Findings outlined last month in the Provincial Auditor of Ontario’s 2002Annual Report suggests that the provincial government has indeed been aggressive in its bid to slash the size of the its public service.
But according to provincial auditor Erik Peters, the government cut muscle along with bone, particularly when it comes to IT staff and consultants – as a result, expenditures for IT consulting services have ballooned from $100 million to over $313 million during the past five years.
This comes at no surprise to Paul Marut.
“It’s disappointing that the auditor would keep coming back to these sort of things year after year, and yet they’re never resolved,” said Marut, a public sector IT systems officer and Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) spokesperson in North Bay, Ont.
“It continues to get worse and worse.”
Government IT workers generally earn less than their private sector counterparts but, for the past five years, Marut said, the Ontario government has continued to contract out IT services on a piecemeal basis.
The provincial auditor’s report revealed, for example, that more than half of the IT workforce at the Ontario Ministry of Public Safety and Security was made up of consultants. On top of that, more than 40 of these consultants were former ministry employees who had left in 2001 and returned a scant few days later at a per diem rate more than double their previous salaries.
Peters also brought to light the lack of competition in acquiring IT consultants – in the development and implementation of multi-million dollar IT projects, the ministries often engaged consultants on a per diem basis to do the work instead of calling for open tender.
The auditor’s report also highlighted a lack of senior-level IT workers within ministries. As a result, consultants with the appropriate experience had to be parachuted in to oversee projects and manage the work of other consultants.
Marut pointed out that consultants in short-term IT projects might not be as concerned with the bigger picture and won’t necessarily have that “long time commitment to seeing that the project gets delivered and that it’s functional.”
While Marut remains hopeful for change, the auditor’s findings in ministries such as the ministry of health underscore the current policy: “Many information technology skills are still in very short supply within the Ontario Public Services, and we will continue to need to fill gaps with consultants.”