Federal government agencies that want to sidestep whole-of-government IT initiatives and budget cuts under Gershon's recommendations will have the option to pull out if they can provide a good reason.
A new system of opt-outs will apply to agreed whole-of-government ICT arrangements
Although the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) has been given greater powers to enforce agencies to participate in cost-cutting and whole-of-government initiatives, over the coming 12 months agencies will have the option to argue for an exemption.
"A new system of opt-outs will apply to agreed whole-of-government ICT arrangements," an AGIMO spokesperson told ZDNet.com.au.
Potential areas marked for whole-of-government plans included by Gershon were creating a common email system, volume licensing agreements, shared services and data centre consolidation.
The opt-out clause is likely to have a significant impact on any efficiency targets the government expects to achieve over the coming years and will likely have an impact on what savings each agency is able to attain.
Under Gershon's recommendations, agencies with budgets between $2 million to $20 million were expected to shave on average 7.5 per cent off annual technology spends; agencies with budgets over $20 million were expected to cut on average 15 per cent from their budgets.
There are a few loopholes, however: aside from the opt-out exemption for government-wide plans, the expected savings only pertain to "business as usual" expenditure — not one-off spends such as those under IT refresh programs — which AGIMO will be determining in consultation with various agencies over the coming year.
Over the past decade, multi-year one-off projects at just three top-end agencies have costed around $1.5 billion — a figure not included in the $6 billion "business as usual" expenditure scrutinised by Gershon.
The Australian Taxation Office's Change Agenda, originally budgeted at $400 million, now stands at $724 million and was recently relabelled "an ongoing project" by the agency's CIO Bill Gibson. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship's (DIAC) ongoing People for Systems program cracked the $500 million mark last year; and Centrelink's IT refresh cost $312 million.
One of the challenges facing AGIMO's new Gershon crack squad, which CIO Ann Steward announced last Friday, will be assessing exactly what each agency's "business as usual" budgets are, as well as determining the differing requirements, especially at the top end of those agencies with budgets over $20 million, which in the case of the ATO and Centrelink stands at $700 million per year.
This task has been assigned to John Sheridan, head of AGIMO's business improvement division. Sheridan's division will provide the link between AGIMO and the real power-brokers behind Gershon's recommendations: the Expenditure Review Committee and the Secretaries' ICT Governance Board (SIGB) — a rehashed version of the Secretaries' Committee on ICT, established by the Howard Government in 2006.
According to the AGIMO spokesperson, members on SIGB have not been determined yet, but will be announced shortly and will consist of secretaries from central bodies, portfolio departments, delivery agencies and the private sector.
But whether the government achieves the goals outlined under Gershon's recommendations will not be known since it has no intentions of making public the outcome of its efforts, the spokersperson said.