The Conservative government’s staffing cuts have largely come to an end and Ottawa is now looking to squeeze savings out of its large information technology budget, says federal Treasury Board President Tony Clement.
As the chair of a special cabinet subcommittee responsible for finding spending cuts, Mr. Clement has been working with federal departments in recent years to scale back staffing levels.
Speaking on the sidelines of a government technology conference in Ottawa, Mr. Clement said Tuesday that those staffing targets have been achieved ahead of schedule.
“It’s pretty well all rolled out,” he said, in reference to cuts announced in the 2012 federal budget. “I think we met the target we’d set for a three-year rollout in basically 1 1/2 or two years. So we’re down 20,000 or so employees across the whole country. Having said that … I’m never going to guarantee that we always stay the same in terms of our staffing complement.”
Mr. Clement’s comments come a day after staff at the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces were put on notice that the military will be targeted for up to $1.2-billion in savings, a cut that will have staffing implications.
The minister spoke with reporters after a speech to the Government Technology Exhibition and Conference, which is a large event at the Ottawa Convention Centre where private-sector firms that compete for government contracts showcase their products. Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers appear as guest speakers and the event is widely attended by public servants.
Mr. Clement said he’s urging ministers to pay closer attention to the cost of large-scale information technology projects.
“We are definitely putting a much brighter spotlight on these at Treasury Board. I can tell you that every large project has to report to Treasury Board on an ongoing basis every few months to see whether they’re meeting the targets, meeting the goals,” he said.
The minister explained that an internal system classifies large projects into a “stoplight system” in which projects that are at risk of running over budget are listed as yellow or red. Steps are then taken to get the projects back to “green,” or on-budget.
“It really has focused the mind of my fellow ministers to make sure that we have constant supervision of IT projects so that they do not go off the rails,” he said.
It is not clear how much Ottawa spends each year on information technology. Mr. Clement’s office could not immediately provide a figure.
The government’s management of big information technology projects has long been a concern of the federal Auditor-General. A 2006 Auditor-General report on seven big projects found only two were well-managed.
In a 2011 follow-up report, the Auditor-General said Treasury Board approved 45 business projects with a significant information technology component between 2006 and 2010, for a total value of $3.2-billion. The report found continuing problems with federal management of these types of large projects. The 2011 report found “unsatisfactory progress” on the recommendations from 2006. The follow-up audit looked at five projects and found that only two met the criteria for being well-managed.
“In the four audits we performed since 1995, the projects audited have a history of cost overruns and delays, and of not delivering what had been planned originally,” the 2011 report stated.