Poor picture of TRIM use at DPS

An inquiry into practises of the Australian Commonwealth Department of Parliamentary Services has learned that inadequate documentary evidence was provided due to poor management of the TRIM recordkeeping system. The committee of inquiry was inquiring into the process surrounding the choice of a photographer by former Department of Parliamentary Services secretary Carol Mills to document the Australian Parliament's 25th anniversary.

Ms Mills did not declare a potential conflict of interest even though she knew the woman who was paid $A40,000 to take the pictures and the documentation about the decision-making process is missing.

Asked by the chair of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the issue why information had not been supplied correctly, Myra Croke, Chief Operating Officer, Operations Division, Department of Parliamentary Services said,” The difficulty we have with our system of filing on TRIM is that it stores every draft document from the very first rough draft that somebody at quite junior level might create on the system, right through to the final version that gets through and might go all the way up to the secretary, or even to the Presiding Officers.

“Unless people carefully label those documents on the way through, it is not always clear how far the document got—as to whether it was in fact a very rough draft or it was in fact the final. It is something we need to get a lot better at because, as you know, we have had a number of recommendations in relation to our record keeping, so it is an area we really need to focus on improving.

When the chair expressed disbelief why the documents “disappeared off the system” Ms Croke responded, “I did get an assurance from the area that is responsible for our record keeping—and they are part of my division—that a thorough search was done at the time and that all the documents they could find were in fact given over to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).

“I am not sure—that document—two of the documents—the one from April in particular, which we have just given to the committee, was in fact a draft that we are absolutely sure went nowhere. It was created by one individual person. They were the only person that ever accessed that document. It was created and had some changes made on one particular day, 18 April, and no further changes were made to that document after that date by anybody.

Senator Alex Gallacher asked whether changes been made to either the record keeping or the contract management systems in DPS.

 “With the problems identified with this case, it seems to be a pretty classic case to have a look at and see what went wrong in terms of record keeping and record management—understanding what was involved and information to the committee. Were there any changes made?,” he asked?

Ms Croke responded “We have made quite a lot of changes in the procurement space of late. We have got a complete new set of financial delegations, which were issued from 1 January and were reissued just recently with some very minor changes. Sitting underneath those we have agency advice instructions which we are required to have under the PGPA Act. That is standard for any agency in the Commonwealth and we have those in place.

Asked whether the problem would be likely to reoccur, Ms Croke said, “I do not think I can give an assurance that it will never ever happen in  DPS. I do not think any department could give you that assurance. But we can say we are doing a lot of work to put appropriate controls in place to minimise the chances of this occurring and to ensure staff are trained and knowledgeable about what they are doing.

“Business planning is also occurring and part of that is identifying risks in each particular branch of the division. We have already started doing workshops across the department in relation to that. We hope to have business plans and a corporate plan in place by the end of July at the latest.”

“We have already invited the ANAO to come back and do a follow-up audit, which they have indicated is on their program for 2015-16. It will probably occur in the 2016 calendar year.

“The procurement team and the legal team are working very closely together on issues as they occur, and that is what we are feeding back in to the contract practitioners group to try and train staff around the sorts of issues that are coming up across the department and to keep staff informed. You cannot just conduct training for contract management and wheel people through their two-day training in February and think they are fine and that they do not need any more. They actually need some reinforcement of what they are doing and some further guidance as things change. As an organisation, as we learn about how we can do things more effectively we will cover that.

“In terms of record keeping, if you are conducting a procurement, the procurement manual clearly sets out the nature of the records we should be keeping. We have already rolled out some changes to the SAP system. We now have finance running on SAP, and all of the procurement and payment arrangements will be fully up by the end of June. We are consciously trying to reinforce that records are kept either in SAP, which is our payment and HR system, or within the TRIM system, so we should have a thorough record-keeping system as we go forward. I think that is the one area that we still need to do some work on.”