Line-by-line reviews strike departmental IT services

Major projects appear to have been affected

Treasury documents released yesterday reveal ICT costs were among those the incoming National government described as "emergency pressures", costs that it sought to find alternative funding arrangements for.

"As the Treasury develops this advice it will ask the Senior Executives’ Group to test its judgements on which emergency pressures should be funded, and whether there are additional savings options that should be explored," a document (pdf) dated 11 February says, before presenting a bullet pointed list of 45 such "emergency pressures" requiring funding through until 2013.

The paper says the largest emergency pressures submissions are in Vote Finance ($391 million "mainly rail related") and Justice, with $790 million across Justice, Corrections, Courts, Police and Attorney General.

Police is one area singled out with $322 million in operating spending classified as an emergencey pressure with $99 million in the final year and $33 million in capital.

"The major element of this bid is [deleted – commercial position] in the final year. This figure includes [deleted – commercial position]. Other components of the bid are ongoing expenditure on Police ICT infrastructure ($26m and $30m capital), operating costs inflation ($16m) and depreciation cost pressures resulting from asset revaluations ($9m)," the paper says.

Customs, which is undertaking a major redevelopment of its border management systems is also singled out.

The department, with $64 million in operating costs across the forecast period, $29 million in the final year and $94 million in capital spending relating to the CUSMOD border management system shares some costs for the upgrade with other votes for Biosecurity, Agriculture and Forestry.

A further senior executives group paper (pdf) dated 27 February appears to indicate no funding support from Treasury for the CUSMOD programme and significant cuts across the IT category.

Yet another paper released yesterday says that following consultation with the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Customs was preparing a stage two business case for the Joint Border Management System for submission to the Cabinet Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee in the first quarter of 2009/10.

It also noted that "the Joint Border Management System will be reflected in the Budget 2009 Economic and Fiscal Update as a Specific Fiscal Risk".

A cabinet paper also reveals the thinking behind reversing unfunded programmes put in place by the Labour government for economic transformation.

"The pre-commitment amounts to $668 million over the next four years in the Economic Development, Tertiary Education and Research, Science and Technology (RS&T) portfolios. This paper proposes savings of $668 million over the next four years to unwind the pre-commitment," it says.

Another document released yesterday explains the drivers behind the line-by-line review:

"As the Minister set out with you in your meeting on Friday, the goal for this process is not just to match savings to pressures, although managing pressures will be important. Given that the government wants to restore the fiscal position to a sustainable footing over the next three to five years, Budget 2009 is the first step in challenging the public sector to deliver more for less."

Computerworld will update this story as we read through more documents and seek comment from agencies.

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