Financial control criticizes FOPH for procurement of vaccination app

The Swiss Federal Audit Office (SFAO) has found numerous omissions and weaknesses in the award of a Corona vaccination application by private treaty by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). In the report published on Monday, there was talk of incomprehensible services charged and a conflict of interest in the award without a formal procedure.

In particular, the SFAO criticized the lack of transparency in the cost accounting for the procurement by the FOPH of a registration, enrollment and appointment system with vaccination documentation totaling 11.15 million Swiss francs.

Specifically, in the second half of 2021, the service providers - which took into account two companies that were initially affiliated with each other - would have charged for services amounting to approximately two million francs, the report says. The costs billed during this period were "incomprehensible" given the functionalities developed during this period. However, the FOPH did not question this disproportion between service provision and billing.

Billing practice not comprehensible

Over a period of several months, lump sums amounting to around half a million francs each had been invoiced - even though the services were contractually to be invoiced according to the amount of work involved. Here, too, the FOPH had not provided a comprehensible explanation for its billing practices, the SFAO wrote.

Moreover, it was not possible to check the content of the services invoiced because no work reports were available, although the suppliers were contractually obliged to provide them. "The FOPH has never requested these, so that de facto no audit of the content of the invoice has taken place."

The SFAO also asserted a conflict of interest. Because the position of Head of Digitization Covid-19 had to be filled at short notice, an external employee had been brought in as a mandate holder.

However, the latter was acquainted with the managing director of one of the two service providers. At the time of the audit, the two business partners were in third-party companies. It was not clear from the discussions with the FOPH whether this "apparent conflict of interest" had been disclosed.

BAG refers to urgency

In a statement, the FOPH acknowledged that, given the crisis situation and the urgency, their approach had not been in line with normal processes. The FOPH had therefore decided to award the contract by private treaty.

"With the usual procurement process, the system would not have been ready until about three months later," the FOPH wrote. The fact that a solution could be put in place quickly accelerated the vaccination campaign and gave many people rapid access to vaccination.

However, the authority rejected individual points of criticism. For example, the FOPH referred to a written statement by the former head of the Digital Transformation department, in which he confirmed that the client had already informed him of the networking with the managing director of one of the two service providers during the initial meeting.

The agency also said it does not share the suspicion that the FOPH has been billed for unaccountable services for the second semester of 2021.

During this period, the supplier implemented the adjustments from the vaccination recommendations during ongoing operations and implemented other commissioned elements, according to the FOPH. And despite a last-minute postponement of the campaign, all services were delivered on time and reliably, it said. "The chosen strategy thus proved successful, and operations were guaranteed at all times," the FOPH wrote.

The SFAO recommendations have already been implemented by the FOPH for the most part, it added. For future crisis management, it will be important to involve the experts for public tenders more closely in the crisis organization.

SFAO relativizes criticism

The SFAO did not comment on the FOPH's statement. However, it wrote in the report that the failures and weaknesses in procurement had to be put into perspective in the context of the extraordinary situation at the time, which was difficult to plan for.

Indeed, things had to move quickly when the FOPH initiated procurement and development in mid-October 2020. As early as mid-January 2021, the application developed was launched by the participating cantons and was productive.

In the meantime, the FOPH's contractual obligations have ended, as the authority points out. The cantons had the option of taking over the systems if necessary. (SDA)

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