Tax refunds, EI and pension cheques could be at stake as government computer systems get old, the auditor general warns.
Despite the risk of failure in computers at major agencies, including the Canada Revenue Agency and the EI program, there's no overall plan in place to solve what is a multibillion-dollar problem.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser's latest report says many computer systems are still working, but as they age, many can't be updated and they get more expensive to operate.
"The most damaging risk is that an aging critical system could break down and prevent the government from delivering key services to the public - such as issuing income-tax refunds and employment insurance and pension cheques," said the report, released Tuesday.
The government has known about the risks of aging systems for a decade, but still isn't putting enough money into up-to-date equipment and software, says the document.
Stockwell Day, president of the Treasury Board, said departments are working on plans to replace geriatric systems.
"Some departments are already advanced in terms of working on their plans on aging technologies," he said. "Others need to be given some prodding to get those plans done."
The laggards, he said, are being nudged.
"We've said, 'Look, we want you to finish up your plans, bring forward the amount you think it's going to take.' We'll put together a master plan from that and there's a date by which they have to do that."
The problem isn't not just obsolescent equipment and programs, Fraser said. Fewer technicians are around who know how to deal with old systems. The companies that made the equipment may be long out of business, meaning spare parts are scarce and tech support is gone.
At the Canada Revenue Agency, some key systems are housed in a 40-year-old building that was never designed to house a data centre.
The agency also said it was worried about keeping its aging systems going.
Human Resources Development Canada said growing demand for EI during the recession, and systems that are reaching the end of their service life, mean "a high risk" that it might not be able to get cheques out to the jobless.