Auditor General finds Government-On-Line initiative behind schedule and under funded
February 12, 2004
The most ambitious information technology (IT) project in federal government history may never be properly completed and utilized unless it is adequately funded and promoted and fully implemented. Even the apparent deadline for full implementation of the Government-On-Line (GOL) is questionable since many of the advanced features of GOL have no specific end date.
GOL was put under the microscope of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (AG) as part of a report which includes the scathing indictment of the government’s $250-million sponsorship and advertising program. It concludes that many of the milestones established for GOL’s roll-out are in danger of being missed
The elements of the GOL initiative most at risk are the so-called Tier 3 projects — leading-edge pilot projects intended to validate new technologies and support government-wide service offerings. With no fixed end date and an absence of obvious funding sources, these projects could extend well beyond the scheduled 2005 completion date.
Managed by Treasury Board, the project was originally announced with great fanfare in the 1999 Speech from the Throne and in 2001 the cost of bringing all key services on line was estimated at more than $2 billion. But to date, Treasury Board has allocated only $880 million, with no clear indication whether departments and agencies are expected to provide the balance.
“The government has a well defined vision for GOL. However, it lacks a single consistent and comprehensive document to follow up on the vision and provide a foundation for achieving it,” states the report. “With only high-level expected outcomes, there is no clearly defined end state for GOL.”
At particular risk is the highly complex Secure Channel project, which will allow Canadians to conduct on-line business with various departments. Described as one of the world's first mass-use services that incorporates the "digital signature certificate" concept, it was originally classified and was therefore not subject to a business case. Pegged at $604 million, it is behind schedule and its long-term financing requirements have not been addressed, even though it has received $475 million or 54% of the funding provided to date. Complicating matters is the high anticipated cost of using the service and the fact that departments can opt out and use their own tailored systems.
SOME DEPARTMENTS ADAPTING
While the AG report calls for a strong leadership and a new governance structure to ensure GOL is successfully implemented, it notes that some departments are making considerable progress towards achieving their goals. It singles out Industry Canada in general and its spectrum management and telecommunications branch in particular for consulting with clients and effectively incorporating new technologies as they become available.
The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) was also acknowledged for moving away from paper-based to automated transactions — a process it began about 10 years ago with the initial electronic filing of tax returns.
The AG only audited departments with extensive contact with the public. In addition to Treasury Board, Industry Canada and CCRA, it examined Human Resources Development Canada and Public Works and Government Services Canada (manager of the Secure Channel project).