Monday, May 10, 2010

The IRD and the OIA

Recently I've been taking an interest in the processes government agencies have for handling and tracking OIA requests. The aim of this project is to find out whether it is possible to use agencies own internal tracking software to generate OIA performance statistics. So I've been asking various high-volume agencies how they handle such requests. I haven't had many response back so far - the statutory deadline expires later this week - but I've already had a rather interesting response from IRD:

While responding to such requests is an important part of Inland Revenue's work we do not specifically track and report on all information requests.

To provide some background; we do have a correspondence system which tracks our timeliness and quality outputs for all correspondence. Because a large part of our work is responding to customer's requests we do not separate out requests for official information.


We have set ourselves a timeframe of three weeks from receipt for responding to the majority of correspondence. Accordingly, we generally comply with the statutory 20 working day timeframe. If necessary, and appropriate to the nature of the request, an extension to the time frame is requested, as provided for in the Act.

Which probably sounds reasonable to a bureaucrat. The problem is that it is unlawful. The Official Information Act does not say "the majority" of requests must be responded to within 20 working days, and it does not say the timeline must "generally" be complied with. It sets an absolute deadline of 20 working days (and it clearly expects most requests to be responded to quicker - "as soon as reasonably practicable"). The IRD is simply ignoring its statutory duty under the Act. And that is unacceptable in any government agency.

Correction: Gah! Three weeks is 21 days, which is greater than 20 days. Except the latter are working days, or about 4 weeks of ordinary time. It appears I have made a dick of myself on the internet again. Fortunately, I didn't get around to mailing the Minister asking him to do something about it...

Still, its probably worth checking up IRD's compliance with its correspondence deadline, and whether OIA requests are tagged within their system. It might be possible to extract useful statistics after all.