Info Commissioner calls for routine publication of IT Gateway reviews

In a paper to MPs, the Information Commissioner says he wants to "highlight the possibility to improve the transparency of IT procurement by further publication of gateway reviews".The Commissioner's paper has been submitted to the Public...

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In a paper to MPs, the Information Commissioner says he wants to "highlight the possibility to improve the transparency of IT procurement by further publication of gateway reviews".

The Commissioner's paper has been submitted to the Public Administration Select Committee which is investigating government IT. In the past week, the Committee has published 52 papers it has received on government IT.

The Commissioner and the Information Tribunal went to the High Court in 2008 to fight a refusal of the Office of Government Commerce to publish early gateway reviews on the ID Cards scheme. 

Eventually the OGC published the reviews but only once they were several years out of date. The OGC has also published gateway reviews on the NHS IT scheme NPfIT - but years after they were written.    

Now the Commissioner says that "government departments could publish further detailed information about gateway reviews on a more regular basis".

He adds: "The vehicle for doing this could be via a publication scheme, which all public bodies are required to maintain under section 19 of the Freedom of Information Act."

Officials who run the gateway review scheme want to keep the reports secret for many reasons but mainly because they say that reviewers may be less than candid if they knew the reports would be published. 

The OGC doesn't mind Gateway reports being published once they are too out of date to be of interest. 

The Commissioner says he "does accept that timing of disclosure is important to allow some safe space for deliberation". He said he also accepts that "commercial sensitivity may be a factor that may sometimes weigh in favour of non disclosure". 

But he adds: 

"Arguments about the chilling effects of disclosure have been raised as very broad factors and in reality these chilling effects have not been demonstrated. 

"Greater transparency will drive better public understanding of large IT projects and more debate about risks (such as privacy) and value for money." 

Gateway reviews are reports on the progress or otherwise of medium and high-risk IT projects. The Downing Street website last year carried an undertaking to require departments, by the end of December 2010, to publish Gateway reports. 

No 10's promise is in the "Cabinet Office Structural Reform Plan Monthly Implementation Update" of September 2010 and also in the October 2010 update of the same document. 

Now Downing Street has dropped the specific requirement on departments to publish gateway review reports - and the Cabinet Office is inexplicably silent on why.

Its spokesman declined to answer my questions on why the requirement to publish gateway reviews by the end of December 2010 has been dropped from the Cabinet Office's Structural Reform Plan Monthly Implementation updates. 

Indeed there is no mention of publishing gateway reviews in the Cabinet Office Structural Reform Plan Monthly Implementation Update" of January 2011.

Perhaps officials have persuaded ministers that it's not a good idea publishing Gateway "zero" reports into the feasibility of risky new IT projects such as Universal Credits and real-time PAYE

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