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Information Requests Bogged Down

Information requests bogged down by 'management crisis': watchdog

Last Updated: Thursday, February 26, 2009 | 1:47 PM ET (CBC News, 2009)

A “major information management crisis” is causing significant delays in access-to- information requests, with six out of 10 federal agencies receiving a "below-average" grade for their compliance, the federal information watchdog says.
In his annual report card, covering 2007-2008, Information Commissioner Robert Marleau said the most significant finding is that the 30-day timeline intended by Parliament is becoming the exception instead of the norm.
He said some of the institutions reviewed this year took an average of 120 days to respond to requesters.
“There is a disturbing trend toward greater use of time extensions and for longer periods of time," Marleau said.
Of the 10 agencies reviewed, the RCMP, Foreign Affairs, National Defence, Public Works, Canada Border Services Agency and Health Canada all received “below- average” ratings.
He said the reasons for their grading include excessive workload, lack of resources and inefficient processes.
“The poor performance shown by institutions is symptomatic of what has become a major information management crisis,” Marleau said.
He said the “crisis” has been exacerbated by the failure to keep up with the pace of technological developments which has led to outmoded "paper" practices, inconsistencies, overlapping or duplication of information.
He said some institutions don’t even know what information they are holding.
“Access to information has become hostage to this crisis and is about to become its victim,” he said.
Consultations create delays
Marleau also noted that there is not enough qualified personnel to handle access-to- information operations and that the increasing number of consultations between institutions create substantial delays.
Marleau noted that the Canada Border Services Agency, Public Works, Health Canada and the RCMP have been able to reduce their backlog of requests.
He acknowledged the workloads of both Foreign Affairs and the Defence Department have significantly increased during the review due to Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
Marleau also singled out the efforts of the Justice Department, and Library and Archive Canada for achieving "outstanding results."
Among his recommendations, Marleau called for:
  • Improving information management practices throughout government institutions.
  • Allocating more resources for the departments' access-to-information units.
  • A review of the processing methods for information requests, to improve efficiency and timeliness.
SOURCE:
CBC News. (2009, February 26). Canada News. Retrieved February 26, 2009 from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/02/26/access-information.html
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