NSW under fire over AU$300 million network tender

Signs that NSW public servants are losing faith in the state government's ability to manage large-scale technology projects continued this week -- this time over its AU$300 million whole-of-government broadband tender.

Signs that NSW public servants are losing faith in the state government's ability to manage large-scale technology projects continued this week -- this time over its AU$300 million whole-of-government broadband tender.

Following hard on the heels of reports that Optus has partially withdrawn from the tender, ZDNet Australia has obtained a letter, apparently penned by a disgruntled bureaucrat within the Office of Information and Communication Technology (OICT) in August, pleading with Commerce minister John Della Bosca to scrap the project altogether.

The letter, addressed to the Minister at his office in Governor Macquarie Tower, heavily criticised NSW OICT, and argued for abandoning the tender on the grounds that it had "become highly embarrassing and [had] lost the confidence of the government's key agencies".

The NSW government began calling on industry for expressions of interest in its whole-of-government broadband strategy in November 2002, but the government was unable to produce a short-list for the tender until July this year.

The state government chose three carriers to provide the core network: Optus, Telstra and SP Telemedia.

However, early last week, sources close to the tender told ZDNet Australia  that Optus had withdrawn from the short-list after becoming dissatisfied with the plan.

"Optus said it was too legally complex and expensive, [with] little guaranteed business from government, as government was not mandating it across all agencies," said the source who asked not to be named.

Both Optus and the Department of Commerce refused to comment on the allegations when contacted by ZDNet Australia  last week. However, Optus today confirmed it had partially withdrawn from the tender.

The government has maintaine that its motive for initiating the project was to improve services for its agencies in regional and rural NSW.

However, according to the author of the letter obtained by ZDNet Australia, major government departments and agencies were opting make arrangements for network services independently.

"Privately, all major agencies have expressed concerns to me and have also gone out to tender themselves, which is a huge no confidence vote in us. I [know] for a fact [that] we have cost them time [and] money, and have caused delays to their broadband plans, particularly in Health and Education".

The letter also contained an attack on the OICT which was folded into the Department of Commerce portfolio following Labor's re-election in March 2003.

"As minister for the department, I plead with you to swiftly refocus OICT into important programs which can add value to the government and rid it of the indecision and bureaucracy that has now plagued us for several years," the public servant wrote.

It's unclear as to whether the Minister saw the letter. Department of Commerce media representatives declined to comment on the letter whilst ever its author remained anonymous.

NSW Health and the NSW Department of Education and Training neither confirmed nor denied having concerns about participating in the state government's broadband network strategy when contacted by ZDNet Australia  earlier this week.

"NSW Health is working closely with the Department of Commerce on the NSW whole-of-government broadband network strategy to ensure that its requirements are addressed," said a spokesperson for the department.

The Department of Education and Training was similarly evasive but indicated it was not dependent on the tender.

"The Department of Education and Training is involved in the broadband tender and has no projects or initiatives dependent on completion of the tender," it said.

The allegations contained in the letter come amid consistent stream of media reports casting doubt over the NSW state government's ability to cope with large IT projects.

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