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Canadian Food Inspection Agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) provides inspection services and regulatory oversight for food production, and plant and animal health products, and delivers consumer protection programs relating to the food system in Canada. CFIA enforces Health Canada policies and standards governing the safety and nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada and verifies industry compliance with federal acts and regulations.

Assessment: F

(Received a D in 2008–2009)

  • CFIA performed poorly in 2010–2011. Its deemed refusal rate was 48.3 percent and the average time to complete a request was 188 days.
  • CFIA started the year with a large carry-over of requests and a growing volume of pages to review. It also focused much of its effort on implementing a multi-year plan for long-term improvement of access to information operations, and reducing its backlog. CFIA has made progress on both fronts.
  • Given CFIA’s poor performance in 2010–2011 and that it did not respond satisfactorily to three out of the Office of the Information Commissioner’s (OIC) four 2008–2009 recommendations, the OIC is issuing recommendations in these areas as well as others to prompt improvement at the institution (2010-2011 Recommendations).
QUICK FACTS
  2008–2009 2010–2011
Number of requests carried over from previous fiscal year 56 208
Number of new requests 472 351
Number of requests completed 327 424
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed 45,651 146,885
Deemed refusal rate 35.8%* 48.3%*
Average number of days to complete a request 50 188
Average number of days to complete a request received in 2010–2011 n/a 84
Number of consultation requests received 74 77
Percentage of required extension notices submitted to the OIC <85% <85%
Number of complaints registered with the OIC 12 17
Number of complaints the OIC resolved 5** 4**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information operations, as of the end of the fiscal year 6 8.13
Follow-up on 2008–2009 recommendations

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

Improvement plan/backlog............ Did not meet expectations

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

Extension notices............................ Did not 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 reflects complaints resolved as of November 2011. As a result, the figure for 2008–2009 may differ from what appeared in the 2008–2009 report card.

Report card

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) performed poorly in 2010–2011. Its deemed refusal rate was 48.3 percent, and the average time to complete a request was 188 days. This is of concern, since CFIA received 26 percent fewer new requests than in 2008–2009, and there were two additional people on staff to process requests.

CFIA started 2010–2011 with 208 requests having been carried over from the previous year. This was roughly four times the carry-over into 2008–2009. The number of pages analysts had to review for they requests they completed more than tripled. Beyond tackling this extra workload on top of new requests, CFIA concentrated its efforts in 2010–2011 on, first, developing a plan for long-term improvement of access to information operations and, second, clearing its backlog of long-standing requests.

With regard to the former, CFIA developed a detailed process modernization plan that is slated for implementation by April 2012. The institution estimates it will take three to five years for the results of this improvement effort to be fully manifest.

The plan acknowledges the need to address “existing and engrained misconceptions,” and tasks executives to be “change agents” to this end. Leadership efforts will be bolstered by new specialized functions within the program areas and training at all levels. Also of note is that the manager of the access to information office now reports directly to CFIA’s Chief Redress Officer, who in turn reports to the President.

As part of the plan, CFIA will once again update its delegation order, this time to include the executive vice-president responsible for access to information, as well as the Chief Food Safety Officer. The move is reported to attempt to alleviate situations in which the access to information coordinator must broker disagreements between senior officials in program areas about releasing records. The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) is concerned that adding new levels of review—particularly at the executive level—will result in delays, given senior officials’ workload and competing priorities. It is the OIC’s observation that the most successful access to information operations have strong leadership from the very top of the organization. While it is necessary to bring accountability to the executive level, the OIC does not concur with adding executive positions to the delegation order.

One of CFIA’s most pressing issues in 2010–2011 was its backlog, which included files from as far back as 2007 and requests pertaining to Canada’s listeriosis outbreak in 2008. While CFIA has made progress reducing the number of these files (103 out of the 424 files it completed in 2010–2011 were from the backlog) with the infusion of financial resources to hire consultants, there is a new backlog being created (due to the size of the carry-over of requests from 2009–2010), which is of concern to the OIC. CFIA estimates that it will have spent $2 million to clear its backlog once it is completely eradicated in April 2012.

CFIA reported that information management has improved since the OIC pointed it out as a concern in the 2008–2009 report card. On the other hand, access officials said that employees are now unnecessarily saving multiple versions of every document into RDIMS, CFIA’s centrally organized document storage system, to preserve a record of even minor editorial changes rather than just the significant amendments or records of decisions.

CFIA continues to take a large number of time extensions for third-party consultations: 143 for more than 30 days during 2010–2011.

Follow-up on the 2008–2009 recommendations

The OIC issued four recommendations to CFIA 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. The OIC recommended that CFIA allocate more permanent resources to access to information operations. CFIA’s annual report to Treasury Board Secretariat on access indicates that there were 8.13 full-time equivalents in the access office during 2010–2011 (up from 6 in 2008–2009), but during the report card interview, the coordinator reported a current staff level of 12, with a target of 15. This is consistent with a consultant’s recommendation for 15–16 staff to manage its workload.

CFIA also invested in new high-speed redaction equipment and new processing software to expedite access functions.

2. CFIA has continued to implement its multi-year action plan for improvement, including reducing its backlog, along the lines the OIC noted in its 2008–2009 recommendation. The plan will be fully implemented by April 2012 and has not yet shown sufficient results.

3. Despite the OIC’s recommendation to CFIA to bring its deemed refusal rate down, the rate actually rose in 2010–2011, compared to 2008–2009, while analysts focused on the backlog, which included some very old files. The fact that the majority of the late requests were then completed within 30 days mitigates the OIC’s usual concern about overdue requests tending to languish because they are already counted as late.

4. In response to the OIC’s recommendation, CFIA changed its process to ensure it notified the OIC of all extensions it took for more than 30 days. However, again, it submitted fewer than 85 percent of the required notices, which does not meet the OIC’s standard for acceptable performance in this area.

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

This graph shows the sources of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s workload for the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Comparing 2008–2009 to 2010–2011, the institution saw a 6-percent increase in its workload, and the composition changed considerably. The number of new requests decreased by 26 percent but the number of requests carried over from the previous fiscal year nearly quadrupled. In addition, the number of pages reviewed for requests completed more than tripled.

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 Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) completed within the timelines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act increased from 73 percent to 81 percent. CFIA completed the remaining requests after their due date, but the number of these overdue requests dropped from 77 in 2008–2009 to 46 in 2010–2011. CFIA also completed the overdue requests more quickly, finishing 63 percent of them within 30 days after the deadline in 2010–2011, compared to 53 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 Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) 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. CFIA submitted fewer than 85 percent of the required notices in 2008–2009, at which point the OIC issued a recommendation that CFIA improve its performance in this area. While the institution did submit more notices in 2010–2011, it did not meet the OIC’s 85-percent standard for acceptable performance.

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 Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that CFIA delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about CFIA’s use of the time extensions allowed under the Act. The number of both types of complaint has decreased since 2008–2009. In fact, the Office of the Information Commissioner received no time extension complaints against CFIA in 2010–2011.

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 Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. CFIA has been the subject of between 10 and 20 complaints in each of those years; however, the OIC registered a larger number of refusal complaints in 2010–2011 than previously.           

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 4 3 3 0 10
Refusals 1 0 0 1 2
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 5 3 3 1 12
2009–2010
Administrative 9 1 4 0 14
Refusals 2 1 1 2 6
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 11 2 5 2 20
2010–2011
Administrative 3 1 2 0 6
Refusals 1 0 2 8 11
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 4 1 4 8 17

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

2010–2011 recommendations

Given CFIA’s poor performance in 2010–2011 and that it did not respond satisfactorily to three out of the OIC’s four 2008–2009 recommendations, the OIC is issuing recommendations in these areas as well as others to prompt improvement at the institution.

1.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency take a strong leadership role in establishing a culture of compliance throughout the institution.

RESPONSE: Agreed. The CFIA is moving forward on a service-centred agenda focused on improving service delivery as an open, transparent and visibly accountable regulatory agency. This includes the ATIP Modernization initiative aimed at increasing accountability with Agency management and focusing on service delivery of information to the public. 

The CFIA posts summaries of closed access to information requests on its website in line with Treasury Board Secretariat policy, to facilitate the informal disclosure of information to the public.  Weekly meetings with the Minister’s Office take place to keep the Minister informed of the CFIA’s progress on completing access to information requests.

The reporting structure for the ATIP program at the CFIA has changed. The ATIP Coordinator now reports to the Chief Redress Officer for the Agency who reports directly to the President. 

2.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s senior management team monitor the actions taken under its multi-year improvement plan to ensure they generate results.

RESPONSE: Agreed. The CFIA Senior Management Committee receives monthly updates on ATIP completion rates and process improvements and Branch Heads are actively engaged when there are concerns or delays in the process.  

The CFIA senior management is also engaged more actively in the beginning of the ATIP process, as it is now required to approve packages before they are sent to the ATIP Office, creating more ownership of files.

3.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that access to information performance be integrated into the performance management agreements of all senior management positions responsible for the access program at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

RESPONSE: Agreed. ATIP performance will be included in performance management agreements for all Senior Management Committee members starting in 2012–2013. 

Dedicated ATIP Advisor positions in each of the core Branches have been established, who report directly to their respective Branch Head on Branch-related ATIP issues and activities.

4.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency provide training to all staff on the access to information function.

RESPONSE: Agreed. The CFIA has significantly increased training on access to information since the OIC’s initial report card for the 2008–2009 fiscal year. The Agency trained approximately 1,000 employees during the 2010–2011 fiscal year, which is an increase of 93% over the 2008–2009 fiscal year, where only 75 employees were trained. 

 

5.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency manage its workload so that it does not create a new backlog while it completes the long-standing requests in its inventory.

RESPONSE: Agreed. The CFIA has made significant strides in managing its workload and has eliminated its backlog of late requests with the help of expert consultants. The CFIA is now focused on managing its workload without the use of expert consultants by integrating new internal control processes and engaging senior management.

The ATIP Office meets weekly with Branch ATIP Advisors to discuss procedures with the goal of improving compliance. Any delays in the processing of requests are flagged to the appropriate Branch Head for immediate attention. Monthly updates are provided to the CFIA Senior Management Committee.

6.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

RESPONSE: Agreed. As previously mentioned, the CFIA has eliminated its backlog of late requests and increased management oversight. Additional process improvements such as internal control procedures and training of staff on the legislative requirements of the Access to Information Act continue.

 

7.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency maintain the configuration of its current delegation order rather than adding two new levels of senior management.

RESPONSE: Agreed. The delegation order has been revised to reflect the change of President.  The CFIA has adopted a new Agency process whereby routine requests are signed off by the ATIP Coordinator and complex ones by the Chief Redress Officer. This streamlining of sign-off provides for greater oversight by senior management in the process.

 

8.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency comply with the Act and notify the Office of the Information Commissioner of all the extensions it takes for more than 30 days.

RESPONSE: Agreed. Notifying the OIC when an extension is taken of more than 30 days is part of the CFIA’s procedures. Further training and guidance is being provided to staff to ensure consistent compliance with this requirement. 

 

9. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency report on its progress on and results of implementing its improvement plan and these recommendations in its annual report to Parliament on access to information operations.

RESPONSE: Agreed. The CFIA will continue to report on its progress and results on program improvements and the OIC’s recommendations in its Annual Report to Parliament on access to information operations.