Government seeks expert support for public services card project

Tenders sought for technical and strategic support for project first rolled out in 2011

The Government is seeking tenders for strategic and technical support in relation to aspects of the public services card project.

The Government is seeking tenders for strategic and technical support in relation to aspects of the public services card project.

 

The Government has sought tenders for “expert and experienced technical advice” on aspects of the public services card, which was initially rolled out six years ago.

A tender noticed published on Wednesday said the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection was seeking expertise and advice “at both the detailed technical level and the strategic level” in relation to the so-called ‘SAFE’ registration system which underpins the card.

About 2.8 million of the cards had been issued up to the end of the year, mainly to people claiming welfare benefits such as jobseeker payments, child benefit and free travel.

The Government recently spent an estimated €200,000 on an advertising campaign to encourage people to sign up for the card, claiming it made it easier for them to obtain State services, both face-to-face and online.

In a tender published on Wednesday, the department sought the supply of “technical support and advice” in respect of the SAFE programme underpinning the public services card.

It said the competition related to the provision of “independent expertise, advice and support in the area of electronic card and chip technology to support work being undertaken under its SAFE programme project”.

“This expertise and advice is required at both the detailed technical level and the strategic level. Guaranteed access to expert and experienced technical advice is required,” the tender notice read.

The card and the underlying database of personal information drew criticism last year from privacy campaigners after The Irish Times reported that a woman in her 70s had had her pension cut off after she refused to register for the card. She subsequently succeeded in having it restored, receiving arrears of about €15,000.

Legal experts have also questioned the legality of the public services card project, claiming it lacks a basis in primary legislation and that it creates a massive database of personal and biometric information on the population.

Writing in The Irish Times last August, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said provision for the use of the card was first made in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. Revisions of that legislation had been taken forward by six governments, including the current one, with each revision providing numerous opportunities for debate and discussion within the Oireachtas, he said.

Mr Donohoe said he was very supportive of the public services card concept, which combined “excellent technology with the additional assurance of a face-to-face interview” for those going through the registration process, called ‘SAFE 2’.

It would, he said, lead to a more efficient government and a better user-experience when using government services. Mr Donohoe said ‘SAFE 2’ was “the most robust mechanism available to the State for providing maximum assurance on an individual’s identity”.

“The use of the PSC has already driven fraud out of the welfare system – it is the duty of this Government, and indeed any government, to do likewise in other areas where citizens interact with the State, such as driving licences, passports and so on,” he said.

Figures from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection indicated the use of the card alone had resulted in anti-fraud savings of €2.58 million up to October 2016.

Mr Donohoe also said it was absolutely essential the State was not disadvantaged compared to the rest of Europe in terms of digital trade and government services and that the card and its associated online manifestation MyGovID facilitated this.

In November, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty told the Dáil the cost of the Government’s public services card (PSC) project has reached almost €54.6 million to date, including nearly €29 million to pay up to 216 staff working on it.

The total cost for production of the cards has been nearly €20.9 million to date. A report published by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2016 said that no single business case had been produced for the roll-out of the public services card.

The response date for the tender for services in relation to the Government project is February 5th.