The government’s CIO Council has agreed a procedure to intervene in major public sector IT projects where whistleblowers raise concerns.
The “right of intervention” has been established in response to a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee on delivering successful IT-enabled business change.
In separate inquiries, the powerful Commons committee has also highlighted the failure of senior civil servants to call a halt to schemes that were heading for disaster, such as the project to implement single payments for farmers, which ended in fiasco.
The committee’s report on IT-enabled change projects had warned of weaknesses in the way public sector IT projects are managed and monitored. It said the role of the CIO Council – made up of IT leaders from all major government departments – was “not yet clear” but urged that it had the “potential to identify key risks to the delivery of programmes”.
The MPs also argued that the Treasury’s new Major Projects Review Group (MPRG) would need “well-rehearsed action plans to intervene to stop programmes and projects that begin to falter”. Neither the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) nor the Cabinet Office’s delivery and transformation group have had powers to halt failing programmes, they noted.
In its response to the committee, the government has agreed that the MPRG should “make it clear to departmental project owners what they need to do to address its concerns”.
It adds: “The Government CIO and the CIO Council have agreed an intervention process where a programme is failing. This intervention process is via the departmental CIO whose responsibility it is to ensure that any action plans are implemented.”
The CIO Council have also agreed a “Right of Intervention” to allow “anyone with a concern or issue about a project or programme to intervene via the departmental CIO”, the response paper says.
Over the next three months, OGC and the Cabinet Office’s transformational government team would develop plans with central government departments “to ensure there is tougher scrutiny of all the government’s most complex projects and programmes and much earlier remedial action where there are signs of failure”, the response document promises.
The government has also moved to address the committee’s criticism of lack of liaison between the senior responsible owners of major IT projects and ministers. More than a fifth of the owners of mission-critical IT-enabled projects had not met with the relevant minister, while 28% met ministers less than once a quarter.
Government CIO John Suffolk has now introduced quarterly reporting of a “pan-government portfolio” of IT-enabled business change programmes. The quarterly reports are aimed at identifying and addressing generic issues and risks and for project-specific issues – and departmental delivery capabilities – to be “discussed and addressed at ministerial level”, the response paper says.