The Canada Border Services Agency has missed a committee-ordered deadline to hand over outsourcing invoices related to the ArriveCan app, and the agency president told MPs Monday that she couldn’t provide a timeline for handing over the documents.
Further, CBSA president Erin O’Gorman told MPs that her agency doesn’t know the identity of the independent subcontractors who worked on the app and made no commitment to provide that requested information to the committee.
Committee chair Kelly McCauley, a Conservative MP, rebuked the CBSA’s leadership for failing to fully comply with the committee’s order to produce documents.
“I would ask you to get back to us as soon as possible and express as chair my disappointment at CBSA for continuing to drag this out,” he said.
The government operations committee is currently investigating the federal management of the app, which was launched in early 2020 as part of the response to COVID-19. It was originally a mandatory tool for travellers to upload health documents related to the pandemic, but recently became a voluntary option.
The committee’s investigation followed reports by The Globe and Mail that the cost to build and maintain the app is on pace to reach $54-million this fiscal year. The CBSA has since said the original version of the app cost just $80,000 to build, but the price tag grew over time because of numerous updates.
The Globe also reported that the CBSA said in a report to Parliament that it paid $1.2-million to a Canadian tech company called ThinkOn, yet the company’s CEO said his company did not have anything to do with the app.
“I would apologize to the committee for that mistake,” Ms. O’Gorman said Monday, describing it as a human error. The president said the agency has since double checked to confirm there are no other errors on its list of companies that received ArriveCan contract work.
The committee has previously heard from GCstrategies, a two-person company that received the most federal outsourcing work related to the app. The company’s two Ottawa-area partners told MPs that they do not perform IT work themselves. Instead, they act as an IT staffing company that wins government contracts and then hires independent subcontractors to perform the work.
The two men said the company had received $9-million in contract work related to ArriveCan and that they keep a commission of between 15 per cent and 30 per cent.
Ms. O’Gorman said the CBSA turned to GCStrategies because the agency did not have the internal capacity to launch the ArriveCan app. She said the project was sole-sourced because there was not enough time for a public tender.
“The decisions we took in 2020 didn’t have the benefit of hindsight,” she said. “It wasn’t clear how long we would have to maintain the app. But we felt that the staff-augmentation proposal from GCstrategies, the ability to use the CBSA cloud, was the most appropriate,” she said.
The committee approved a motion on Oct. 17, calling on federal departments to hand over a range of contracting documents related to the app by the end of that month. The CBSA provided some documents, but said in a letter that it needed more time to have the rest translated.
On Monday, the committee heard from senior officials representing the CBSA, Public Works and Government Services, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Safety Canada and Shared Services Canada.
Ms. O’Gorman told MPs that she could not say how long it will take for the agency to hand over the roughly 500 requested invoices, given delays related to translation. Conservative MP Michael Barrett reminded Ms. O’Gorman that the committee’s motion also called on the CBSA to provide a list of subcontractors.
“In terms of subcontractors, we don’t have that information. We just have information relating to those who have held the contract directly,” she said.
“So CBSA does not know who the subcontractors were that worked on ArriveCan app?” Mr. Barrett replied.
“No. We have the relationship with the primary contractor,” Ms. O’Gorman said.
Later in the hearing, Public Works officials said contractors are required to comply with federal security policies and that contracts can require subcontractors to have specific levels of security clearance, depending on the project.
Public Works and CBSA officials acknowledged that there can be occasions where subcontractors are allowed to start working on a project while their security clearance is in the process of being approved.
Mr. Barrett asked officials to provide further detail in writing regarding the security screening process.
In an interview after the meeting, Mr. Barrett expressed frustration with the CBSA’s assertion that subcontractors can’t be identified.
“It frankly just doesn’t add up,” he said. “And it’s pretty incredible that she showed up and said, ‘We don’t know and you’re not going to find out.’ ”
At the end of the two-hour meeting with the federal departments and agencies connected to the app, the committee unanimously approved a motion from NDP MP Gord Johns asking the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman to review the government’s contracting work related to the app.
Mr. Johns said the Ombudsman may be able to review the matter more quickly than the Auditor-General, who has also been asked to examine the issue via a House of Commons vote earlier this month.
Later Monday, MPs on the access to information, privacy and ethics committee approved a separate study into the privacy implications of outsourcing contracts related to ArriveCan. The vote passed 6-5, with opposition MPs outvoting the Liberal members.