Canada's auditor general says the federal government's geriatric computer systems could put tax refunds, Employment Insurance and pension cheques at risk.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser says that major departments, including the Canada Revenue Agency and the EI program, don't have plans to solve what could be a multi-billion dollar issue if their aging computers fail.

"When do they have to be replaced and what is it going to cost, so that they can plan for this over the long term? Government cannot wait until there's an actual crisis to change these systems," she said Tuesday on CTV's Power Play.

"They will be very expensive to change and will require time."

The report says the government has known of the issue for about a decade but has yet to put enough resources into solving the problem.

If a critical system breaks down, it could cause serious issues for Canadians hoping for income-tax refunds, employment insurance and pension cheques, among other services.

Additionally, the current systems are growing more expensive to operate and there are fewer technicians around who know how to fix them.

Some of the computers are so old they date back to the 1980s.

The report also says repairs to government buildings, including renovations to the Parliament Buildings, are not proceeding fast enough.

"The rehabilitation of the Parliament Buildings has been going on for a very long time," said Fraser. "There have been plans for more than 20 years to do these projects. There's a realization that the buildings are deteriorating very rapidly. In fact, the West Block is judged to be in critical condition."

Fraser blamed bureaucracy for delays in repairing buildings on Parliament Hill.

"It really comes down to how decisions are made -- what we call the governance process," she said. "There are many players making these decisions. We think it needs to be simplified, and that the responsibility should be transferred from Public Works to Parliament itself, to the House of Commons and the Senate."

Other highlights of the report:

  • Agriculture Canada's research programs were panned. Some projects were poorly managed and 70 per cent of the department's lab and farm equipment were past expiry dates.
  • The eHealth initiative will miss a key target this year.
  • Mixed results on government human resource policies.
  • Marine Atlantic's aging ferries and docks need repairs.