5 Major Frustrations for ATIP Officers

June 6, 2023 / #ATIP

To restore the reputation of ATIP officers and fulfill requests promptly, support is crucial. Digital tools are needed to facilitate streamlined processes and collaboration between requesters and colleagues. Handling sensitive files requires a balance between transparency and privacy, which can be aided by technology that provides explanations and reduces hostility. Continue reading to learn the five biggest frustrations ATIP officers face – and how we can support them.

The Canadian Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) and United States’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws are intended to help open the machinations of government to public scrutiny to help ensure responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds. But as media, technology, and politics transform at increasing rates, the jobs in the field are becoming more stressful and less rewarding.  

Disclosure of internal government communications is increasingly fraught, not because the ATIP and FOIA officers are releasing headline-worthy bombshells, not because there is a secret conspiracy to stonewall the public.  

The truth is that the human beings processing ATIP requests simply can’t keep up with the exponential increase in data being produced, the requests being submitted, and the time it takes to process the increasingly complicated requests.  

Legacy systems and processes are holding ATIP officers back, but while technology built specifically for ATIP efficiency exists

Like clockwork, every year, the government releases a report that talks about growing ATIP backlog, citing statistics like “only 30% of requests are fulfilled on time,” and criticizing the Information Commission and those who serve in these, often thankless, public servant roles.  

With lawmakers, constituents, and journalists across the board shouting about how terrible your performance is can make the day-to-day employee experience simply awful.  

Additionally, these loud voices seem to ignore the fact that Canada’s Information Commission, the Commissioner, and the officers in question would gladly ramp up fulfillments if they were funded, staffed, and given access to the tools they need – tools that exist – to get the job done. 

ATIP officers need help more than ever and the public would love to see an immediate improvement in requests being fulfilled. It’s time for lawmakers and agency leaders to muster the political will to make it happen, or things are bound to get worse.  

Already, ATIP employees are paying the price. Here are 5 frustrating mischaracterizations that ATIP officers commonly face, as we shed light on the realities of their challenging roles and offer obvious solutions to improve their performance and well-being. 

  1. Caught in the Middle: ATIP and FOIA Officers are the fodder for political wars-of-words between parties that love pointing out the “failures of government” their opponents are “responsible for.” In fact, it is not their fault at all. The growing backlog rates and request fulfillment timelines are increasing in direct proportion to the volume of data being created, stored, and available for request. Manila folders containing a few hundred pages of information have been replaced with cloud servers with practically unlimited storage capacity. The constant pressure to do more, process more, read more, redact more, and collect more – with outdated technology and workflows – is taking a toll on these employees’ well-being, leading to exhaustion and stress. ATIP Officers need help with their own reputation as a valued member of government – and what better way to change their reputation than by empowering them to be more efficient, responsive, and modern? If they can perform better, they will, but they need the tools to do so.  
  2. Struggling to Balance Competing Needs: Caught in the middle, ATIP officers often find themselves stuck between requesters and colleagues. Requesters view them with suspicion, believing the media narrative that they are dragging their feet or withholding information. Colleagues may question their ability to keep information confidential, be overwhelmed themselves and deprioritize the ATIP officer’s request, or simply not have the information at hand that is being requested. Balancing the interests of the people you’re working for and the people you’re working with can be challenging. By arming ATIP officers with digital process management tools that both requestors and colleagues can interact with to consolidate records, keep the timelines front-of-mind, support de-duplication and redaction using AI, and make the process itself less cumbersome will help un-jam the logjam.  
  3. Misunderstood Confidentiality: Handling highly sensitive files is one of the more stressful aspects of an ATIP officer’s role. These records can contain sensitive, embarrassingly contradictory, and/or misleading information. ATIP officers must balance transparency and privacy concerns, using policy to guide them. Often they are left unable to provide direct answers to inquiries. While they work with colleagues and supervisors on redaction, retention, and approvals – but they still often bear the brunt of a requestor’s anger. To alleviate the negativity, some of the same technology used to create public-facing ATIP portals to receive requests can also house FAQs, policies, rules, and guidance. In the future, if a requestor wants to know why something was omitted, they can be directed to a website with an explanation of the legal framework, thereby reducing the personal animosity tossed at the ATIP team.  
  4. Fear of Mistakes: ATIP officers are constantly aware that any mistakes or oversights in their work could have significant consequences. This fear of potential missteps can cause increased anxiety and self-doubt. While ATIP officers are diligent professionals who do their best to mitigate risks and follow established protocols, they are human. By offering them a suite of technology tools that can track approvals, create logs automatically, and scan documents thoroughly, they will begin to feel more confident that they are working in a system designed to reduce human error and double-check their work.  
  5. Mind-Numbing Tasks: ATIP officer’s role includes extensive reading and research. Reviewing numerous documents, multiple drafts, pages of numbers, and hours of video can be tedious and is definitely time-consuming. ATIP officers meticulously assess the sensitivity of information and extract only what is exempt from disclosure, and that takes time. Their attention to detail is critical to upholding privacy and security standards. Today, there are de-duplication, redaction, video redaction, mobile message auto-download, and other tech tools available that can slash the amount of time routine requests take.   

ATIP officers play a vital role in ensuring transparency and accountability within government institutions. Their work is characterized by overwhelming responsibilities, confidentiality concerns, and misperceptions. By addressing these frustrating mischaracterizations and gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges they face, we can foster a greater appreciation for the crucial work of ATIP officers. Let’s recognize their dedication, support their well-being, and work towards getting them the technology they need for a more efficient and effective access-to-information system. 

To learn more about what OPEXUS can do for these headaches, register for our July webinar here.

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