access operations, access officials said.

CRA reported that it will take a full business cycle of three to five years to see marked improvement in its access to information performance.

Follow-up on the 2008–2009 recommendations

The OIC issued five recommendations to CRA 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 its October 2010 progress report, go here).

  1. CRA amended the delegation order in response to the OIC’s recommendation so that access managers are now able to sign off on files that formerly only the two assistant directors could approve. This change has had positive results for the flow of requests, CRA reported. In addition, the deputy assistant commissioners were removed from the delegation order. Despite these improvements, it is the OIC’s view that the delegation order is still too protracted, with assistant commissioners in the regions and program areas having delegated authority. Access officials reported that this configuration has no impact on CRA’s ability to process requests in a timely manner. However, the OIC’s position remains that protracted delegation orders create the potential for delay.
  2. In response to the OIC’s recommendation to document the criteria it uses for taking extensions for searching through records or interference with operations, CRA reported that it does not take these extensions systematically and analysts are required to document the reason for taking them. However, CRA’s use of these extensions remains high, at 902 in 2010–2011, with half of them being for more than 30 days. The institution reported that it is developing a new procedures manual that will, among other things, provide guidance on how to make extension decisions.
  3. The OIC was concerned in 2008–2009 about the size of CRA’s backlog of long-standing requests. In addition to reducing that inventory by nearly four fifths, and clearing almost all the very old cases (at the time of writing there were seven access files left from prior to April 1, 2010), CRA is now working to keep the backlog of more recent files (requests carried over from 2010–2011 into 2011–2012) under control.
  4. Despite CRA’s decision to focus on its backlog, the OIC is very concerned that the deemed refusal rate reached the level it did (33.5 percent). This is the exact opposite result to the one the OIC expected when it issued its 2008–2009 recommendation on CRA’s then 15.1-percent deemed refusal rate, although the OIC recognizes the operational pressures CRA was working under during 2010–2011. CRA reported that as measures to eliminate the backlog, increase information disclosure and make its processes more efficient take effect, its deemed refusal rate is slowly decreasing.
  5. Past challenges in reporting extensions of more than 30 days to the OIC seem to be on the way to being resolved. The OIC received 84 percent of the required notices (although CRA reported that it had sent more). This is just one percentage point short of the 85-percent standard for acceptable performance in this area.

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

This graph shows the sources of the Canada Revenue Agency’s workload for the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Comparing 2008–2009 to 2010–2011, the institution saw a 45-percent increase in its workload, due to receiving 46 percent more new access requests and having a 51-percent larger carry-over of requests from the previous fiscal year (43 percent of which were already late). The number of pages reviewed for requests completed nearly doubled (94-percent increase) to more than 1.1 million, the most among the institutions that were part of the 2010–2011 report card process.

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 the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) completed within the timelines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act dropped from 92 percent to 77 percent. The remaining requests were completed late: 92 requests in 2008–2009 and 400 in 2010–2011. The Office of the Information Commissioner is concerned, first, that the pool of requests completed late more than quadrupled and, second, that it took CRA longer to complete these requests: 23 percent were more than 90 days late in 2010–2011 compared to 10 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 the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) 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. CRA met the OIC’s 85-percent standard for acceptable performance in this area in 2008–2009 and came within one percentage point 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 the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that CRA delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about CRA’s use of the time extensions allowed under the Act. The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) received 256 deemed refusal complaints against CRA in 2010–2011, compared to fewer than 50 in each of the previous two years. Even excluding the complaints that were discontinued (103), the 2010–2011 complaint volume is still more than three times greater than it had been in recent years. In contrast, the number of time extension complaints dropped by 80 percent.

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

Text Version

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) registered against the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. In 2010–2011, the number of administrative complaints more than doubled from the 2008–2009 level, to 296. A large majority of these complaints (86 percent) pertained to deemed refusals; however, 103 of these were discontinued. The OIC also registered 105 exemption complaints (refusals) against CRA in 2010–2011, 91 of which were pending at the time of writing.            

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

 

Resolved*

Not substantiated

Discontinued

Pending

Total

2008–2009
Administrative 113 5 22 1 141
Refusals 24 6 117 14 161
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 137 11 139 15 302
2009–2010
Administrative 37 2 11 1 51
Refusals 25 19 77 88 209
Cabinet confidences 0 1 0 0 1
Total 62 22 88 89 261
2010–2011
Administrative 164 3 126** 3 296
Refusals 7 11 51** 137 206
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 171 14 177 140 502

* 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. That year, there were four complaints (three miscellaneous and one refusal) in the new Settled category, which comprises complaints about minor errors, settled to the Commissioner’s satisfaction without a finding. For reporting purposes, these complaints were placed in the Discontinued category.

2010–2011 recommendations

The OIC is re-issuing the 2008–2009 recommendations about the CRA’s deemed refusal rate and delegation order. The recommendation about the extension notices, however, is not being issued as the CRA came within one percentage point of compliance, and the OIC is mindful of significant other pressures affecting the CRA. There are two new recommendations, intended to prompt CRA to take measures that, if successful, would lead to a decrease in its complaint and request volumes.

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

RESPONSE: The CRA agrees with this recommendation and will continue to strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate as much as possible. Towards this end, the CRA has developed a robust improvement plan, and has allocated considerable resources towards its implementation. As indicated in this report card, the CRA made significant progress eliminating its backlog in 2010–2011. This progress continued in 2011–2012, during which time the backlog inventory was completely eliminated. Elimination of this aged inventory is expected to make the CRA’s access to information (ATI) operations sustainable, and improve its performance over the longer term. Eliminating this backlog inventory is also expected to reduce the CRA’s deemed refusal rate over time. Indeed, the CRA’s 2011–2012 deemed refusal rate is projected to be less than that of 2010–2011.

It should be noted, however, that the CRA continues to face operational challenges, including those related to increasing requests and page volumes, particularly as they relate to bulk requesters—two of whom accounted for one third of the CRA’s ATI inventory in 2010–2011. Within this context, the CRA will strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate as far as possible. Continued monitoring of performance against targets will support achievement of this goal.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Minister of National Revenue further amend the delegation order to ensure greater autonomy of the access to information coordinator.

RESPONSE: The CRA accepts this recommendation, but asserts that it has already taken steps to ensure autonomy of its access to information coordinator. In response to the OIC’s 2008–2009 report card recommendation, the CRA removed delegations assigned to deputy assistant commissioners and expanded delegations to managers with the Access to Information and Privacy Directorate. These measures served to expedite the processing of requests. The CRA chose not to remove assistant commissioner delegations at this time, because the complexity of some ATI requests within the CRA necessitates a strong consultative relationship between records holders and the access to information authority, which the current delegation order provides. Moreover, internal reviews of the CRA approval process have provided no evidence that delegation of authority to assistant commissioners creates delay. Within this context, however, the CRA will once again consider the necessity of amending its delegation order to ensure autonomy of its access to information coordinator.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency explore proactive disclosure measures that would eliminate the need for common and recurring access to information requests.

RESPONSE: The CRA agrees with this recommendation and has already initiated actions to expand proactive disclosure through internal training and communications, and by posting the summary lines of completed ATI requests on its website. It should be noted, however, that the majority of access requests received by the CRA are taxpayer-related and cannot be addressed through proactive means. In 2012–2013, the CRA will continue to promote proactive disclosure by increasing the number of documents available on the CRA website and through its virtual reading room project. Towards this end, the Public Affairs Branch will engage with the senior management of each branch and region to discern where additional proactive disclosure mechanisms could be invoked. Special effort will be directed to those areas of the CRA where proactive disclosure mechanisms could potentially be expanded.

As well, in 2012–2013, the Public Affairs Branch will identify areas where additional training of personnel is required to maximize their understanding and application of informal disclosure mechanisms. Particular attention will be directed to those areas of the CRA that receive the most requests and/or where informal disclosure mechanisms could be used more effectively.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency process all records properly, specifying the precise part to which each exemption or exclusion applies at the point when they are being invoked.

RESPONSE: The CRA agrees with this recommendation and has already taken steps to ensure that sufficient explanation is provided when exemptions and exclusions are invoked. As the OIC states in this assessment, the CRA has already committed to providing strengthened justifications within its ATI files. However, the CRA contends that, notwithstanding the cases already discussed with OIC, this is already a general practice within the CRA.

In 2012–2013, the CRA will invoke additional measures to ensure strong explanations are included when applying exemptions and exclusions. An updated redaction system, which will be launched in May 2012, will not allow exemptions or exclusions to be applied unless accompanied by a justification. Manuals are also being updated so analysts are provided with better guidance on how to document use of exclusions and exemptions, and this documentation will be supplemented with internal training.

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

RESPONSE: The CRA fully agrees with this recommendation. Each year, the CRA tables its Annual Report to Parliament on the Administration of the Access to Information Act in order to provide an overview of progress and challenges faced during the fiscal year. The CRA will ensure the annual report provides an update on progress made against OIC recommendations.