$54 Million ArriveCan App Subcontractors Unknown, Says Border Agency Chief

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) president Erin O’Gorman told MPs reviewing the federal government’s $54 million spending on the ArriveCan app on Monday that the agency does not know the identities of any of the subcontractors that worked on the project (via The Globe and Mail).

“In terms of subcontractors, we don’t have that information. We just have information relating to those who have held the contract directly,” she said during the meeting.

“So CBSA does not know who the subcontractors were that worked on ArriveCan app?” asked Conservative MP Michael Barrett.

“No. We have the relationship with the primary contractor,” O’Gorman replied.

Barrett was far from convinced of O’Gorman’s claim. “It frankly just doesn’t add up,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “And it’s pretty incredible that she showed up and said, ‘We don’t know and you’re not going to find out.'”

The CBSA’s response to the government operations committee’s probe into Ottawa’s spending on ArriveCan has been rife with inconsistencies so far. For starters, the agency listed a $1.2 million payment to a Canadian tech company called ThinkOn that never actually worked on ArriveCan.

“I would apologize to the committee for that mistake,” O’Gorman said on Monday, describing the occurrence as human error. She went on to assure the committee that the CBSA has since double-checked its list of ArriveCan contractors to ensure there are no other errors.

What’s more, the company that received the most federal funding for work on the ArriveCan app, GCStrategies, is a two-person firm that hunts government contracts and then hires independent subcontractors to fulfill them.

According to testimony from the two partners that own GCStrategies, they kept 15-30% of the $9 million in taxpayer money they received for ArriveCan contracts as commission.

O’Gorman defended the CBSA’s decision to engage GCStrategies by saying the agency did not have the internal resources to launch the ArriveCan app. In addition, she said the project was sole-sourced because the CBSA didn’t have enough time for a public tender.

“The decisions we took in 2020 didn’t have the benefit of hindsight,” she told MPs. “It wasn’t clear how long we would have to maintain the app. But we felt that the staff-augmentation proposal from GCstrategies, the ability to use the CBSA cloud, was the most appropriate,” she said.

The ArriveCan app started off as a mandatory tool for travellers to submit their vaccination status and other mandatory health information online before crossing into Canadian borders. However, it was relegated to an optional resource for filing customs declarations in advance last month.

The CBSA previously submitted a breakdown of ArriveCan costs that revealed the app originally only cost $80,000. Over the course of more than 70 updates and the cost of maintaining and supporting it, though, ArriveCan has turned into a major expense that is set to hit $54 million this fiscal year.

The CBSA has also failed to provide the committee with about 500 requested invoices pertaining to the ArriveCan app. During the same meeting, O’Gorman informed MPs that she could not say how long it will take for the agency to hand over these invoices, citing delays related to translation.

Committee chair Kully McCauley wasn’t impressed with the CBSA’s failure to comply with the order. “I would ask you to get back to us as soon as possible and express as chair my disappointment at CBSA for continuing to drag this out,” he said.

Following the meeting, the operations committee also approved a motion from NDP MP Gord Johns for the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman to review the Liberals’ contracting work related to the app.

On the same day, MPs on the access to information, privacy, and ethics committee approved a separate investigation into the privacy implications of outsourcing ArriveCan contracts. The ArriveCan app is also facing a potential federal audit.