Critical systems aging, cheques at risk

OTTAWA — Tax refunds, EI and pension cheques could be at stake as government computer systems get old, the auditor general warns.

OTTAWA — Tax refunds, EI and pension cheques could be at stake as government computer systems get old, the auditor general warns.

Despite the risk of failure in computers at major agencies, including the Canada Revenue Agency and the EI program, there’s no overall plan in place to solve what is a multibillion-dollar problem.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s latest report says many computer systems are still working, but as they age, many can’t be updated and they get more expensive to operate.

“The most damaging risk is that an aging critical system could break down and prevent the government from delivering key services to the public — such as issuing income-tax refunds and employment insurance and pension cheques,” said the report, released Tuesday.

The report said the government has known about the risks of aging systems for a decade, but still isn’t putting enough money into up-to-date equipment and software.

And it’s not just obsolescent equipment and programs. Fewer technicians are around who know how to deal with old systems.

The companies that made the equipment may be long out of business, meaning spare parts are scarce and tech support is gone.

At the Canada Revenue Agency, some key systems are housed in a 40-year-old building that was never designed to house a data centre.

The agency also said it was worried about keeping its aging systems going.

Human Resources Development Canada said growing demand for EI during the recession, and systems that are reaching the end of their service life, mean ”a high risk” that it might not be able to get cheques out to the jobless.

Public Works has problems with old computers that cost it time and money and lower productivity.

Citizenship and Immigration said one of its critical systems is a problem because the language of its programs is no longer taught and the technicians who can handle it are retiring.

Fraser recommended the government take a long look at its systems, decide which are obsolete or obsolescent and develop plans to replace them with more flexible technology.

Her report also warned that urgently needed repairs and renovations to the iconic Parliament Buildings are slowed down by divided responsibilities.

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