A reader has responded to a blog post on the Ministry of Defence’s £7bn project to build a Defence Information Infrastructure [DII] by making several good points. The points apply to government projects in general.
They focus on the MoD’s Parliamentary answer to MP Mike Hancock which put the cost of the Mod’s DII contract with EDS at about £2.3bn. At the time the MoD knew that the project as a whole – outside of EDS’s contract – would cost at least £5.8bn – but the Ministry didn’t tell Hancock. This is the reader’s comment followed by the MoD’s response:
“Unfortunately [this is] yet another example of the endemic spin by Whitehall departments.
“The question asked by Hancock in July 2006 could not have been clearer – it was about the project and not the contract. As such, an honest response from MoD would have been to detail the project costs including those incidental (or project-related) costs which were being incurred (and justified to the Treasury) in order to deliver the project. Instead the answer was not simply economical with the truth it was positively misleading.
“It really is time that NAO held the departments’ feet to the fire on project and programme budgeting – too often the costs of delivering a new capability mushroom – with a significant portion of the overrun hidden in “non-contract” costs or project-related costs. Whilst I applaud
“Richard Bacon‘s attempt to hold the Executive to account – it is probably futile given the continuing culture of secrecy and obfuscation regarding project management and real accountability by the Senior Responsible Owner. Of course if the Gateway Review process worked properly and was not simply a convenient and mediocre smokescreen.
“They should start by publishing the reports for all to see and publicly identifying the key managers and naming the reviewers – the control of budgets and timescales might suddenly start to matter in Whitehall and the quality of the reviews would increase dramatically.”
Was the MoD’s Parliamentary reply to Mike Hancock in 2006 misleading? This was the MoD’s reply to us:
“The Business Case for the first Increment of the DII Programme approved in March 2005 estimated the whole-life cost at £5,854m. This figure which was endorsed by HM Treasury also included all elements required to support the DII programme such as separately funded wide area network communication programmes.
“However, in March 2005 the cost of expeditionary and Top Secret capabilities could not be accurately estimated so were excluded from the cost estimate in the Business Case. The estimates for these two aspects of the Programme are now known and together with the cost increases reported by the NAO, the estimated total whole-life cost of the DII and associated Programmes is £7,093m.
“The whole-life DII programme cost of all increments on contract are made available to the public in Government Expenditure Plans. The Department has responded directly to questions from Members of Parliament providing either a cost of the contract with the delivery partner or a whole-life cost for increments on contract depending on the question asked. The NAO report has made an accurate assessment when stating a cost increase of 3%.”
The MoD says in its reply that the cost of “increments on contract” are made available. But these are not the predicted costs of the whole project. The system of Parliamentary questions and replies is set up as a parody of openness. When MPs ask questions on major IT projects, they must already know the full answers before they have enough information to word their questions carefully enough to have a chance of extracting truthful answers.
DII contract could cost £7bn – July 2008 – Computer Weekly IT Projects blog
DII contract hits major problems – Computer Weekly 2007
National Audit Office looks into DII contract – Computer Weekly