Feds expand tech trials to defence industry

Courtney Symons
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Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose says she wants more defence and security companies testing their technology inside the federal government.

Rona Ambrose speaks to delegates at the annual CANSEC defence and security trade show.

Speaking at the CANSEC defence conference in Ottawa Wednesday, Ms. Ambrose said the government's Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program now includes the option for military procurement.

The $40-million pilot project launched in 2010 by Public Works allows small and medium-sized companies to test innovative technology within government departments. It is aimed at accelerating the time it takes to bring new products to market, and helps small businesses gain access to government clients. It was extended to continue upon completion of the pilot in March's federal budget.

"This program is not a subsidy," Ms. Ambrose told around 600 audience members. "It fills a real need, plus it's a first contract (for many companies)."

Previously, competing firms had to fit into one of four categories including environment, safety and security, health and enabling technologies. Three rounds have already been completed with many Canadian and some Ottawa companies gaining government contracts. In the fourth round of proposals, due to be issued by Public Works later this year, defence and security companies will also be given the chance to apply.

The expansion of the CICP program is just one of the ways that Public Works is attempting to make the procurement process more efficient and transparent, Ms. Ambrose said.

"Sometimes we're slow," she said. "We make you work very hard to get a contract."

Dealing with 55,000 procurement documents and spending $17 billion each year is a lot for Public Works to handle, but steps will be taken to improve the process.

"We can do better," she said.

An example of the direction Public Works would like to take is the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, where the government issued a call for proposals to build new vessels for the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard fleets.

Public Works only accepted bids from Canadian shipyards, and established a committee filled with government representatives and independent advisors to oversee the process.

Before the final decision was made, competing shipbuilders helped to develop the points system used to judge the companies. When the bidders were informed of the results of the procurement process, they were the first to know, before politicians and the public. The points system was made entirely public so that everyone would know what each company had scored.

"It embodies the principles of how we want to change,"' Ms. Ambrose said, adding that she hopes this new strategy will help to restore confidence in the Canadian procurement system that's been under particular scrutiny in light of the controversial plan to purchase F-35 fighter jets.

"Things had to change," Ms. Ambrose said in closing. "We'll look for results ahead of requirements and for innovation, not inertia."

Organizations: Public Works, Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Coast Guard

Geographic location: Ottawa

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