Geriatric federal computers threaten tax refunds, EI: AG

Auditor General Sheila Fraser speaks to the media after delivering the 2010 Spring Report in Ottawa...

Auditor General Sheila Fraser speaks to the media after delivering the 2010 Spring Report in Ottawa Tuesday April 20, 2010. The report will be tabled in the House of Commons shortly after 2 pm today. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)

KATHLEEN HARRIS, Parliamentary Bureau

, Last Updated: 6:31 PM ET

OTTAWA — Canadians could miss out on income tax refunds, employment insurance or pension cheques due to aging federal government technology systems now at critical risk of breaking down.

In her spring report to Parliament, Auditor General Sheila Fraser points to a chronic failure of various departments, agencies and Crown corporations to modernize with proper planning and financial investments, leaving the Parliament buildings crumbling, federal ferry docks dilapidated and information technology systems desperately outdated.

Fraser warned of dire consequences if problems aren’t fixed quickly. “If some of these major systems fail, I think the impact could be dramatic on people,” she said. “There are many Canadians who depend on these systems as their only source of revenue, be it employment insurance, be it old age security, be it Canada pension plan. So it is absolutely critical that government ensure that these systems continue to work, that there are no delays in getting these cheques out.”

Aging information technology was flagged as a “significant risk” by five organizations studied: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Public Works, Human Resources and Skills Development, Canada Revenue Agency and the RCMP.

While all departments agreed with Fraser’s recommendations to make immediate upgrades, they noted a lack of sufficient resources on hand to meet the significant costs attached.

In three of the five departments, the projected price tag is about $4 billion to $5 billion to make necessary updates — of which $2 billion is currently not funded. Fraser warned of dire consequences if problems aren’t fixed quickly.

Fraser said it is also critical to ensure the system that collects tax revenue continues to operate.

Opposition parties pounded the government for jeopardizing payments to Canadians, but Treasury Board President Stockwell Day said they are already working to address deficiencies.

“We’ve given instruction to all departments that we want them to finish up their plans,” he said. “We’ve given them a timeline to do that and once they’ve brought forward their plans for replacing aging technology and the costs associated with that, we’ll accumulate that together and move ahead.”

The audit noted that the Canada Revenue Agency system that determines eligibility for individual Canadians who receive benefits and tax credits each year was implemented in the 1970s, yet processed more than 27 million returns in the 2008-09 tax year — 56% of them filed electronically.

The RCMP uses radio systems with older technology that can’t support current security and privacy requirements.

“According to the RCMP, this increases the risk to police and public safety and could lead to injury or death,” the audit states.

kathleen.harris@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos