Government was warned about website boondoggle years ago
A screen shot of Canada.ca web page.
A former senior Conservative advisor says he and others tried to warn the government about a web project that’s now at risk of turning into a billion-dollar boondoggle.
“This was a terrible idea that was always going to be a disaster,” says Kasra Nejatian, a former director of strategy for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
As early as 2011, bureaucrats at the powerful Privy Council Office worked to persuade the prime minister’s office that merging the 1,500 different government websites under the single Canada.ca portal was a good idea.
An initial contract of $1.54 million was issued in 2013 to Adobe to begin work on the project. It’s unclear if the government had any idea of the actual scope of the project. The contract value has since risen to just under $10 million.
Yet experts predict the cost of the project – which is only an estimated 0.5% complete despite having already passed its original deadline – could balloon to $1 billion.
“This was not hard to predict and many of us predicted that it would turn out this way,” says Nejatian, who is currently a tech CEO. Nejatian is married to Sun columnist Candice Malcolm.
A federal auditor general’s report from 2011 points out that instances of major cost overruns in government IT projects are not rare.
In 2000, the former Liberal government embarked on a program to replace Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s case management system. It was originally slated to cost $194.8 million. By 2011 the budget had doubled to $387 million even while the scope of the project was significantly decreased. A similar outcome is predicted with this current project.
The question remains why the current Liberal government is not abandoning a clearly troubled initiative started by its predecessor.
“When you’re in government there are things you just can’t fight the bureaucracy on or don’t bother,” says Nejatian. “I think this is a case that the bureaucracy has decided that they are too far along in this project to stop, and the government doesn’t want to spend the political capital so they keep throwing good money after bad.”