The federal government has handed management consultants McKinsey and Company a $2.2m confidential contract for two months’ work, but is refusing to give even basic details about what the company is doing with taxpayers’ money.
The government’s tender website, AusTender, reveals that McKinsey last week won the $2.2m contract for the work through the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.
But basic details of the contract have been kept confidential.
The department did not answer questions about the nature of the work McKinsey was conducting, how it was selected for the work and why it was being paid so much.
“Information on the contract awarded to McKinsey is available on AusTender,” a spokesman said.
AusTender, though, only says that the work relates to a research program and an “inter-departmental workforce taskforce”.
The contract is marked confidential for a range of reasons, including to protect “costing/profit information”, intellectual property, the public interest, and to comply with the privacy act and statutory secrecy provisions.
It is not the first time the government has shrouded McKinsey advice in secrecy.
Last year, the government took advice from McKinsey on its vaccine and treatment strategy, which cost $660,000 for four weeks’ work.
Earlier this week, industry publication Biopharma Dispatch reported the government had been advised by McKinsey to take a “sit and wait” approach to buying Covid-19 vaccines, given the usual difficulties and failures seen in vaccine development.
The office of the health minister, Greg Hunt, denied the suggestion that the government had taken a “sit and wait” approach to procurement or that McKinsey had advised the government to adopt such a course.
“By this time [of the McKinsey advice] we were already well advanced with talks, which had begun earlier as evidenced by the announcement on 19 August of agreements to purchase the AstraZeneca and University of Queensland vaccines,” the spokeswoman said.
“The Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group [Sitag] provided advice to government in relation to vaccine procurements.”
The Guardian reported earlier this week that the Sitag had urged Australia’s health department to order as many Covid-19 vaccines as possible from different sources.
The ABC has previously attempted to secure the McKinsey advice through freedom of information laws. The only document it could obtain was an eight-page summary of publicly available vaccine data.
The ABC was told that there was no “specific advice” in any one document that could be provided. Instead, the department said McKinsey had given it ongoing strategic planning consultation services over a four-week period.
“McKinsey Pacific Rim has provided ongoing strategic advice and support to the department which is not contained in a specific document,” departmental lawyers told the ABC.
“This included collaboration and participation in a range of activities. However, McKinsey Pacific Rim did not provide specific advice.”
McKinsey is also being paid $2.1m to investigate the potential for onshore mRNA manufacturing, which could allow for the production of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
InnovationAus reported that the contract was not posted to AusTender for months after the work was done, which is against procurement rules.
The report on mRNA manufacturing will not be made public.