Opposition B.C. Liberals are under the impression that a government information technology upgrade that runs into a host of unexpected problems and years past deadlines is still news.
We’re decades into the Information Age now and one constant is that anything government does in that sphere instantly gets a lot more complicated and time-consuming than you’d expect.
Still the Liberals took a run at yet another example this week, focusing on the B.C. Bid website. It was partly based on the usual delay, which is impressive even by public sector standards. It was also due to the fact Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare is nominally responsible for it.
The veracity of her earlier assurances about the work is up for scrutiny, and she has already been a target in that regard on another issue.
B.C. Bid is supposed to be a handy government website devoted to procurement. The province of B.C. buys billions of dollars worth of goods and services every year. Much of it is through the site, through which bidders can make offers on government requests.
(Do you have any “hexagonal double-twist gabion mesh” on hand? The transportation ministry needs 1,800 square metres of it. Do you want to sell 199,000 rounds of 9 mm practice ammunition? See the sheriff’s department post on B.C. Bid.)
Municipal and other entities also advertise their needs on the site.
Front and centre on the website is this notice: “Changes are coming to B.C. Bid!
“We’re launching a new, modernized B.C. Bid application — a priority project within the B.C. Procurement Strategy — that will make it easier for companies of all sizes to do business with the province.”
Sounds exciting. But opposition critics are more excited about how long that teaser has been posted.
The exact time is hard to determine, but it looks like years.
The NDP government issued a news release a few months after taking office in 2017 in which the previous minister responsible, Jinny Sims, said the government was looking for contractors to upgrade the site.
They had a month to respond, then bids would be assessed, work would begin and “the new B.C. Bid app is expected to be up and running in 2019.”
In June 2018, there was another news release heralding a new strategy to modernize government purchasing. The B.C. Bid upgrade was called a major part of that.
Beare took over the Citizens’ Services portfolio in late 2020 and later set a new deadline of the end of 2021.
But the “changes are coming” teaser is still posted.
Liberal MLA Bruce Banman said: “The NDP and the minister have completely bungled this project from day one.”
He specifically targeted the impression left by Beare earlier that the upgrade is going smoothly, saying documents clearly establish the opposite.
The accusation rekindles last month’s controversy about the new fee for freedom of information requests.
Beare had assured everyone last fall there would be consultation. But then she imposed the fee immediately after the law was changed. That prompted a contempt of parliament motion when the house resumed sitting that was rejected by the Speaker.
On the B.C. Bid issue, she explained that it was all the previous government’s fault for letting the site fall 25 years behind the times.
“It no longer meets the needs of people and the businesses that do use it.”
She told the legislature the government is now “testing the application … preparing buyers and suppliers for registration … and we’ll be hosting information sessions…”
That update comes four years after the first word of the upgrade. Hundreds of pages of documents released via freedom-of-information requests from the opposition and The Tyee news website suggest the traditional pattern on IT upgrades is being followed. Unexpected problems, contract rewrites and scope reductions to cope with extra costs. No doubt the pandemic also makes it harder.
Beare referred last year to it being “re-baselined.”
That either means it is on budget only because the budget was increased, or because the scale of the project was reduced.
Just So You Know: The B.C. Liberals’ Mike de Jong told the house: “If there were a Nobel prize for secrecy and misinformation, she’d be in Oslo today.”
Beare responded: “Well, if there was an Oscar for little theatre, the member for Abbotsford West would certainly win that.”