ITAC criticizes federal government's IT contracting, then withdraws report

A report by the Information Technology Association of Canada denouncing a lack of transparency in the federal government's awarding of IT contracts was withdrawn shortly after being sent to two federal ministers.

Information Technology Association of Canada's April 7 report sent to Public Works, Treasury Board

Public Works Minister Diane Finley received a report last April critical of the federal government's IT contracting process. Shortly after, the report was withdrawn for rewriting by the industry group that wrote it. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

A report by the Information Technology Association of Canada denouncing a lack of transparency in the federal government's awarding of IT contracts was withdrawn shortly after being sent to two federal ministers.

ITAC represents over 200 businesses in the Canadian IT industry, including Bell, Telus, IBM and Rogers.

Radio-Canada obtained a copy of the original report, which says that "ideas put forward with a view to expanding competition are frequently rejected with a curt 'no' response without any rationale or explanation."

According to the document, Public Works and Shared Services Canada frequently solicit opinions from industry experts through consultative committees, but seldom act on their advice. 

"Suppliers who participate on a voluntary basis receive minimal feedback as to how the outputs from their participation are used or why their recommendations are rejected," it said.

The ITAC document reviewed the new approach adopted by the federal government for awarding contracts, called "smart procurement."

Instituted approximately two years ago, this system provides, among other things, greater consultation with representatives of the industry at the beginning of projects, even before tenders are issued.

According to the Public Works website, drawing on experts from the industry earlier in the process helps the department identify better solutions, increase competition and save taxpayer money.

The ITAC report states that it supports this approach, but argues that the current system goes only one way — from industry to government, not the reverse.

Contracting frustrations made public

The report outlines a number of contracts for which the procurement process became problematic, in ITAC's view.

For example, ITAC highlights the contract awarded to Bell Canada and CGI to create a unique email system for employees of 43 federal departments and agencies.

This contract, worth $398 million, experienced significant delays. The new system was scheduled to launch in all departments by March 31. The launch date has now been postponed to September 2016.

The ITAC report criticized the government for seeking the lowest bidder without giving enough consideration to the technical expertise necessary for completion.

ITAC also wrote that it was not informed of all aspects of the contract within a reasonable time frame. Had it been made aware of all the information, certain companies may not have bid for it.

'We made a mistake'

The report was sent April 7 to Public Works Minister Diane Finley and Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who is responsible for the federal public service.

When CBC News requested an interview with ITAC in May, its head of media relations, Linda Leonard, said the report wasn't final.

Leonard then said that "the report has been withdrawn."

According to her, the document did not receive the necessary authorizations before being sent to the two federal ministers.

However, the report was accompanied by a letter signed by ITAC president Karna Gupta.

Gupta declined to comment.

"It's being rewritten from beginning to end." explained Leonard. "Opinions won't change. It's more a question of tone, format and coherence."

According to Leonard, ITAC must clearly represent all of its members, and some expressed discontent with the process.

"We made a mistake. We are correcting it," she said.

As to whether the federal ministers reacted badly to the report, Leonard said that she did not know.

ITAC had committed to submitting a revised report to the federal government at the beginning of June and sharing it with Radio-Canada.

When contacted by Radio-Canada, ITAC refused to say whether a new report is ready and would be made public.

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