The $14.6-billion figure for federal outsourcing is based on an entry in the public accounts for professional and special services. A research group at Carleton University that has been studying outsourcing trends recently reported a similar total – $15.1-billion – using a different methodology.

The research team analyzed publicly-available federal contract award data and found that about a third of that amount – $4.5-billion – was for IT contracts. That category topped the list, and facilities and construction was second, followed by professional services.

The Carleton group – led by Amanda Clarke, an associate professor of public administration and digital government – released a paper last month that said the federal government should modernize its approach to IT outsourcing.

Specifically, the researchers say Ottawa needs to invest in in-house digital competency.

“At present, outsourcing IT expertise remains a preferred default in most departments,” they wrote. They note that the vast majority of senior public service leaders have never had to learn how modern technologies work.

“Given how central IT is to the core functionality of all government programs and services, the lack of digital expertise amongst the senior ranks of the federal government is a significant liability.”

The paper said attracting IT talent into the public service will require higher pay and removing bilingualism requirements.

Another recommendation is to borrow an example from Britain and impose spend control on IT contracts, including caps on their cost and length.

They also highlight the “significant data quality issues” with the government’s public disclosure of spending on contracts.

“Public sector patterns of dependency on IT vendors and consultants have expanded, in part, because of a lack of transparency on their cost and scale.”

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