EU efforts to tackle fraud have been hampered by bugs and delays in a 29 million euro IT system intended to help run investigations more efficiently.
Olaf, the European fraud agency in Brussels, first installed the bespoke €29 million “Olaf Case Management System (OCM)” in 2016.
After years of problems, it is supposed to be fully operational in July – six years later.
But now Olaf’s oversight committee has issued a recommendation to the agency’s chief executive, Ville Itälä: He should carry out a “detailed cost-based analysis” to find out whether his agency should stick with the OCM or switch completely to another system, like the one already used. by the European Commission.
“It appears that the OCM database is not even suitable for Olaf’s own investigative needs,” the committee wrote, “in an internal EU report seen by EUobserver.
The OCM “could harm the day-to-day work of Olaf investigators”, the committee said.
Meanwhile, more than half of Olaf’s staff were happy with the pre-CMO system they were using in 2015.
But after OCM was installed, satisfaction dropped to 7% and staff handed over more than a dozen pages of potential changes to make, according to EU documents.
Two years later, in 2018, Olaf’s staff were still saying that the CMO was “slow, unstable”, that “whenever some [bugs] are corrected, new ones appear”, and that he has dragged out investigations “even longer” than before.
The commission’s internal audit department looked into the CMO the same year, and the oversight committee raised concerns about “repeated significant budget overruns” and senior management negligence.
A year later, in 2019, only half of Olaf staff who answered a questionnaire said that OCM was doing better than in 2016, while some said: “The system was poorly designed from the start and it and it would be difficult to improve now”.
Olaf declined to tell EUobserver whether OCM’s €29m cost was significantly higher than initially expected.
“OCM suffered from the startup issues typical of computer systems of its size,” he said. No negative impact on investigations had “been observed”, he added.
Itälä, Olaf’s chief, had taken over the management of OCM since his arrival in 2018 and “since then the system’s performance and functionality has improved significantly”, Olaf’s press office also said. .
Today, the system was “stable and close to implementing all core business functionality by July 2022,” Olaf said.
He pointed to the usefulness of the system during the pandemic when most employees were working from home.
But even amid the 2020 lockdown, a staff survey seen by EUobserver showed only a third of users were happy with OCM.
And while that was the highest number since it was installed, it was still not quite what European taxpayers might have expected to get for 29 million euros.
Olaf is supposed to fight fraud cases involving the EU budget and root out corruption in EU institutions.
It concluded 212 investigations in 2021 (a typical year), recovering €527 million in EU money, and opened 234 new ones.
He works alongside the Parquet Européen (European Public Prosecutor’s Office), a new Luxembourg body which also fights against EU budget fraud.
The EPPO opened more than 1,000 cases in its first year of work, he noted earlier this month.
But Olaf is not the only EU anti-fraud system to have encountered IT problems.
The commission also runs a database called the ‘Early Detection and Exclusion System (Edes)’, which aims to prevent convicted fraudsters from accessing EU grants.
But the EU Court of Auditors in Luxembourg criticized the dysfunctional system in a report in May.
“No one really feels responsible for this. The commission doesn’t have a central overview,” said court hearer Helga Berger, echoing Olaf’s story.