Senate Committee concerned with DTA's level of IT project oversight

The Australian government's digital transformation arm has got a 'lighter touch' than was pitched, Labor Senator Tim Ayres declared.

After revealing earlier this week there were 84 IT projects underway by the federal government that cost in excess of AU$10 million, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has clarified its role in their delivery.

CEO Randall Brugeaud said the DTA works with the agencies delivering projects, mostly to capture information on their project status. However, that information is provided to the DTA by that particular agency.

"We do make a critical assessment of that and in some situations, engage with the agencies to discuss the status of their program in more detail," he declared to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee on Friday.

"I can't go into detail on the status of individual agency programs, it's the responsibility of the agencies to provide advice on the status of their programs."

The agency has been grilled on its lack of involvement in high-cost projects before. In 2019, Brugeaud revealed that for a troubled IT project to get on the DTA's radar, the responsible agency is required to dob themselves in.

The DTA in early 2017 was charged with looking into the structures of existing Australian government high-cost technology projects. It was to "oversee and advise on ICT and digital investments made by the Commonwealth". 

Chair of the committee, Labor Senator Tim Ayres, is not convinced the role Brugeaud was describing was nailing that mandate, however. He considered the involvement by the DTA to be more of a "lighter touch" than the description.

"In some programs, we have a much more intensive engagement and others we have a lighter touch than you described it," Brugeaud replied.

"There are a range of programs where we have a very deep engagement, where we're actively involved in program management day-to-day, and other programs where particularly large agencies are capable of program managing their own activities. We simply have a light touch reporting arrangement and engage where we believe there's a reason to do so."

The DTA's program management office is the group with visibility of major government programs, but Brugeaud said any further access beyond what those program owners give them is partly a result of its scale.

"What we are unable to do -- and this partly comes to our scale -- we have a relatively small number of people who are involved in program management across all of government, we need to be very selective about where we apply our resources," he explained.

"I suppose when you consider the scale of the programs which are currently being undertaken across government, it is simply inconceivable that you could have a single, central agency -- importantly which is distanced from the end user … it's just simply impractical to have a broad-ranging PMO that coordinates the delivery of every large program across government."

Ayres asked Brugeaud if that level of oversight is delivering on the DTA's mandate.

"I don't think … it was intended that the DTA would take [the projects] over and run all of the programs for the likes of Defence and Home Affairs, Services Australia, and ATO, and so on, the intention was to provide more integrated visibility of those programs and step in and provide advice where it made sense to do so," he said.

Tanja Cvijanovic from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet stepped in to defend the level of involvement from the DTA, telling the committee there is around AU$6 billion to AU$7 billion spent on IT projects annually by the Commonwealth, totalling around AU$70 billion over a decade.

Ayres said AU$70 billion is enough to justify further involvement, not that the number was simply "too big to oversee everything".

The DTA does find itself more involved in a handful of projects, however, such as the Bureau of Meteorology's ROBUST program, Services Australia's AU$1.5 billion WPIT program, and the Department of Defence's ERP work. That involvement takes the form of being on committees, involved in working groups, and sitting on boards of varying titles at the respective government agencies or departments.

Brugeaud said the DTA also has visibility of, and offers advice on, new investment proposals.

RELATED COVERAGE

There are 84 high-cost IT projects underway by the Australian government

Home Affairs is responsible for 24, the ATO for 12, Defence for nine, and Services Australia seven. Here they are.

AU$7.4 billion tied up in active Australian government IT projects

However, the latest figure provided by the Digital Transformation Agency is now 10-months old.

Alleged fraud related to Commonwealth IT contracts under investigation

Revealed by the Australian National Audit Office in a review that also finds the Digital Transformation Agency fell short on complying with the commonwealth procurement rules where its digital marketplace panel is concerned.