The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has agreed to look into adopting a new grants management system after the Australian National Audit Office completed a report which found it to be unreliable to the point of forcing staff to complete work offline.
The system is part of the settlement grants program, which is a federal program to provide funding to organizations that help new arrivals settle in Australia.
DIAC staff had "universally expressed frustration" with the program's systems in general, the audit report found, as it often failed at crucial periods in the grants cycle. In one peak two-month period, there were 38 outages.
In addition, the online processing and pre-population function for forms on the grants management system (GMS) had to be turned off in 2007 because its drain on the DIAC central processing unit was affecting other department systems. Reporting was still offline as of February 2009.
This meant that some of the quarterly progress reports and grant applications were completed offline as grant application assessors provided their assessments to the technical support team who then individually input each form.
State and territory offices were unable to use the system to produce any reports on the program. If reports on individual grants or state-wide data were required, the offices needed to submit a request to the technical support team which then had to submit a request to a separate area within DIAC to produce the report.
The report said that when grant payments were to be recommended, grants managers should only have to press a button, but when they do it kills other technical processes. So managers have to send an e-mail to technical support who then enter the recommendation into the system. The systems also don't interact with the Department's SAP financial management system, which meant that grant data had to be reconciled manually.
Within the Department's half billion Systems for People upgrade, staff had believed that their program would be included in a software release on October 2007. However it wasn't, and the problematic systems are not scheduled in the Systems for People work plan for 2008/2009 or 2009/2010.
None of the staff were sure when the systems would now be replaced. The audit office recommended in its report that DIAC formally decide the system's future.
DIAC agreed to the recommendation, saying that it was looking at adopting a new system, "subject to adequate resourcing being available". The work would go forward over the coming months.
"GMS was built to manage a single grants program which met our business objective at that time. As the program has evolved and improvements have been introduced, the system has not had the capacity to deal with these changes," DIAC said.
In a separate audit report, the Audit Office recommended that the Department turn its eyes to the quality of data in a computer database which held information on people who might be dangerous to Australia for reference when people tried to enter the country or sought citizenship.
ANAO recommended that DIAC form a plan for population, maintenance and review of the database which should include, at a minimum, who is responsible for the data, as well as a course of action for entering, cleansing and reviewing data.
It also wanted DIAC to clarify when it can record Australian citizens in the database and to conduct better reporting on the database's performance.