Calls for Govt IT spend inquiry to look at "over-reliance" on external vendors

Calls for Govt IT spend inquiry to look at "over-reliance" on external vendors

Government has been “throwing money at external vendors” to fix IT problems, the CPSU says

With the Labor party set to push for a Senate inquiry into the Government’s IT spend, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) is calling for the focus to be turned towards the Government’s "over-reliance on outsourcing and external vendors".

In the same breath, however, the union also warned that such an inquiry must seek real answers and "not become an excuse for public service bashing or scapegoating".

“It is crucial that the inquiry is full and frank. Public sector staff are struggling to deliver good outcomes for the public in an environment dominated by outsourced IT planning and delivery,” said CPSU assistant national secretary, Michael Tull.

“If anyone thinks that public sector IT problems can be fixed by blaming a few public sector workers and then giving even more contracts to the big ICT companies, they haven’t been paying attention.”

“Over recent years we’ve seen Government try to fix IT problems by throwing money at external vendors, always to no avail. With Census fail, ATO crashes and now the huge Child Support problems, it’s time to ask some fundamental questions about how Government manages IT.”

In August 2016, Australians struggled to access the eCensus page with reports that the website could have suffered distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

A few months later, the ATO suffered the first unplanned outage when a HPE SAN (storage area network) storage failed. The Australian Taxation Office faced several planned and unplanned outages after the first event.

As reported by The Canberra Times in June, the new payment system for Child Support Agency was called “slower and clumsier than the obsolete technology it was supposed to replace”.

The union believes the government has for too long relied on outsourcing to external vendors.

“The Department of Finance’s 2015-16 ICT Trends Report found that the labor cost of an external contractor was more the 60 [per cent] higher than an internally hired public sector worker.  If we are smart we can save money while building skills and capacity and bringing more jobs back in-house,” Tull said.

“Every day CPSU members experience the issues that come from a system dominated by external vendors, complex contracts and lack of leadership from the very top. We think this inquiry is a chance to get some big issues on the table. As long as the Inquiry Terms of Reference provide proper protections for witnesses, CPSU members will be able to speak openly and frankly.”

In April, opposition digital economy spokesman, Ed Husic, said during an industry event: “The Opposition believes that the only way forward is for the government to do what it’s previously shown an eagerness for – submit its entire digital transformation process to review.”

Husic said the proposed review should:

  • Find out why so many government ICT projects and upgrades have gone wrong;
  • Test the quality and likely success of government remedial actions;
  • Determine what has been put in place to get value for money following the multi-billion increase in ICT spending;
  • Establish what governance and oversight arrangements are now in place to make sure projects are delivered on time, on budget and are providing services the public values; and,
  • Determine likely improvements to the management of the digital transformation program.

In February, the Federal Government announced plans to review IT contracts of all non-corporate Commonwealth entities and all active projects over $10 million in value or those that engage a large number of Australians.

At the time of the announcement, it was expected the DTA’s Digital Investment Management Office would review up to 100 IT projects until mid-2017, in a bid to deliver greater transparency around many of the government’s larger-scale IT projects.

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