Government E-borders Spend Slammed By Auditors

The Home Office has been slammed for its “failed” e-borders scheme by government bean counters, the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO pointed out that the troubled scheme is already four years late, has been marred by a protracted legal dispute with a US contractor, and a lack of a consistent strategy – all of which has meant the project has so far failed to deliver on its “full vision.”

Value For Money?

The controversial e-borders programme began life under the last Labour government in 2003, and nearly 12 years later, the NAO has slammed the Home Office for mismanagement of the scheme and not demanding and using “high quality data.”

“The e-borders programme began in 2003, with an ambition which has remained largely unchanged in the intervening years,” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office. “It was due to have been completed in 2011. Since we are now in 2015, with the Home Office still not having delivered the original vision after expenditure of £830 million, I cannot view e-borders as having delivered value for money.

“Some valuable capabilities have been added to our border defences during the life of this project, though their efficiency is impaired by a failure to replace old IT systems,” he added.

The NAO cited the contract with US contractor Raytheon, which was hired in 2007 to implement the e-borders programme. But by December 2009 it was clear the scheme was in deep trouble because it was found to be in conflict with EU rules on free movement, and was also facing a row over data protection. To make matters worse, in April 2010 the Home Affairs Select Committee said that the e-Border’s programme was “impossible to achieve in the current timetable.”

Matters came to head in July 2010 when the Home Secretary Theresa May took the decision to end Raytheon’s contract in July 2010 over failure to deliver certain milestones. But American firms are not afraid of a legal fight and it later sued the government.

In August 2014, an arbitration tribunal said the government had to hand over a £220m payout to Raytheon, when it found that the British government had unlawfully terminated the contract with the company in 2010.

The two sides eventually reached an out of court settlement in March 2015.

The NAO said that the Home Office had spent over £340 million between 2006-7 and 2010-11 on the e-borders programme, a further £150 million on the settlement with Raytheon and £35 million on legal costs. Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the Department also spent £303 million on the successor programmes, bringing the total outlay to an eye watering £830m.

The NAO admitted that the Department has developed new capabilities to receive and analyse data on those travelling to and from the UK. But it said the quantity of data analysed is less than planned with information provided on 86 percent of passengers travelling to the UK in September 2015 compared to a target of 95 percent by December 2010.

The NAO said that processes were “inefficient” and the Home Office “unable to fully exploit the potential of the data it is receiving.”

“The Department has lacked a consistent strategy or realistic plan for delivery,” said the NAO. “The delivery plans for e-borders were too ambitious to be achievable in the timeframe and the Department has struggled to decide how to take the vision forward since the cancellation of the e-borders contract.”

It said the Home Office had also underestimated the importance of other parties (rail, ferry and airlines), and made “unrealistic assumptions about the programme delivery without recognising the importance of managing a diverse range of more than 600 stakeholders.” But it said as of this year, there were signs of an improved relationship with these companies.

“The NAO finds that the Department has a culture that does not demand and use high quality data,” said the report. For example in 2013, the scheme was criticised for the deletion of hundreds of thousands of records related to drug and tobacco smuggling.

But the NAO did say that changes since late 2014 give “some cause for optimism” with particular improvements in leadership and stakeholder management.

Government Waste

The ability of respective governments to waste money on ambitious IT projects is no surprise to many observers.

In January 2010 an investigation exposed the damning cost to the taxpayer of Labour’s computer blunders whilst it was in office. That investigation revealed that British taxpayers had been left saddled with a bill of more than £26 billion for computer systems that suffered severe delays, or ran over budget, or were cancelled altogether.

Perhaps the most famous government IT failure in recent times was the botched £12.7 billion NHS Programme for IT (NpfIT). In 2011, the Coalition government axed the NpfIT programme it had inherited from the previous government.

The idea behind NPfIT was to move the National Health Service in England towards a single, centrally-mandated electronic care record for patients. It also planned to connect 30,000 general practitioners (GPs) to 300 hospitals, providing secure and audited access to these records by authorised health professionals.

But the NpfIT project faced fierce criticism over its rising costs, the removal (or sacking) of two IT providers, as well as the management of the entire NPfIT programme. It was initially budgeted for £6bn, but subsequently burgeoned to more than double that amount before it was axed.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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