MPs denied access to IT information

The difficulties faced by MPs in gaining precise or comprehensive information on the state of high-risk projects became manifest...

The difficulties faced by MPs in gaining precise or comprehensive information on the state of high-risk projects became manifest at two select committee's hearings last week.

The work and pensions committee asked the Child Support Agency to explain a disclosure to Computer Weekly that there had been 2,500 "change requests" made by the CSA to the original specification of the agency's new IT system.

The committee had been told of only a small number of change requests. Officials had filtered the numbers by giving the changes requested in the past year, and then only those they considered very significant.

During the hearing, Doug Smith, head of the CSA, was asked about the Computer Weekly report. He said it was unfortunate that the contract with EDS, the supplier of the agency's new IT system, meant that any proposal made to EDS either to remedy a defect or change the way screens are presented, leads to a request for a change.

"I expect this will sound very civil service-like, but a request for a change is not necessarily a request for a change in the sense that I or members of the committee regard it," Smith told an MP.

He said that since December 2002 there had been 50-55 change requests against "1,000-plus" changes to the system. The 50-55 were "real changes to the system É the number involved is very small in relation to the numbers you are quoting," Smith said.

At a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee, the head of the Office of Government Commerce John Oughton was asked whether he would like to see a UK implementation of the Clinger-Cohen Act. The act seeks to reduce the number of IT disasters in US government departments.

Oughton said the OGC has talked to those responsible for implementing the legislation in the US. "I do not think the route is for us," he added.

He said part of the Clinger-Cohen Act requires all government agencies to appoint chief information officers. "We are adopting the same approach. We are just not doing it through legislation."

But Oughton did not comment on the requirement of the US act to force departments to report to Congress.

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