The ArriveCan app will go under the microscope today as Canada’s auditor general releases a report on the $54 million government project.
The government launched ArriveCan in April 2020 with the stated purpose of using it as a communication and screening tool to ensure travellers arriving in Canada complied with pandemic border measures.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has said that roughly $54 million was budgeted for the initial development and operation of the ArriveCan app, but there have been persistent questions about the app’s cost and its procurement process for over a year.
Auditor General Karen Hogan’s report comes after another investigation by Alexander Jeglic, Canada’s procurement ombudsman, found irregularities in the app’s procurement process.
As reported by the Globe and Mail last year, the government gave a $25 million contract to GC Strategies to work on the app. The company is a two-person consulting firm which advertises itself as able to help companies navigate the government’s procurement process. The company subsequently subcontracted work out to other firms.
According to Jeglic’s report, the criteria used in awarding the $25 million contract were “overly restrictive” and “heavily favoured” GC Strategies.
The report indicated that GC Strategies “copied and pasted” government-listed requirements for subcontractors on numerous occasions when submitting proposals to CBSA officials.
Jeglic’s report also suggested that a number of bidders repeatedly won contracts by listing subcontractors that ultimately didn’t do any work on the app.
“In roughly 76 per cent of applicable contracts, resources proposed in the winning bid did not perform any work on the contract,” the report says.
Jeglic described the practice as “bait and switch” during an appearance before the House government operations committee in January.
Jeglic told MPs on that committee that contractors have been known to provide workers or resources other than the ones promised in the bidding process. He said the frequency with which the practice happened with ArriveCan caused him some concern.
“The systematic nature and the frequency that this was occurring was much higher. So it’s systematic non-compliance that becomes troubling,” he said.
The CBSA also has been conducting an internal investigation of the ArriveCan contracts. CBSA president Erin O’Gorman told the government operations committee last month that the investigation’s preliminary findings caused her great concern.
O’Gorman said the investigation found “a pattern of persistent collaboration between certain officials and GC Strategies. They show efforts to circumvent or ignore established procurement processes and roles and responsibilities.”
House committee suspends meetings
O’Gorman cautioned that the investigation is still ongoing, but a copy of the preliminary findings was provided to MPs on the committee last week.
After reviewing the findings, the Liberal, Bloc Québécois and NDP MPs on the committee agreed to halt the study out of concern that the CBSA’s investigation would be compromised if some of the details were made public.
Liberal MP Majid Jowhari said he was “flabbergasted” by the preliminary findings, while NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said he found them “deeply troubling.”
The CBSA told CBC News that its internal investigation is expected to be completed by the spring or summer.