Cost of federal tech projects revealed

By Stephen Easton

March 16, 2018

Several agencies have broken down the budgets of current tech projects for the Senate’s Finance and Public Administration Committee in answers to advance questions on notice attached to its digital service delivery inquiry.

Senator Rex Patrick asked the questions and would be pleased to find no evidence of big budget blowouts.

The federal government had spent only $14 million of the $130.8 million budget for its Data Integration Partnership for Australia at the end of February, according to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The breakdown for the agencies involved is as follows:

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics ($37.7 million)
  • Department of Social Services ($29.8 million)
  • Department of Health ($15.6 million)
  • Department of Education and Training ($14.3 million)
  • Department of Finance ($11 million)
  • Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet ($5.9 million)
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare ($3.4 million)
  • Data61 ($1.9 million)

PM&C also received a further $11.2m to give out to other agencies for specific data analytics projects.

The Australian Taxation Office reports two of its projects, SuperStream and the Single Touch Payroll Phase 1, were initially budgeted at $453.7m and $202.94m respectively.

At the end of January it had spent $375.7m on SuperStream and the approved budget has been revised down to $412.6m up to the end of this financial year.

The ATO had spent $157.84m on the STP at the same point and now has an approved budget of $295.63m, to expand the project to small business.

The Bureau of Meteorology is running a project called ROBUST but says “commercial-in-confidence sensitivities” prevent it publishing the cost, but it sounds like a big deal based on what is is in tender documents and job advertisments, like this passage in the listing for the program’s band 1 general manager:

“Robust is a program to refresh the Bureau’s ICT systems and related processes and applications. It will secure and strengthen all elements of the infrastructure to ensure continuous availability of critical services and to mitigate risks arising from the fragility of the existing information and communication technology (ICT) environment.

“It will involve a full architectural review followed by a refresh of the Bureau’s ICT systems to ensure a modern, modular, future-fit, inherently secure and resilient ICT landscape.”

The Digital Transformation Agency’s budget of $33.5m over three financial financial to deliver whole-of-government platforms has not changed, and as of the end of February, it had only spent $1.192m of that.

The Department of Education and Training simply confirms the budget for development of “an online platform to administer the national assessment program (NAP) assessments including NAPLAN” by Education Services Australia was $24.7m and that’s how much was spent.

DET also separately reports that another IT project related to recent childcare reforms was allocated $175.3m between itself, Human Services and the Jobs department, which had spent $87.5m between them as of February.

“Additional amounts of $13.4 million for Jobs for Families – In Home Care and $8.1 million for Jobs for Families – Variation were appropriated to the Department of Human Services at the Mid-Year Fiscal and Economic Outlook in December 2017, bringing the total to $196.8 million.”

The Department of Health also answered one of Patrick’s questions, about the Modernising Health and Aged Care Payments Program, submitting the following budget breakdown:

Health said it had spent $52.3m at the end of February, and added the following statement to the information on allocations:

“At 2017-18 MYEFO the Government announced that it will provide $16.6 million in 2017-18 for the remediation and essential maintenance of the health and aged care payment systems and ensure that the Government continues to own and operate the Information Communication Technology systems that deliver Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Aged Care and related payments into the future.

“The cost of this measure will be met from within the existing resources of the Department of Health.”

The Department of Finance has also provided an answer to Patrick about a couple of programs. It has currently spent $1.6m on its Digital Records Transformation program, out of a budget of $10.8m over three years from July 1, 2017.

The situation for the Streamlining Government Grants Administration project is a little more complex. It received $106.7m in the 105-16 budget, of which only $7.4m was allocated to Finance, and it has spent about $3.5m so far.

The other $99.3m went to the Department of Social Services but Finance did not say how much of that it has spent; it says the senator should ask DSS.]

“An additional $35.2 million over two years was allocated in the 2017-18 Budget under the
Modernisation Fund to the support agencies to transition grants programs to the Hubs and
build the capability of the Hubs, bringing the total budget for SGGA to $141.9 million,” Finance added, referring to two grants for community and business grants respectively.

DSS got $23.2m of that additional funding and the other $12m went to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. Finance said it had been advised that “consistent with transition schedules” $5.1m of that had been spent to date but any other advice would have to come from the other two departments.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics confirms it was originally budgeted $474.21m to run the 2021 Census, which has been revised down very slightly by $1.15m, and had expended $14.08m at the end of February.

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