QLD Health subcontractor "too big for his boots"

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QLD Health subcontractor "too big for his boots"

Acted as leader of procurement process.

The contractor who played a key role in the appointment of IBM to the bungled Queensland Health payroll project did not understand the workings of government and was getting “too big for his boots”, the state's payroll inquiry has heard.

Contractor Terry Burns was hired by CorpTech, the shared services provider handling Queensland Health's IT, initially for a five-week review of the department's shared services implementation project.

The organisation's former executive director Barbara Perrott yesterday took to the stand to explain why Burns came to be viewed by bidding vendors as the person leading the procurement process for the appointment of a prime contractor to Queensland Treasury.

The Queensland Health Payroll System Commission of Inquiry is investigating the adequacy and integrity of the procurement process which led to the appointment of IBM as prime contractor on the failed project, which will ultimately cost taxpayers $1.25 billion.

The rollout resulted in more than 35,000 payroll anomalies after going live in March 2010.

Perrott, who supervised Burns, said in her statement the contractor had come highly recommended, with previous experience in risk assessment of large IT projects which were nearing potential points of failure.

“It isn’t uncommon for government to bring in a contractor to review a program deemed to be under failure and to suggest remedies,” Perrott testified.

However, Perrott agreed she was concerned about the way Burns handled himself, including when he told public servants he had a direct line to the under-treasurer.

She said she had spoken to him about his conduct, and suggested he may have been getting "too big for his boots". 

Perrott added that Burns was outspoken, quite forceful and opinionated, but that his style suited the role of a reviewer “unsettling things” and “shaking things up”.

“I was 
fully aware that continuing doing what we were doing wasn't 
going to work,” Perrott told the inquiry.

Perrott faced several questions about the way Burns communicated with vendors, but said she had not become concerned about his actions during the process.

Asked specifically about an email in which Burns stated he was "ending final negotiations with vendors, partners by mid next week", Perrott agreed that Burns viewed his role quite differently to how she did.

Perrott said she believed Burns worked within the parameters that she had set for him, with strict reporting regimes, and in concert with the public service team she had put around him.

But when asked about the probity problems of Burns having one-on-one meetings with IBM representatives without the presence of a public servant, Perrott admitted the parameters had not worked.

Perrott described CorpTech as 'an organisation full of contractors who thought they were public servants', using the example of contractors taking two hour lunches while being paid on a daily rate. 

The inquiry continues.

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