NAO investigation finds that implementation of united IT system created ‘inefficiencies’ of £17m a year
The implementation of a new IT system for vetting government employees created “inefficiencies costing £17m each year”, according to a new report from the National Audit Office.
Auditors also found that staff at United Kingdom Security Vetting (UKSV) – a newly merged vetting provider for civil servants, armed forces specialists, and government contractors – have been forced to resort to manual measures to clear a huge backlog of cases caused by the botched IT rollout and unusable data sets.
The NAO has published the findings of its investigation into UKSV, which was established in 2017 from two separate providers: the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Business Services National Security Vetting; and Foreign and Commonwealth Services National Security Vetting, a trading fund of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The report found that an IT upgrade intended to create a single system to process applications – dubbed the National Security Vetting Solution (NSVS) – had been responsible for a rise in the number of unprocessed cases. It said staff had been forced to re-process failed checks manually and conduct additional assurance checks when some 8,500 files with personal data proved to be digitally unreadable. Added to that, it said that 93% of automated checks involving the police national computer had failed.
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A new IT system to replace NSVS is being created and will be implemented in the next 18 months.
“Cabinet Office considers that NSVS is still not meeting requirements in terms of its speed, and is contributing to inefficiencies across government,” the NAO report said. “For example, Cabinet Office recently estimated that NSVS has caused inefficiencies costing £17m each year in relation to recruiting and vetting for government projects. In May 2018, Cabinet Office began developing a replacement system for NSVS, which it plans to be in place by January 2020.”
Overall, the NAO found that that the move to unite the two vetting services had not been supported by an assessment of the expected benefits, costs and risks.
It said that as of July this year the provider still had around 25,600 open cases and did not expect to reach its targets for “developed vetting”, which allows cleared individuals access to more sensitive assets, until December this year. In addition to DV, the provider’s two other most common categories of vetting are counter-terrorist checks and security checks.
According to the NAO, the UKSV had 2017-18 staff costs of £19m, an increase of 17% on the combined staff costs of its predecessor bodies in 2014-15. It said that despite determining that it needed 595 full-time staff, the provider had never had more 507 and was reliant on overtime, agency staff and contracting retired former staff to fill vacant posts.