Border Infrastructure delays

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Agreement covers a range of trade and security measures meant to ease flow of goods and people

By Laura Payton, CBC News Posted: Nov 29, 2013 5:30 PM ET Last Updated: Nov 29, 2013 9:24 PM ET

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama shook hands on a Beyond the Border deal in Washington in December 2011. But a new report by Public Safety Canada says Canada is behind in implementing parts of the deal. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

A project meant to make it easier for trade and travel across the Canada-U.S. border is behind schedule, and can’t even spend the millions of dollars allocated to it, according to a status report released today.

The Beyond the Border program was so important that Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew down to Washington, D.C., to announce it standing next to President Barack Obama.

But the report, released today, suggests major IT problems are leading to delays. With more than $117 million budgeted for 2012/13, only $49 million has been spent to streamline regulations and eliminate border delays.

Under one heading, “Addressing threats early,” more than $47 million was reallocated from one department to another.

The agreement covers a range of trade and security measures meant to make it easier to get people and goods across the border. It set a number of deadlines over several years. The report refers to delays for implementing several of the measures, blaming IT problems.

“Delays occurred in spending on information technology requirements needed to be consolidated to address program requirements and streamline solutions,” the report said, a sentence repeated under several headings.

“This necessitated a review across the solutions, which in turn delayed the start of certain projects.”

A spokeswoman for Public Safety Canada acknowledged the delays but said the government is committed to delivering on the goals set out in the agreement.

‘Slower than anticipated’

“The Beyond the Border Action Plan continues to be a priority for the Government of Canada. While some initiatives have been implemented slower than anticipated, we are committed to fulfilling the Action Plan vision, delivering on a range of strategic initiatives and building upon key accomplishments,” Josée Picard said in an email to CBC News.

The Single Window Initiative, which is supposed to make it easier to clear products by cutting the paperwork, is one of the programs that’s been delayed.

“As the schedule for the Beyond the Border Action Plan is aggressive with the first major SWI commitment being planned for December 2013, [Canada Border Services Agency]… moved the major development of this commitment from 2012-2013 to 2013-2014,” the report said in a footnote.

“As well, there is added complexity in relating to co-ordination and integration of the [nine] participating government agencies and the top [four] priority departments.”

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who spent years in Washington, says it isn’t all bad news for the government.

Some of the programs seem to be working well, he said, although the Trusted Traveller program, meant to pre-clear people to move them faster across the border, hasn’t had strong pickup.

The prime minister and the ministers of each department involved may need to get more involved in the file, he said.

“What you need is probably greater ministerial directive to say this is important, you’ve got to move this thing along,” Robertson said.

Treasury Board rules require annual reports for program spending budgeted for $100 million or more a year. Canadians should get more details on program delays next month, when the two countries release a joint implementation report.