18 November 2004 A £456 million computer system developed for the UK government’s Child Support Agency (CSA) was “badly designed, badly tested and badly implemented”, according to an internal memo written by the company that built the system.
The memo, sent by a manager at services giant Electronic Data Systems (EDS), came to light during a hearing of the Parliamentary Commons Select Committee
investigating serious problems at the agency, which collects maintenance money on behalf of separated parents.
Earlier this week, the CSA’s CEO, Doug Smith, resigned over the CSA’s chronic failures.
When the ‘CS2’ system was introduced in March 2003, it was hoped that it would remedy the CSA’s vast administrational backlog. At the time, only 75% of those parents due for maintenance payments were being paid. Since then, this figure has fallen to 50%.
Works and pensions minister Alan Johnson told MPs that while no plans had been made to scrap the system, that course of action had not been ruled out.
In July, a report into the CS2 system concluded that it was an “appalling waste of public money.” The select committee investigating the system, chaired by Liberal Democrat MP Sir Archy Kirkwood, also expressed concerns about the government’s resistance to scrutiny of its IT projects.
“CS2 demonstrates the lack of accountability that exists, even for defective systems. Although CS2 has been subject to a number of reviews, we have not been given access to these reviews on grounds of confidentiality – which is certainly convenient for the Department and makes us suspicious,” the report said.
The failure of the Child Support Agency system once again raises questions about the ability of the UK government to effectively manage its IT projects. Among the highly publicised failures are the £800 million (cancelled) benefits card project, the Passport Agency upgrade, the Nirs national insurance system and the Libra magistrates computerisation scheme.
Texas based EDS has suffered a string of problems with public sector contracts over the past year. This week, it announced, in a delayed results report, that it had incurred a $153 million loss in its third quarter, following a write-down of a contract with the US Navy. In 2003, EDS lost the contract to provide IT systems to the UK’s Inland Revenue to French rival Capgemini.