Government email project still in limbo, costing millions

The federal government's efforts to update its email infrastructure are still floundering. Marwan Naamani / Getty Images

A massive government email project that has cost taxpayers at least $100 million is still in limbo six months after Global News reported on the program’s ongoing troubles.

The Email Transformation Initiative (ETI) was, as of last September, heading into its sixth year and appeared to have stalled indefinitely, with internal documents revealing that attempts to set up other projects to compensate had also faltered.

WATCH: Stalled government email project costs taxpayers $100 million

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Stalled government email project costs taxpayers $100 million

The ETI was designed to merge 63 individual departmental email systems together under a single umbrella.

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The work was contracted out to Bell Canada and CGI Information Systems in 2013. The companies were tasked with upgrading email services across government and moving about 550,000 accounts to a simpler address format —

A year ago, in March 2017, just under 48,000 addresses had been migrated to the new system, dubbed “Your Email Service.”

Now, one year later, Shared Services Canada says the number sits at 90,000 — still less than a fifth of the way to the finish line.

READ MORE: Government email project still stalled after five years, $100 million spent

The new total includes accounts from Health Canada and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, whose migration to the new system was put on hold more than two years ago. They were moved over in October 2017 and January 2018, respectively.

“These migrations were authorized to alleviate the business and operational impacts associated with co-existing between two distinct email services,” said the central IT department in an emailed statement.

“Shared Services Canada (SSC) remains focused on delivering a new email solution as part of the government’s commitment to increase digital delivery of programs and services to Canadians.”

Last fall, SSC acknowledged that it was waiting on Bell Canada before moving ahead with the remaining accounts. The company had yet to deliver “missing, contracted, system functionalities before migrations can resume,” SSC said at the time.

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Six months later, Bell Canada has not even provided a date yet for when these outstanding “functionalities” will be delivered. The telecom giant has referred all questions about the project to the government.

READ MORE: Trudeau pushed by unions to compensate workers for stress caused by Phoenix

The internal documents obtained last year by Global News also revealed that the cost to taxpayers to maintain the old email systems was substantial. Between April 2015 and the winter of 2016-17, the “legacy system” costs amounted to $25 million, and were increasing by $1,050,000 each month as of early 2017.

It’s unclear if that monthly cost has gone up or down since then.

“The stalled federal Email Transformation Initiative (ETI), as well as the current problem-plagued Phoenix pay system, are ongoing examples of large multinationals undertaking work best performed internally by the government’s own IT specialists such as Institute members,” said Sean O’Reilly, acting president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents thousands of government workers.

“Outsourcing is the wrong answer. … Private companies don’t answer to taxpayers and shouldn’t become the repository of vital government expertise and knowledge.”

Shared Services Canada has struggled with a number of high-profile technology projects that have gone off the rails. During the 2015-2016 fiscal year, Canada’s auditor general issued a damning report flagging problems within the agency.

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The most recent federal budget, tabled in late February, earmarked an additional $2.1 billion in new funding over the next six years to support the department.

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