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“Incomplete and unreliable” data in Centrelink’s fraud management system: ANAO

by Andrew Starc •
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The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has cited data integrity and limitations in functionality among its chief concerns in its review of Centrelink’s Fraud Investigation Case Management System (FICMS).

The assessment comes as part of the ANAO’s report on Centrelink’s fraud control program, which since 2005 has used the FICMS as a case-management system to record fraud allegations.

An independent review conducted by Ernst & Young in 2006 deemed that the FICMS was not compliant with the Australian Government Investigations Standards 2003 (AGIS), which sets out the requirements for a case-management system.  The Ernst & Young report found that the system was unable to deliver basic investigation and prosecution functions.

 The ANAO report has reported little improvement since the 2006 investigation, with non-compliance with AGIS found to be widespread.

 “There was insufficient information recorded in most cases in the FICMS and accordingly, decision-making was not transparent and did not consistently comply with the AGIS or Centrelink’s business processes in the FIM (Fraud Investigation Manual),” states the report.

The report cites the compromised quality of data stored in the FICMS as chief among concerns, with many cases found to have minimal information recorded.  45 per cent of cases that undertook customer interviews were found to have not recorded the date of the interview.

“FICMS data was incomplete and unreliable. In many instances, free text FICMS letters were not saved (or documented on file),” the report states.

The functionality of the FICMS also came under scrutiny, the report finding that the system demonstrates a lack of application to ensure the comprehensive recording of details.

“FICMS case note entries are limited to 250 characters and, therefore, are not always clear or comprehensive.

“Case notes were not comprehensive and did not identify the complexities of different cases. For example, debt cases that Centrelink claimed were not fraud investigations were indistinguishable from other cases recorded in FICMS,” the report explains.

As a result of the lack of data integrity and limited functionality, the report found that Centrelink does not use the FICMS to monitor and report on the performance of its fraud investigation program, rather the agency uses the Integrated Review System (IRS), a supplementary data management system.

A lack of data reconciliation between that of the FICMS and IRS was also observed, reflected in the 26,084 fraud investigations reported in Centrelink’s Annual Report 2008–09compared with the 39,106 fraud investigations recorded in FICMS for the same period.

“At a minimum, the performance information published by Centrelink needs to be reconcilable in both systems to enable Centrelink to be confident that the information it publicly reports is reliable,” the report urges.

Of the report’s four recommendations, two are directed towards reforming the FICMS:

Recommendation 2:

  “The ANAO recommends that Centrelink reviews the support provided to fraud control staff, paying particular attention to: the efficiency and useability of Centrelink’s fraud‐related decision support and reporting systems.”

Recommendation 4:

“To improve the quality and reliability of its fraud management‐related systems, the ANAO recommends that Centrelink review its standards and procedural controls for the accurate recording, reporting and evaluation of fraud data.”

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