The following appeared late last week.
- Karen Dearne
- From: The Australian
- October 19, 2010
THE National E-Health Transition Authority has snubbed government guidelines designed to boost local participation in its first major tender.
NEHTA cited its controversial status as a private corporation owned jointly by the federal and state governments.
The Health Department refused last week to reveal how much NEHTA spent on travel in the past financial year, saying the taxpayer-funded body was not required to report such information under its funding agreement.
Over the past year, Liberal senators Sue Boyce and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells have been pursuing details of NEHTA's spending and accountability to parliament, and Senator Boyce has expressed frustration that its representatives cannot be compelled to appear before Senate estimate hearings and inquiries.
Now NEHTA has told bidders on the large National Authentication Service for Health contract that it does not need to comply with normal agency purchasing rules.
"NEHTA is a company limited by guarantee and as such falls outside of the scope of the Australian government procurement guidelines," it said.
Under Innovation Minister Kim Carr's $19 million Australian Industry Participation program launched last year, firms bidding for federal government work must lodge a plan showing they have considered options to include local firms in their tenders.
Small to medium-size businesses now have a backer in their corner, with Mr Carr appointing Don Easter as his office's IT supplier advocate in June.
Mr Easter said he queried NEHTA's stance when the NASH tender was released.
"I wrote to them in my role as advocate, saying you have to include provisions for an industry participation plan, and they came back to me saying 'no we don't'," he said.
"That is the case. I checked with the Health Department and the AIP requirements only apply to government agencies. However, they did say they were committed to the principles of open tenders, fairness and equity."
Mr Easter said industry plans were a "light touch" approach intended to ensure opportunities for local firms were routinely considered in tender responses.
" I know a bit about authentication and there are many people in the marketplace who do this type of thing now," he said. "What's interesting is why it took NEHTA so long to put it to tender. . .
I wonder how long it is going to take the Government and Opposition to recognise they have an out of control train here that is happily spending public funds with no real oversight.
It would seem to me there is very considerable political risk for Government especially in all this. Consider the scenario that we are a year further down the track from the present. The HI Service Implementation has gone less than perfectly - with all sorts of predicable barriers to smooth implementation arising as workflow implications, costs to software providers and so on begin to bite. Combine this with a NEHTA sponsored public education program that is raising awareness but where the public is failing to see all that much actual outcome.
It is now 18 months or so since the inception of the service, with NASH and the PCEHR still to actually happen, and with the exception of the pilots not much is being delivered.
In that circumstance, which has to have at least a 50% chance of being reality, the Opposition will be able to have a picnic at Senate Estimates Committees and in the political lead up to the next election.
NEHTA would be much smarter to proactively and honestly work with Medicare to get real plans, budgets, resource requirements and so on out there as cover and risk mitigation. And they also should turn up at estimates to provide a clear account - unfiltered by DoHA - as to what is really going on, and what issues they face - so they are not torn apart in a political backlash when the issues are recognised long after the event and blame has to be apportioned.
Openness works well to protect from the damage of surprise revelations - especially in the political scene.
A little proper prophylactic disclosure could do great things for NEHTA’s reputation to say nothing of the e-Health Project in total.
I suspect the inevitable backlash, when it comes if this risk is not managed well, will just sweep both the good and the bad of NEHTA away.