Govt CIOs silent on Gershon fallout

A number of top-ranking federal government chief information officers have broadly declined to comment on any fallout for their departments from the news that the Federal Government will adopt Sir Peter Gershon's recommendations "in full".

A number of top-ranking federal government chief information officers have broadly declined to comment on any fallout for their departments from the news that the Federal Government will adopt Sir Peter Gershon's recommendations "in full".

Razor: Gershon and Tanner

Sir Peter Gershon and Lindsay Tanner.
(Credit: Brian Hartigan)

Gershon's recommendations are intended to radically change the way government manages its $6 billion taxpayer-funded expenditure on information technology each year. The recommendations broadly aim to shave $400 million off the $6 billion figure, which Gershon said was the result of too much departmental autonomy and inadequate scrutiny.

The report outlined that ICT 'business as usual budgets' could be cut by an average of 15 per cent or 7.5 per cent, depending on their current budgets.

The largest spending agencies within federal government, with IT budgets of up to $700 million a year, include Defence, the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Minister for Finance and Deregulation Lindsay Tanner, whose office is leading the charge, has not clarified which agencies would fall in to the two bands identified by Gershon.

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMIO), which operates under the auspices of the Department of Finance and Deregulation, is set to play a lead role in disseminating information about change within agencies.

"Representatives from AGIMO are meeting with various agencies this week to start the ball rolling," a spokesperson from Tanner's office told ZDNet.com.au yesterday.

Gershon recommended that beyond AGIMO's historical role of establishing standards within government ICT, it should also annually construct a whole-of-government ICT workforce plan, benchmark agencies' performance and also take on the strategic management of key ICT suppliers. AGIMO is expected to create an ICT workforce plan by March 2010, according to Gershon's timetable.

That new responsibilities could cause tensions however, since the review also found that AGIMO was viewed within some agencies as a white elephant that lacked sway with the real power brokers — the CEOs of each agency who are the direct reports of key technology decision makers.

A spokesperson for AGIMO declined to say what extra powers would be given to it in order for AGIMO to disrupt the stranglehold that CEOs held over ICT decision making within government. Instead, the spokesperson said that AGIMO would become a spokesperson for the government's Economic Review Committee and the Secretaries ICT Governance Board, which Gershon recommended should take on a strong governance role in the future.

Until AGIMO has completed its discussions with agencies, the CIOs of Australia's big IT spenders appear to be staying tight-lipped about the likely impact the recommendations would have on their operations.

We'll be working closely with the Department of Finance and Deregulation

Centrelink spokesperson

The Australian Taxation Office's CIO Bill Gibson was currently "not in a position" to comment on the review because the department had other priorities, according to an ATO spokesperson.

Centrelink's CIO John Wadeson was also unable to comment. Centrelink's spokespeople said that it was still reviewing the Gershon report, which was released to the public in October.

"We'll be working closely with the Department of Finance and Deregulation to ensure the aim of improved service delivery as part of a whole-of-government approach is achieved," a Centrelink spokesperson said in an emailed response.

The Australian Customs Service was also unable to comment on the review, a spokesperson told ZDNet.com.au.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship's Bob Correll, which is one of the largest users of IT contractors, thanks to its $500 million Systems for People overhaul, has been the only high profile CIO to comment on the government's decision.

Correll told The Australian that the recommendations were in line with moves already underway to reduce operational costs and improve ICT career paths for staff.