Tanner promises to lead Razor Gang in IT carve-up

Federal Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, has pledged to eradicate the costs of the previous government's "haphazard and fragmented" IT spending, but one commentator has argued that the government needs to spend more to make more of its technology.

Federal Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, has pledged to cut the costs of the previous government's "haphazard and fragmented" IT spending.

According to Tanner, speaking on ABC Radio yesterday, the former Coalition government ran an "ultra-decentralised" departmental model, which left individual agencies "pretty much up to their own devices", leading to as much as AU$6 billion a year being spent inefficiently.

The Victorian MP said this was largely due to the previous government "not mobilising its buying power" and vowed to slash IT expenditure and duplication across Federal government departments.

Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner

Credit: Minister's Office

"We've got a lot of work to do. This is part of the second stage of the Razor Gang. We're looking for very large additional savings beyond the savings we'll be identifying in this Budget. Just by doing it better, doing it smarter," he told ABC Radio.

As one of the first steps in controlling government IT spending, Tanner announced plans in February to centralise Canberra's IT procurement framework.

"We've had a litany of disasters. People would remember the customs fiasco of a couple of years ago. We're dealing with major problems with the Immigration department's IT arrangements at the moment," he told ABC.

"Clearly, there is a major problem. We've got 164 different IT systems across the Commonwealth for processing individual grant applications."

In addition to the various IT systems, the Commonwealth has over 800 different government Web sites, and eight separate secure networks for handling defence, national security and policing matters.

"The list inefficiency and fragmentation just goes on and on and on. And every time somebody wants to do something fractionally different from the agency down the road, instead of being able to use the same system and but the cost, they have their own system," he said.

Phillip Allen, research manager at analyst firm IDC, described Tanner's stance on the current state of IT in government as a "very easy criticism to make", adding that government spending has remained reasonably consistent over time.

"Broadly, we are all taxpayers and keen to ensure our dollars are being well spent; however, the solution may be greater use of technology, rather than cuts in spending," said the analyst.

Allen said technology can be used to measure performance and accountability in government, and therefore it would not necessarily be a wise idea to cut government IT spending.

"We haven't seen any indication of the size of the cuts he's talking about yet, but I think it's going to be very interesting in any case," said Allen.

Tanner's comments come after his budget "Razor Gang" has already used the blade on some areas of government and public IT spending, including an AU$30 million cut from the Howard government's NetAlert Internet filtering scheme in February.


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