The government has been asked to immediately clarify the status of an urgently recommended audit of its technology spending and capability, after a year-long review of the Australian Public Service struggled to uncover information about the audit agreed to nearly two years ago.
The ICT audit was an “urgent” recommendation of David Thodey’s comprehensive review of the Australian Public Service (APS) in 2019. The audit is needed to better understand the billions of dollars being spent on technology, and would form the basis for a whole-of-government “ICT Blueprint” to improve internal capabilities.
The government accepted the recommendation in 2019 but agencies were not surveyed about their ICT spend and capabilities until March this year as part of a “Digital Review”. Even then there was confusion about whether the review constituted the audit, and the government will not commit to publicly release the findings.
A Labor-led Senate inquiry into APS capability on Thursday released its final report, calling for sweeping changes to correct the course of a public service that the inquiry found is being hollowed out by outsourcing, consultants, and “creeping politicisation”.
The inquiry examined ICT capability in its review but struggled to access information on even how much is spent on government technology projects.
There is currently no central data collection process related to ICT expenditure across government, and the recent efforts to start one have faced delays and confusion.
When fronting the inquiry earlier this year, Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) officials struggled to clarify if the latest Digital Review it was conducting constituted the audit of ICT capability, risks and needs that the government had committed to more than a year earlier.
The DTA suggested it may need to make “follow up reviews” after the Digital Review for the Secretaries Board in order to deliver the APS reforms out of the Thodey review.
The Secretaries Board is led by PMC secretary Phil Gaetjens, who told the inquiry he would “see what they [the DTA] produce first and then I’ll make a decision about what is necessary to meet the recommendations or the government response [to conduct an audit]”.
The DTA later told the committee just 20 agencies had the Digital Review Audit Data Collection Survey, and it was yet to present the findings to the Secretaries Board. A decision on whether the Digital Review findings would be made public is yet to be taken by the government, the DTA said.
In its final report, the inquiry’s committee said it was “extremely disappointed” at the apparent lack of progress on the ICT audit.
“Since the commencement of the Digital Review in March 2021, progress appears to be lagging and the government’s inability to provide clarity on the status of the work is concerning,” it said.
“Further, the government indicated in its response to the Thodey Review recommendations that the audit would then lead to the commissioning of a ‘long-term ICT blueprint’, to be updated every two years. The lack of progress and clarity around the ‘audit’ is clearly also delaying this process, and therefore impeding the ability of the government to look properly at ICT capability in the long-term.”
The committee called on the government to immediately clarify if the Digital Review does represent the recommended audit and finalise it as soon as possible.
“[T]he committee urges the Secretaries Board in the strongest possible terms to swiftly finalise and release the Digital Review.
“The committee also urges the government to be guided by the results of the ICT audit and develop a whole-of-government ICT blueprint as an immediate priority.”
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