In an official response to a question from Labour MP David Taylor, the department confirmed that it recently appointed an IT director to manage its ambitious outsourcing strategy. David Myers, 37, an accountant and economist with more than 12 years' experience in IT management, joined the department on 16 January.
The department now plans to formally advertise its IT outsourcing requirements by Easter, with the new contract expected to be in place by summer 2004.
Defra had originally planned to seek bids for the outsourcing contract by the end of 2002, with the procurement process expected to last up to 18 months.
Last year the Commons environment, food and rural affairs select committee warned the department to postpone outsourcing until it had devised an IT strategy and recruited an IT director.
In January 2002 the Office of Government Commerce conducted a strategic assessment of Defra's outsourcing proposal. It warned ministers that it would be a very high risk project and identified a shortfall in skills and resources.
OGC officials also called for Defra to design a future IT architecture and recruit an IT director with extensive experience of outsourcing.
A Defra spokesman said the department was still on track to reward the outsourcing contract next year. He said, "The programme is on track to be awarded in 2004 - the IT strategy will be completed well before the signature of an outsourcing contract and progress on the strategy is well advanced."
However, Defra could still face strong resistance from trade unions as it pushes ahead with its outsourcing strategy.
Last year the Public and Commercial Services union threatened strike action amidst fears that privatisation could threaten up to 1,000 jobs.
A PCS spokesman said, "We will be watching developments closely and would expect to be consulted on any developments."