Those of us who monitor the $3 billion federal government ICT market by examining the contracts reported in AusTender are set to benefit from recommendations made by Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) following an audit of the reporting of consultants’ contracts.
The federal government has extensive reporting requirements for contracts let to consultants. So extensive in fact, that they have to be reported in three different places, with three different sets of requirements. These requirements apply to all categories of consultants‟ contracts, including ICT.
Consultants' contracts worth more than $10k must be published in an agency‟s Annual Report as well as in AusTender and contracts over $100k must be published not only in the Annual Report and AusTender but on the agency‟s web site.
The ANAO audited the 2003-04 consultants‟ contracts of 73 agencies covered by the FMA Act for compliance with the various reporting requirements.
It found that none of the agencies had reported consistently across all three reporting regimes. Most agencies acknowledged inadequacies in their reporting processes in response to the audit, and all parties, including the ANAO recognised that the differing requirements for reporting consultants contracts contributed to the problem.
The ANAO recommended consultation with agencies to examine “options for improving the accuracy and completeness of reporting of Government procurement, including the merits of rationalising the number of reporting regimes”. 85% of agencies advised that they would be taking some form of corrective action and most agreed with the recommendations.
Due to the problems the ANAO found with the reporting of consultants' contracts across the three reporting regimes, it extended its audit to examine the 2003-04 AusTender reporting performance of the 30 largest agencies across all categories of procurement. These agencies represented 86.5% of entries AusTender Contracts Reported.
The audit found that 78% of contracts were reported within the required timeframe of 42 days (Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines require publication of contracts within six weeks of entering into the agreement), and that the average time taken by agencies to report contracts was 46 days. There was no information in the report as to whether some categories of procurement, such as ICT goods and services were better or worse than the average, but delays by agencies in reporting contracts has been well known feature of the market for many years. The ANAO noted some cases where contracts were not reported for a year or more.
The audit also found some cases of duplication, mis-categorisation of contracts, and reporting of payments rather than the expected contract value (AusTender records the expected value of a new contract over its life and is not intended as a record of expenditure).
Intermedium works extensively with the AusTender ICT contracts data to examine and produce reports on market trends in this large and important ICT market. None of these findings come as any surprise to us. Because of our extensive knowledge of these issues with the data, we have a number of measures in place to mitigate the impact of these problems. For example, we wait for 90 days before we work with the data, to allow for the „reporting lag‟ issue, and we continuously update our back year data so that when a late contract is reported, it is included in a revised set of figures which are then subsequently published. We have also found it necessary to put in place extensive data cleansing and categorisation procedures to overcome some of the other data quality issues we have encountered.
So all we can say is Halleluja, and about time!