In 2022, Sean Boots and I, supported by two research assistants at Carleton University (Chantal Brousseau and Anne Lajoie), launched, an open access research tool to help people more easily explore the Government of Canada’s proactively disclosed data on federal contracting. It’s been super rewarding to see how the tool has been used, and in particular, to use this work to support ongoing (and very welcome) public inquiry into federal Information Technology (IT) contracting and reliance on management consultants.

The tool and the research findings our team has drawn from it have been covered by iPolitics, Politico, the CBC news podcast Frontburner, and highlighted in analysis by journalist Paul Wells. Former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick endorsed the tool as “exactly the kind of initiative [Treasury Board] Minister Brison had in mind when he pushed forward open government and open data.” Sean and I were also invited to deliver expert testimony at two parliamentary studies of federal government contracting (including the inquiry into the ArriveCAN app) by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, where we submitted the recommendations we outline in A Guide to Reforming Information Technology in the Government of Canada.

Today I’m happy to share the academic paper we developed using the tool (it’s still under peer review, so we share it now with that caveat!). In the paper we explain the role that IT procurement plays in supporting (or more often, preventing) digital government transformation, draw on international experience to outline a set of ‘rules’ for modern public sector IT contracting, and then assess the extent to which the Government of Canada adheres to these rules.

The punchline is – the federal government breaks almost all globally accepted best practice for modern public sector IT procurement, a reality which we argue helps explain why we have scandals like the ArriveCAN debacle that’s still unfolding. More importantly, we argue that unless we reform federal IT procurement so that it gets up to speed with widely accepted best practice in the field, any attempts to drive forward meaningful digital reform in the Government of Canada are bound to fail.

We’re eager for any feedback others have on the paper, and hope that it’s useful to those that are working hard right now to try and reform federal IT procurement, and push forward digital government reform in Canada more broadly. Many of these public servants offered incredibly useful feedback on earlier drafts of the paper, contributions that we were so grateful to receive.

Read the paper: Breaking All the Rules: Information Technology Procurement in the Government of Canada