The fallout from the PwC tax leak saga continues, this time it’s public servants complaining that PwC pursued and pestered them with unsolicited emails trying to sell them solutions based on information they weren’t supposed to have. Internal emails released by the Aussie agriculture department show one partner had no problem revealing they had insider information passed along from a colleague about the department’s outdated technology, a problem that PwC was eager to fix.
In November 2021, a PwC partner sent an unsolicited email to a public servant spruiking the firm’s IT solutions [Ed. note: spruiking = spiel for us Yanks]. The pitch relied on information the partner had received from a colleague who was also working for the department.
“Our PwC strategic partner team has let me know that the [ICT] session on Tuesday spent some time talking about grants management and a view that the overall capability, process, involvement of other agencies as well as tech needs to be reviewed,” the partner wrote.
The PwC partner was familiar with a need to replace existing ICT software and offered the public servant a demonstration of her proposal and a briefing with more information.
Internal emails show the unsolicited approach set off alarm bells within the department and was referred to senior management for consideration.
“Obviously this is poor form,” wrote the public servant who received the pitch. “[They are] using knowledge from PwC’s unique engagement with [us] and our programs, both which they have undertaken maturity assessments of and are currently supporting”.
In reply, another senior bureaucrat wrote “there have been similar things in the past like spamming the senior executive service with invites to PwC future of work seminars and drafted scopes of work turning up that were not requested”.
This is not exactly brand new information, though the bureaucrats’ comments are. A May 2023 Australian National Audit Office report [PDF] explains how the Enterprise Program Management Office (EPMO) found out that PwC was using information obtained from one engagement to create another:
EPMO identified high levels of direct sourcing and concerns around the strategic partner using confidential information to make unsolicited proposals. In November 2021, EPMO identified an instance where the strategic partner offered an Information Technology solution to DAWE as a result of insights gained by the strategic partner firm from attending ELT [executive leadership team] meetings.
EPMO implemented processes to reduce direct sourcing and continued monitoring against direct sourcing levels as part of its reporting. Senior representatives of DAWE [the old name for the department of agriculture] met with and wrote to the strategic partner in relation to contractual confidentiality requirements in response to the concerns around unsolicited proposals.
No mention of the word “spam” in that report, sadly.
A PwC spokesperson told The Guardian the firm “acknowledges the feedback from our client”.
“When the matter was raised by the client we addressed the feedback immediately and the engagement continued,” they said.
In earlier coverage, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) deputy secretary Cindy Briscoe explains how her department realized confidential information from the ELT meeting made its way through PwC. Because PwC couldn’t help but reveal what it knew:
“[The email] acknowledged that their colleague had provided feedback, that in a recent executive leadership team meeting, there was a discussion around — in this case it was grants — and that ‘we believe we have some products that may be able to assist’,” Briscoe said.
Briscoe continued to tell senate estimates the email came from a different part of PwC, leading the department to conclude that information from the senior leadership meeting was passed on elsewhere.
The public servant added advice was sought by the department, which said it would be a “perceived conflict of interest because it didn’t actually result in any harm from any confidential information being leaked”.
DAFF secretary Andrew Metcalfe added the way the unsolicited proposal had been handled showed how carefully the department was managing the PwC contract.
“On that occasion, we were not happy with what the firm did and we let them know that,” the secretary said.
Meanwhile, EY Oceania CEO David Larocca told a parliamentary inquiry this week that EY is nothing like PwC, saying EY “takes its ethical obligations extremely seriously.”
“At EY, we don’t deliberately breach confidentiality,” he said. Someone write that down, it may come in handy later.
Public servants complained about PwC ‘spamming’ them with unsolicited work offers, emails reveal [The Guardian]