The UK's Home Office is tendering to recruit a supplier to help manage the selection of its IT projects, leading to concerns over conflict of interest.
The notice published in the public sector Digital Marketplace is seeking a company to help deliver and operate the "discovery-as-a-service" capability for the "Innovation - Law Enforcement" (I-LE) function within the Police and Public Protection Technology Portfolio (PPPT), with a £5m contract on the table.
The snappy moniker – DaaS – alludes to the discovery phase in the UK government's IT project service manual. Discovery, it says, means learning about users and what they're trying to achieve; constraints the project faces in making changes to how the service is run because, for example, of technology or legislation; and the underlying policy intent the project is set to address and so on.
The Home Office sees the discovery phase as part of "demand management," which is procurement speak for only giving users what they really need, rather than what they want or what they say they need.
Observers will note that, without appropriate safeguards in place, the contract seemingly leaves open the possibility of the winning supplier managing the project selection process in favour of services it offers, with an inside track on the client's thinking.
One supplier working with the UK government, who asked not to be named, said it could mean the winning bidder is given the opportunity to develop a sales lead pipeline within government, putting it in the prime spot for picking up more work.
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The Register also understands that Home Office insiders are aware of the possible conflicts of interest, but no safeguards have been put in place. The individual, who asked not to be named, is also concerned that the winner may have already been selected.
The Home Office said of the tender: "This will not be a sales pipeline for the winning supplier. The Demand Management process will ensure that all work meets the needs and priorities of the Home Office in the most appropriate and efficient way to deliver value for money."
It went on to insist: "All associated procurement will adhere to the public procurement policy framework, ensuring free and open competition and value for money."
The DaaS tender comes at a sensitive time for UK government procurement as the former chief commercial officer Bill Crothers, who founded the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), responsible for much of the cross-Whitehall IT spending and large government frameworks, is at the centre of a media storm over commercial lobbying in government.
It emerged last week that Crothers joined Greensill Capital, a supply chain finance firm, as an adviser before he left the civil service in 2015.
He joined the firm as a director in 2016.
Former prime minister David Cameron, who worked as a special adviser to the Greensill board, is alleged to have sent texts and emails to ministers while working for the company. ®