Government ICT outsourcing slammed

Union laments erosion of public sector’s internal ICT capability

The Community and Public Sector Union has blamed decades of outsourcing and an emphasis on cost cuttings for a string of high-profile government IT failures.

They include the 2016 Census debacle, the Australian Taxation Office’s string of outages, and problems with the MyGov system.

“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,” the CPSU has argued.

The union said that many public servants are stuck using old and outdated equipment and platforms.

The Australian Government ICT Trends Report 2015-16 (PDF) revealed that more than 44 per cent of major applications were 10+ years old and that 53 per cent of laptops and desktops in use across the public service were their “planned useful life”.

In addition, many CPSU members have indicated to the union that they lack access to adequate IT support.

“A lack of consultation, poor planning and management of projects, inadequate provisions for user input to system and application design and functionality, and regular failures to allow for user testing of new products, are also common concerns across the APS,” the CPSU said in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry.

“Underlying these concerns is the widespread view that staff have inadequate access to information, decision making and expertise in an environment where ICT has been heavily outsourced and contractors now comprise around a third of ICT staff.”

An emphasis on outsourcing and contracting has left the Australian Public Service (APS) “overly reliant on external vendors and contractors – creating critical issues with capability and cost.”

External ICT FTEs grew from 23 per cent to 30 per cent between 2011-12 and 2015-16, the ICT Trends Report revealed.

In 2017, a third of the APS’s 14,000-strong ICT workforce are contractors, the CPSU said.

“The share of external ICT personnel has grown over the past five years and spend on internal ICT personnel has fallen accordingly,” the union argued.

“This decline in internal capacity has occurred over the same time that the ICT failures in government services have increased. The increasing reliance on contractors and external vendors also has major implications for the capability and cost of APS ICT”

The union has called for the government to put an emphasis on rebuilding the ICT capacity of the public sector by establishing an explicit goal of reducing the reliance on contractors and external vendors, including putting a cap on agency expenditure on consultants and contractors.

Savings from such a cap would invested in boosting the public sector’s internal ICT capabilities.

The full submission is available online (PDF).

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