My Tax Dollars at Work?04 Nov 2014
Some days I feel like I’m king of the world, and some days I feel like the weak little fool that I am, and today is one of the latter.
I have written previously about the upcoming systems re-write in the British Columbia natural resources sector. This is a big one. Over $100M will be spent on IT services and software. Before you spend that kind of money, you should be clear about what the business value is, about why this big moon-shot of a project is the right thing to do, relative to the other options.
You should prepare a business plan. I wonder what that looks like?
I know something about data management in the natural resources sector, so I was actually interested more in the implementation plans than the business plans, I FOI’ed:
Any business case documents or presentations; System development timelines or development plans; Software or product comparisons
Potentially, this could be a lot of material, at least the FOI person thought so. They suggested I narrow my request:
…they’ve stated that the first option, “starting from the original request but limiting to only documents delivered to Doug Say”, would be the best option for narrowing the request and making the fee smaller, as he would be the only one conducting the search and this would significantly reduce the amount of time that would be spent on searching for records…
So, they were OK with my more limited request, that’s great. Until they send back the fee estimate:
|28.5 hour(s) to locate and retrieve records @ $30.00/ hour||$855.00|
|31.5 hours(s) to produce records @ $30.00/hour||$945.00|
|31.5 hour(s) to prepare and handle records for disclosure @ $30.00/hour||$945.00|
|1 disc(s) @ $4.00/disc||$4.00|
|2400 scanned electronic copies of paper records @ $0.10/page||$240.00|
Fortunately, they accept VISA, Mastercard and Amex. Actually, no. Chastened, I reduce my request yet further:
I feel like I’m fishing with hand grenades here. Can I just have a copy of the business plan and delivery plan (project milestones and expected deliverables?) without an overview I’ll never figure out what to rationally ask for.
So now we’re down to 1-2 documents, no need for a big expensive search, the fee dogs are called off. No doubt, I’ll get my documents shortly. The deadline rolls around:
I am writing to ask that you grant a 30 business day extension to the above-noted FOI request. The additional 30 days are required in order to obtain further information from the Ministry as to the status of the records in their submission to Cabinet.
OK, I’m not a total a**hole, I can be patient here. And heck, they are making a good faith effort so ensure I can see the docs by checking them against cabinet submissions. What an awesome crew. 30 business days go by:
We are nearing the end of the review of the records for this request, however we will require some additional time to have it completed. I am writing to request that you grant a 10 business day extension so that we may provide a complete response to this request.
Again, I’m a man of infinite patience, particularly when a “complete response” is in the offing! By all means, squire, take your 10 business days! 10 business days go by:
Please see the attached documents in response to your FOI request with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
Oh, frabjous day! Calooh! Calay! Let’s open up our giftie and see what the FOI elves have brought!
- A signature page.
- A contacts page.
- The first 3 lines of the table of contents, the remainder redacted because it constitutes “policy advice or recommendations”. That’s right, the table of contents is policy advice.
- The first page of the executive summary.
- The first page of the “narrative” section (with the middle part of that page redacted for “policy advice” reasons).
- The first page of the “investment context” section (with the end part of that page redacted for “policy advice” reasons).
That’s it! The remaining 185 pages of this 204 page business case are withheld! You want to know the reasoning behind the expenditure of over $100M on IT services and software? Too f***ing bad, chump.
Yep, feeling totally played for the chump. They will spend that $100M, by god, and they will spend it without anyone outside the “yes, minister, yes deputy, yes director” echo chamber seeing the rationale or commenting on it.
Update: I did vent a little back at the FOI officer (which, let’s be clear, isn’t really fair, he’s just the messenger here):
I’m concerned that this “process” is a farcical waste of your time. If you’re going to redact the entire document, save yourself the effort and tell me ahead of time, “BTW, the whole thing will be redacted”. Why even pretend, at this point? Who reviewed this document and decided on the redactions?
To which he patiently replied:
I apologise for not making you aware ahead of time that very little information would be released. I was hoping by this time that more information could be provided to you, however the Ministry informed that nothing has been implemented with regard to the initiatives, so the majority of the records are required to be withheld [em. mine] at this time. Should you wish to request these records at a later time, please feel free to contact me before submitting your request to determine their status and whether or not more information would be made available at that time.
I’m not sure how the implementation or not of things bears into their releasability, perhaps an FOI expert could drop some wisdom in the comments. It seems like the ultimate Catch-22, “we’ll explain the reasoning behind our decisions once they are set in stone and cannot be changed”.