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Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Australian National Audit Office taking a peek at FOI efficiency and effectiveness

We know auditors go about their work quietly....

Even so I was surprised to learn recently that the Australian National Audit Office has underway a performance audit Administration of the Freedom of Information Act:

Entities: Attorney-General’s Department; Office of the Australian Information Commissioner; Department of Social Services; Department of Veterans' Affairs.
Objective: To assess the effectiveness and efficiency of entities’ implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

Audit Criteria:
  1. The Attorney-General’s Department and Office of the Australian Information Commissioner effectively and efficiently perform their respective roles in providing guidance and assistance to entities and monitoring compliance with the FOI Act.
  2. The selected entities effectively and efficiently process FOI document access requests.
  3. The selected entities release relevant information under the Information Publication Scheme (IPS).
Wikimedia Commons:Paty Montano
Mention of the audit first appeared on the ANAO website in August in their yearly work plan.It likely passed unnoticed the rest of us who take an interest in the subject and those with relevant experience with the selected entities who might have something useful to contribute on the score of efficiency and effectiveness.

The ANAO last had a look into FOI functions in Administration of Freedom of Information Requests in 2004.

The audit page on the website until 31 October invited public contributions to the current audit.

Contributions are now closed.

In a hurry I managed to make a few suggestions about what ANAO should look into before the office continued quietly on its business:

See insights into agency practices from the correspondence arising from applications made through Right to Know

"Tone at the top" in light of the absence of positive supportive statements from ministers and negative comments from senior public servants including Public Service Commissioner Lloyd who described FOI as 'very pernicious' and told a parliamentary committee that in his view the original purpose of FOI was to enable access to the individual's personal information.

The effect on efficiency and effectiveness of funding decisions since May 2014 on the operations of the Office of Australian Information Commissioner including the pattern of acting appointments and the decision recently to appoint one commissioner not three as prescribed by the Australian Information Commissioner Act.

The effect on compliance, efficiency and effectiveness if the agencies concerned follow the practices revealed in the Cornall Report on FOI processing in Department of Immigration: by providing five days notice of decisions on access to non-personal documents to the minister's office. 

The effect on efficiency and effectiveness in managing the FOI functions separately in a Legal Branch or Division rather than as part of a broader information management framework

FOI practice at the Attorney General's Department and what this might say about culture: See case study.

Whether the agencies reviewed have an administrative access scheme as recommended by the OAIC and if not the effect on efficiency and effectiveness as a result of processing all applications as formal requests under the FOI act.

The extent to which unnecessary third party consultation is undertaken including with other agencies

Whether the agencies regularly review pro-active release of information beyond statutory publication requirements and the scope for efficiency gains from such a management practice. As an example the FOI publishing requirement does not extend to the Gift Register. These agencies (and others) do not publish information of this kind.

The extent to which decision makers are encouraged to reach the right decision the first time and the cost savings that could be achieved compared to the cost of contesting, often conceding ground at internal review, OAIC review, in the AAT or in the courts.

Whether these agencies seek to ascertain what information key stakeholders might nominate for improved access, or seek feedback from FOI applicants on the way an application was handled-responses could lead to efficiency savings and improvements in effectiveness.

The practice in Attorney General's of not publishing released documents on their Disclosure Log contrary to OAIC guidance to agencies