Foreign Office IT woes still causing 'chaos' as Ukraine war unfolds

Problems caused by failure to integrate FCO and DfID IT systems slowing down work, insiders say
FCDO building lit up with the colours of the Ukrainian flag. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/Alamy Stock Photo

Problems with Foreign Office IT systems that have not been resolved since the ministry merged with the Department for International Development in 2020 are undermining the government’s response to the Russia-Ukraine war, officials have said.

Delays and confusion caused by the slow integration of the two departments’ IT systems are continuing to affect emails, video calls and work on important briefings, according to the Guardian.

Staff are still working with separate and sometimes incompatible equipment and security systems, months after a whistleblower said those same issues had caused problems with the response to the Afghanistan crisis, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office insiders told the newspaper.

Rafael Marshall, a former FCDO staffer, sounded the alarm about a “chaotic system” and “avoidable problems” in the evacuation of British and Afghan nationals after the fall of Kabul last summer.

Marshall said it had been “hard to integrate” six former DfID staff who volunteered to help with the evacuation because they could not access FCO IT systems – denying them access to documents and emails. “They were visibly appalled by our chaotic system,” he said. 

Civil servants have now told the Guardian that the problems have not yet been resolved and are continuing to hamper the Foreign Office’s response to crises, including the war between Russia and Ukraine.

“Numerous crises have been worsened because of it,” one Whitehall source told the paper.

They were reportedly reluctant to share details on how the department’s response to the conflict in Ukraine has been affected because of security concerns.

However, they said they were frustrated that the issues were “still not fixed” despite the merger having been completed in September 2020.

One insider said former DfID staff had been unable to access files stored on the former FCO IT system. One was quoted as saying “colleagues routinely miss emails and feel that they’ve been overlooked”, which “causes chaos, especially in crisis points”.

“It’s so much effort to try and track people’s comments in briefing… It’s basically making an hour long job two hours, which is not the kind of time you have in these situations,” another said.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “The UK has helped lead the diplomatic and deterrence effort in response to the situation in Ukraine and this work remains a top priority for the department. All current staff are able to work on a shared FCDO Microsoft Teams platform.”

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