Audit Office calls myGov 'largely effective' despite tripling initial budget

The Department of Human Services' implementation of myGov as a platform to deliver whole-of-government online services has been largely effective, a report from the Audit Office has said.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

A report from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has revealed the federal government's myGov project was not delivered within its original agreed funding, with its actual expenditure sitting at AU$86.7 million -- AU$57 million above budget as of June 2016.

myGov was launched in 2013 to make it easier for citizens to access a number of government services through a single web portal, with 10 agencies now providing access to their services through the portal including Medicare, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Centrelink, Australian JobSearch, My Health Record, My Aged Care, Child Support, Department of Veterans' Affairs, National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the Victorian Housing Register Application.

According to the report [PDF], the Australian government initially approved an initial budget for the myGov project of AU$29.7 million for 2012-13 to 2015-16 based on the six functionalities set out in the business case: To reduce rework or verification; reduce face-to-face contact in transactions, as well as in personal validation, negating the need to tell several government agencies who you are; give citizens a central log-in for all government service delivery; and reduce incorrectly addressed mail and cut down on postage costs.

The 2012 business case estimated that the total cost to design, build, and deploy myGov over the four years would in fact be AU$35.9 million, comprising AU$16.4 million for capital costs and AU$19.5 million for operating costs.

Based on the Department of Human Services (DHS) leveraging its existing IT infrastructure and programs, the government settled on its AU$29.7 million figure, comprising AU$10.3 million for capital costs and AU$19.4 million for operating costs.

DHS agreed to contribute AU$26.1 million, while the ATO; the then Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations; Australian Electoral Commission; the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship; Department of Veterans' Affairs; and the Attorney-General's Department would contribute a combined total of AU$3.6 million.

The ANAO probe said over four years, an additional AU$37.8 million in funding was then approved by the government, with DHS chipping in the remaining AU$19.2 million from a pre-approved IT contingency fund.

ANAO said departmental records indicate the increase in operating expenses over the four years of the project -- from $8.5 million in 2012-13 to $37.3 million in 2015-16 -- was primarily driven by the costs involved with improving its high-availability infrastructure, as well as those associated with supporting the large number of user accounts, which as of November 2016 was just shy of 11 million.

The number of active accounts on myGov is nearly double the forecast amount, ANAO said.

The Digital Transformation Office cum Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) is responsible for the myGov service strategy, policy, and user experience, while DHS is responsible for administering and hosting myGov, including processes and procedures for system development and testing, security, and operational performance.

The Minister for Health was given the responsibility from day one to oversee the whole-of-government policy and to provide the strategic direction for myGov.

When myGov first kicked off, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government had Tanya Plibersek as the Minister for Health, with current Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton stepping in as Health Minister in 2013-14, followed by Sussan Ley from 2014 through to 2017 when she stepped down in January amid concerns over her travel expenses. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull handed the reigns over to former Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Greg Hunt.

The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of DHS' implementation of myGov, and overall, ANAO said DHS' implementation of myGov as a platform to deliver whole-of-government online services has been "largely effective".

Despite giving the department a pass, ANAO is unable to determine whether the expected savings have been realised as performance metrics to enable the quantification of actual savings in the six areas identified in the business case were not developed.

ANAO said that although myGov boasted 9.5 million user accounts registered by the end of the four-year project, several requirements to improve usability have only recently been implemented with more yet to be delivered.

While it is not mandatory for member services to participate in myGov, ANAO said with only 10 agencies jumping on board, the effectiveness of myGov as a whole-of-government capability has been hampered by government services not joining myGov and not fully adopting the myGov capabilities.

The report highlighted that savings totalling AU$47.6 million were expected over the four years, and by 2015-16 a constant level of annual savings, flagged as AU$20.6 million, were expected each year thereafter, primarily from a reduction in contacts by individuals through traditional channels, such as face-to-face contacts at government shopfronts and through telephone calls.

Reduction in rework or verification due to improved information from Update Your Details had a 2015-16 projected saving of AU$2.0 million to the taxpayer. Reduction in contacts due to online transaction completion was expected to save taxpayers AU$16.0 million, while the "tell us once" concept was expected to save AU$0.5 million.

Additionally, AU$0.5 million in savings were to come from a reduction in incorrectly addressed mail, and AU$1.6 million from fewer password resets after placing the onus on the user.

The ANAO report highlighted that "fit-for-purpose" strategic and operational governance arrangements operated for the first three years of the myGov project, followed by a one-year gap in which ANAO said interim arrangements had a largely operational focus resulting in limited strategic oversight for myGov as a whole-of-government capability until July 2016, when the gap was addressed and the strategic governance board was re-established and chaired by the DTA.

Since then, the myGov Board has been tasked with providing strategic direction and oversight, including: Improving the alignment of myGov with the Digital Service Standard; discussing future system needs and service delivery requirements with related parties; and pursuing opportunities with other government entities.

The employment of high-availability infrastructure in late-2015, was flagged by ANAO as having improved performance, especially during peak demand periods, with performance targets consistently met.

"Suitable security and privacy measures were in place to control access and protect sensitive data stored in myGov," ANAO noted.

ANAO made two recommendations from its report: The first suggests that the DTA implement a strategy to target "service delivery" government entities to provide services through myGov, and that DHS review existing transition support and guidance materials to make it easier for other agencies to do so.

In response, DHS has agreed to review its existing arrangements to support more agencies jumping on board the myGov platform, while the DTA has agreed to support DHS in its supporting role.

The second recommendation made by ANAO is that the DTA establish a performance framework, including key performance indicators focussing on outcomes, to enable an assessment of the extent to which myGov is delivering expected outcomes. The DTA agreed.

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