Public accounts MPs have today attacked a "good news culture" which contributed to the £513m C-Nomis IT-based project for prisons going "out of control".
The aim of the C-Nomis system was provide a single database of offenders, accessed by staff at prisons and the National Probation Service. But the system is being rolled out in prisons only and the costs have more than doubled from £234m to £513m.
In a report published today the all-party Public Accounts Committee said C-Nomis was a "prime example of how not to develop a project".
The National Offender Management Service - which was originally part of the Home Office and is now part of the Ministry of Justice - grossly underestimated costs, what the IT system could achieve and the time taken to deliver the scheme, says today's report.
Similar concerns about over-optimism and unrealistic expectations were made by MPs when they criticised the NHS's National Programme for IT [NPfIT] and the IT project to support the Rural Payments Agency's £350m Single Payment Scheme.
Costs more than trebled from the originally announced figures on the NPfIT and the IT system to support the Single Payment Scheme.
Over-optimism also pervaded a project to build a new air traffic control system at Swanwick in Hampshire. The costs of the system nearly doubled and the IT rolled out five years late.
Today's report of the Public Accounts Committee says: "It is deeply depressing that after numerous highly critical PAC [Public Accounts Committee] reports on IT projects in recent years the same mistakes have occurred once again."
The report adds: "We question the purpose of our hard work if Whitehall accepts all our recommendations but still cannot ensure a minimum standard of competence."
Planning for the C-Nomis project was unrealistic in part because of an "over-optimistic good news culture which was not challenged with sufficient rigour by senior management with in-depth knowledge of the business".
Computer Weekly has long campaigned for up-to-date information about the progress or otherwise or IT-based change programmes to be put into the public domain so that MPs, the media, stakeholders and the public can ask informed questions about projects long before they fail.
But departments and the government have refused to do so. They release only old information on IT-based projects and programmes.
In today's report, MPs say that nobody is accountable for the failings of C-Nomis.
"The individuals who took the key decisions on C-Nomis and were responsible for its monitoring and oversight have all retired or moved on, and no-one is held to account for an estimated £41m wasted due to delays and cost overruns".
Failure to simplify business processes
Senior civil servants at the Home Office failed to simplify and standardise business processes before introducing the IT, and also failed to remove inaccuracies and duplicate files in the old data, says the committee's report.
The National Offender Management Service claims the systems are now rolling out in prisons but MPs say in the report that "there are significant challenges yet to address".
The revised Nomis programme is due to be delivered by 2011.