February 25th, 2024

Contract rules disregarded in costly development of ArriveCan app: auditor general


By Laura Osman, The Canadian Press on February 12, 2024.

Auditor general Karen Hogan says the federal government disregarded it's own contract rules and policies in the expensive development of the often maligned ArriveCan app. A person holds a smartphone set to the opening screen of the ArriveCan app in a photo illustration made in Toronto on June 29, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini

OTTAWA – Disregarded policies and a failure of management led to the development of the inordinately costly and much-maligned ArriveCan app, an investigation by Canada’s auditor general has found.

The federal government launched the app in April 2020 as a way to track health and contact information for people entering Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to digitize customs and immigration declarations.

The auditor found the government’s reliance on sole-sourced external contractors drove up the price of the app, and those costs weren’t properly tracked.

Hogan estimated the app cost roughly $59.5 million, but the management of the project was so poor that it’s impossible to know the final amount for sure.

The first ArriveCan contract was initially valued at just $2.35 million.

The government failed to document initial discussions with contractors or the reason it didn’t use a competitive process, Hogan said in a report released Monday.

She ultimately found most of the problems with the app’s development stemmed from the initial decision to rely on non-competitive contracts with external firms.

Hogan also found little evidence the app was properly tested, which may have contributed to more than 10,000 people being ordered to quarantine for 14 days in 2022, even though they had provided proof of vaccination.

“Overall, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Public Services and Procurement Canada repeatedly failed to follow good management practices in the contracting, development and implementation of the ArriveCAN application,” Hogan said in her report Monday.

The app was introduced as a mandatory measure in the early days of the pandemic, when the government effectively closed the borders in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Canadians and others allowed to enter the country had to provide personal information to the government for quarantine purposes.

As the pandemic response evolved, so did the app. The auditor found ArriveCan was updated 177 times between it’s launch and when use of the app became voluntary in October 2022.

The government had no evidence that the Canada Border Services Agency did any user testing on 25 substantial updates to the app to make sure it actually worked.

Only three updates appeared to have been fully tested and documented.

“Without having the assurance that testing was completed, the agencies were at risk of launching an application that might not work as intended,” Hogan’s report said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2024.

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