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Ministries must clarify to a greater extent what they want to achieve through the use of external consultants

​Government organisations are major purchasers of consultancy services, estimated at around NOK 12 billion in 2015. "This approach can be the best way of obtaining specialist expertise and capacity, but we believe that the associated needs and purposes are not being clarified sufficiently, and that purchases, follow-up and the learning effect could be better", says Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss.

Published 3/23/2017 12:00 PM

​Document 3:6 (2016–2017) The Office of the Auditor General's investigation into the use of consultants by the state was submitted to the Storting on 23 March.

Expenses for consultants were not immediately apparent from state accounts, yet the investigation showed that extensive use is made of consultancy services and that this use has increased over time. The administration can use consultants when it is more effective than strengthening its own staff and expertise.

"Some enterprises make extensive use of consultants. In such cases, it is therefore important to have an overarching strategy to clarify the tasks that consultants are to be used for. Two thirds of the enterprises we audited lack such a strategy", says Foss.

The ministries and directorates are the biggest users of consultancy services. The use of consultants by these enterprises amounted to around NOK 8 billion during 2015. The law and emergency preparedness, health and healthcare, transport, higher education and employment and social services sectors were the biggest users of consultancy services in 2015, and accounted for around 75% of consultant use by the state.

A high proportion of the consultant use is linked to the modernisation and streamlining of state administration, and around half of it concerns the development and operation of ICT systems in different sectors – estimated to account for around NOK 6 billion in 2015.

"The use of external consultants for ICT projects imposes requirements concerning client expertise, resources and systems to ensure successful delivery. We see that a high proportion of state ICT projects have not been as successful as anticipated, and the use of consultants has therefore not been as effective as it should have been", says Foss.

The procurement, follow-up and lessons learned from consultancy work could be better. Many of those involved in the procurement and use of such services within the enterprises find that the process can be challenging and that quality, cost and time usage have deviated from established agreements to varying degrees. Insufficient time and resources are also being set aside to transfer expertise to the enterprises' own employees, and experience gained through the use of consultants is not being utilised sufficiently in connection with subsequent procurements", claims Foss.
The Office of the Auditor General notes that existing support tools are not being used sufficiently within the state: guides, standard contracts for consultancy services and methodology for project delivery.

"The establishment of a Digitalisation Board in 2016 could improve the quality assurance of information used as a basis for decisions and governing documents for ICT projects, but this would require state enterprises to make use of the scheme", says Foss.

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