Government IT outsourcing has left the Australian public sector overly reliant on external vendors and contractors, creating critical issues with capability and cost, according to the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).
While the Federal Government has been spending ever-increasing amounts on IT procurement, it has been cutting back on internal public sector jobs, the union said in its submission to the Parliamentary committee investigating the digital delivery of Government services.
At the same time, according to the CPSU, the failures of major IT projects within Government has increased, with the union citing 2016’s Census debacle, in which IBM, as the lead IT contractor for the project, copped criticism from various quarters.
“The Government’s credibility on innovation and service has been eroded by a series of high profile ICT failures and ongoing service delivery problems for clients, and poor quality ICT systems are also a major problem for APS staff,” the submission states.
“In the past few years we have seen multiple high-profile ICT failures such as, the 2016 Census, ATO outages, and MyGov problems.
“These failures in conjunction with service delivery issues, the pressure on face to face and telephone services, and government digital services not keeping up with the standards of non-government services have resulted in serious damage to the public’s trust in the governments capacity to deliver essential government services,” it said.
In order to minimise such IT failures, the Government should look at reducing its reliance on IT outsourcing and ramp up its investment in building internal skills and capabilities, the union suggested. This could also save the Government money, the union said in its submission.
The CPSU is the primary union representing Australian Public Service (APS) employees, so it comes as no surprise that it might want to encourage the Government to employ more public sector officials and rely less on outside help. However, the union’s submission notes some compelling figures.
In 2015-16 the Australian Government spent $6.2 billion on IT goods and services, the union noted. Agencies further estimated that they would require some 17,000 contracts for IT, totaling around $9 billion.
Since 2011-12, the CPSU said, there has been a significant shift away from permanent APS staff to the use of contractors. As of 2017, the Australian Public Service employed more than 14,000 IT personnel, a third of which are contractors.
"The share of external ICT personnel has grown over the past five years and investment on internal ICT personnel has fallen accordingly," the union said.
The CPSU claimed that since 2013, the Government has made $7.6 billion worth of cuts, costing more than 18,000 jobs.
“This decline in internal capacity has occurred over the same time that the ICT failures in government services have increased,” the union said. “The increasing reliance on contractors and external vendors also has major implications for the capability and cost of APS ICT.
“These cuts to our public services have resulted in the Australian public having low expectations of government digital services and expectations of long wait times and low service standards. This has affected clients of the Department of Human Service (DHS) in particular,” it said.
The CPSU said it believes that savings can be made through reducing the numbers contractors and increasing the number of APS employees.
“Government’s goal should be to provide the community with world class digital services and achieving that goal requires reducing the reliance on external vendors and contractors and rebuilding APS capability,” it said.
The critique of the Government’s current IT outsourcing and procurement practices comes as the Department of Human Services, which is in the midst of a $1 billion welfare payment IT system overhaul with the help of IBM, Accenture, HPE and Capgemini, grants Serco a $53.8 million deal for outsourced call centre services.
The Government revealed on 11 October that it had provided $51.7 million over three years to fund the pilot partnership with Serco.
The inquiry continues.