European Commission blocks scrutiny of IT spend

The EC hopes to eradicate the waste with a radically revised IT strategy not dissimilar to that being pursued by the UK government. However, more than a year since initial proposals were put before the president the Commission is still working out how to consolidate its systems and bring runaway IT support costs under control and how to eradicate conflicts of interest over the allocation of its €500m budget.

Catherine Day, secretary general of the European Commission, said \”no final decisions have been taken on these specific issues. Disclosure of these parts [options to eradicate waste in IT expenditure] could lead to external interferences which would be highly detrimental to the decision-making process of the Commission, on a subject which has significant security and budgetary implications.\”

The last significant review of EC IT policy, resulting in the revision of the European Interoperability Framework, was subject to intense lobbying from the software industry and was finally delivered two years late with critics saying that its principles had been compromised by powerful business interests.

The European Interoperability Framework (EIF) was one component of a strategy led by Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič for a Europe-wide public cloud in which IT systems could be shared and wasteful duplication of spending eliminated. Šefčovič directed a consolidation and standardisation strategy. The progress of recommendations published by the report of Šefčovič Task Force IT has now been released, following the Commission’s suppression of publication.

The EC released the document after an appeal for disclosure went all the way to the top of its civil service. But it insisted on redacting the report\’s core proposals, exposing extensive areas where it has still not reached a conclusion over the future of its €500m IT budget. The report warned of a danger of a conflict of interests in Digit, the IT arm of the European civil service that handles the allocation of the €500m budget.

The problem is that Digit acts as both \”technology and service provider\” and \”advisor and broker\”. Again the Commission obstructed publication of recommendations on which directors-general have yet to act.

Šefčovič\’s plan relied on establishing common practices across Europe\’s entire administrative and legislative organisation, an ambitious initiative similar to that proposed for the UK public sector. Powerful, top-down pressure would be necessary to see the changes through and even then its aspirations did not realistically stretch beyond the imposition of standard business processes and systems within the Commission to those 53 other institutions with whom it is envisaged it may collaborate more closely.

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