Secrecy puts identity card project at risk, warn MPs

Lack of independent technical scrutiny could lead to failure, warns report

Lack of independent technical scrutiny could lead to failure, warns report.

MPs from all the main political parties have called on the Home Office to open its multibillion-pound national identity card project to independent technical scrutiny.

The Home Affairs Select Committee accused ministers of adding to the risks of one of the most complex projects ever undertaken by the government by making key decisions without external technical assessment or proper public debate.

In a highly critical report, the cross-party committee questioned whether the Office of Government Commerce's Gateway reviews could prevent a large IT project becoming a disaster without further external evaluation.

"The Gateway process has not yet demonstrated a robust track record on procurement projects that would allow it to be relied upon for a project of this scale," it said.

The committee called on the Home Office to stop using "commercial confidentiality" as a reason for making decisions behind closed doors and to open the ID card project up to the scrutiny of independent technical experts.

"We are concerned about the closed nature of the procurement process, which allows little public or technical discussion of the design of the system or the costing involved. We do not believe that issues of commercial confidentiality justify this approach" the report said.

Its conclusions came a week after the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee called for the government to publish Gateway reviews and business cases on all IT projects.

The committee said it was not confident that the Home Office's current procurement practices would ensure that measures to ensure integrity of the design, implementation and operation of the system would be built into every stage of development.

The MPs raised concerns about the reliability and accuracy of the fingerprint and iris readers that will form the backbone of the ID card programme, calling for tests to be made available to independent experts for scrutiny.

Their report criticised the Home Office's lack of candour over the costs of the scheme, and its failure to disclose how many card readers, expected to add significantly to the £3.1bn infrastructure costs, would be needed.

Mark Oaten, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said the government needed to reform the Gateway review process to establish new systems for ensuring value for money and effectiveness for large IT projects.

The government put the ID card project through Gateway zero - designed to pick up flaws in the business case for IT projects - in January, but the committee found the scheme was poorly defined and lacked clear objectives.

"The select committee's report already highlights flaws in the system that Gateway fails to highlight. This shows that Gateway is inadequate in dealing with a project of this scale," said Oaten.

MP Richard Bacon, who sits on the Public Accounts Committee, said it was vital that the Home Office did not sweep aside the committee's recommendations.

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