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New passport processing system $75M over budget

New passport processing system $75M over budget
From CBC - September 17, 2017

Another government IT project is going off the rails, this one intended to issue Canadian passports faster and cheaper than the current system.

The so-called Passport Program Modernization Initiative, launched in 2014, is at least $75 million over budget and well behind schedule.

"From its outset, the complexitywas underestimated," says an internal document, explaining a series of setbacks to the ambitious plan.

"The project management capacity and expertise was insufficient for the complexity and scale of the initiative."

The January 2017document,obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act, says that in initial tests the new system actually increased processing times, rather than decreased them as planned, andallowed breaches to Canadians' confidential information.

The passport mess joins the botched Phoenix payroll system, the struggling email transformation initiative and the Canada.ca project as IT schemes inherited by the Liberal government that have bogged down in delays and cost over-runs.

But unlike the other three, the fees Canadians pay directly for their passports are going to bail out the modernization project rather than general tax revenues.

That's because passport fees are much higher than the actual cost of producing the document, and surpluses can be used for improvements in passport processing, including the modernization project and its budget overruns.

Online renewals

The passport project was first approved in December 2013 with a five-year, $101.2-million budget, and was intended among other things to let Canadians apply online for renewals. The project was to be complete by June next year.

But Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canadawhich has run the passport office since July 2013now says modernization will cost at least $176 million, a 75 per cent increase so far, and will not meet next year's deadline because of delays.

"The project schedule is under review and planned activities are being resequenced to occur at a later date," says a report on the project.

CBC News has previously reported on the first flubbed test of the new system, starting on May 9, 2015, in which at least 1,500 passports were produced that were vulnerable to fraud and tampering.

'The reporting did not track project spending against budgeted activities.' - Internal report on passport modernizaton project

The test was carried out despite warnings of some officials that it posed significant security risks. In the summer of 2015 the department suspended its use of the new system, which was plagued with hundreds of glitches. Officials said none of the 1,500 problematic passports was issued to any citizen.

Revenue to drop

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