$90m biometrics project scrapped

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James Riley

A $90 million government biometrics project run by NEC Australia has been scrapped following continual delays, an overblown budget and the prospects of an audit.

NEC Australia was awarded the $52 million contract in April 2016 to replace the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s (ACIC) National Automated Fingerprint Identification System with a “multi-modal biometric identification” service that was to incorporate fingerprints, footprints and facial recognition technology.

The system is currently used by law enforcement to identify suspected criminals using fingerprints.

But the project quickly fell behind schedule, and a PwC report late last year found a “systemic pattern of delay”. The report also found that the project had gone over budget by more than $40 million by November last year, and now posed a “high risk” to the ACIC.

InnovationAus.com revealed earlier this week that the project had been suspended at the start of June, with NEC Australia staff escorted from the government building by security.

NEC Australia said it had “mutually agreed” with ACIC to suspend the project until Friday, “pending further negotiations”.

Late on Friday afternoon, the ACIC confirmed that the project had been scrapped due to the delays.

“The ACIC is committed to delivering projects that enhance capability for our law enforcement partners,” ACIC CEO Michael Phelan said in a statement

“As part of this approach we regularly review the scope, expected benefits and ongoing feasibility of our projects.

“The ACIC is committed to providing national criminal information and intelligence services, including fingerprint data, to more than 70,000 police officers and other accredited users on a daily basis, to keep them and the Australian community safe.”

In a statement late on Friday, NEC Australia said it was “extremely disappointed” by the ACIC’s decision to terminate the program, and claimed to had created a working BIS system by February.

“NEC has worked closely with the ACIC to deliver the BIS project and have clearly demonstrated to the ACIC that we already have a high quality solution that will meet their needs. The BIS solution was built with data migrated from the legacy system on 14 February 2018. The BIS solution was ready to be handed over to the ACIC for System Acceptance Testing when the project was placed on hold by the ACIC,” the NEC Australia statement said.

NEC Australia also claimed that the contract was terminated under the “termination for convenience” clause rather than the company being “in breach of its obligations”.

“The termination for convenience clause allows government departments and agencies to terminate a contract, regardless of whether or not the contractor has committed a default or breach of that contract,” NEC Australia said.

The company said it was still prepared to deliver the BIS project.

“NEC remains committed and ready to deliver the BIS solution, regarded as a world-class solution supporting law enforcement agencies in preventing, detecting and reducing crime in our communities,” NEC Australia said.

It’s the second government IT project contracted to NEC Australia to be scrapped this year, following the shuttering of the education department’s $20 million new IT platform for apprenticeships in May.

The Australian National Audit Office launched an investigation into the ACIC’s biometrics at the start of the month. The ACIC said on Friday that it had requested the audit in February.

The audit will look into the awarding of the contract to NEC Australia and ACIC’s oversight of the work. It will accept public submissions until September and report to government by the end of the year.

Despite the ongoing concerns and a PwC report into project problems, the ACIC biometrics project was not included in the Digital Transformation Agency’s (DTA) list of IT projects of concern.

The DTA has confirmed that it has consulted with the ACIC on the project, and reported to government on it.

It’s the second major IT project contracted to NEC Australia to be shuttered by the government in a matter of months. In early May, the Department of Education announced it had scrapped its $20 million apprenticeship IT platform, also due to delays and an overblown budget.

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