The Government Administration Committee issued its report on the 2015/16 estimates for Vote Ombudsmen, which included the usual horror story about how the Ombudsman's Office is bleeding staff (and institutional knowledge) due to poor pay. But it also had an update about the state of the Ombudsman's investigation into government OIA practices:
The impetus for this review has been allegations that the OIA process is being circumvented for a variety of reasons. We were interested to hear from Dame Beverley that she thinks the problem is due more to ignorance of the Act and inexperience in implementing its provisions, than maleficence. She
said that Ministers’ staff are in particular need of training as ignorance and inexperience of the Act leaves Ministers exposed. Dame Beverley also observed that those who know best how the Act should work are no longer with the public service. Looking ahead to the release of the ombudsmen’s report, Dame Beverley thinks that it is likely to recommend establishing a regular audit process. A review of guidance might also help with systemic issues or gaps in governmental agencies. She also expects considerable improvement in response times.
A regular audit process is a good idea. While OIA complaints have been rising, the vast majority of OIA refusals go unchallenged, meaning there is no effective review of them. Auditing responses would allow this review, and allow misunderstandings of the Act by public servants to be corrected.
Agency and Minister's responses to the OIA survey will be released later this year, followed by the Ombudsman's report and recommendations. I'm looking forward to both.