Pull agencies in line, auditor-general tells PM&C


Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

Government agencies are failing to follow recommendations made by top scrutiny bodies, the national auditor-general’s office has found.

The latest audit report from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) looked at whether the Department of Agriculture, Airservices Australia, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development had implemented recommendations that were agreed upon years ago.

The recommendations in question had been made by ANAO, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, and other parliamentary committees in 2016–17.

None of the audited entities could prove that they had fully complied with all of the recommendations, the audit found, despite having the means to do so.

ANAO handed the responsibility over to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, suggesting they “reinforce the responsibility of accountable authorities to monitor and implement agreed parliamentary committee recommendations”.

PM&C head Martin Parkinson — who steps down from the role next month — said he would remind secretaries of their “obligation to develop a government response to parliamentary committee reports”.

“The presentation of documents is an important component of the government’s accountability to the parliament and the broader community,” he wrote.

“It is critical for responsible agencies to monitor and implement the parliamentary committee’s recommendations agreed to by the government.”

ANAO recommended the audited entities establish a framework for executive oversight of parliamentary recommendations. The development of implementation plans, assignment of responsibility for compliance, and tracking and reporting recommendations should be included. The report also encouraged them to get to work on complying with old recommendations.

The departments agreed to address the old recommendations and improve response processes to future parliamentary inquiries. However, Airservices rejected one of the new recommendations relating to its procurement processes, claiming it had already made the necessary changes.

“Airservices remains committed to continuous improvement of its procurement system, demonstrated by our ongoing actions since the 2016 audit, and will ensure that the learnings from this audit are reflected in our ongoing improvements,” they responded.

Just weeks ago, ANAO published another report of an audit of Airservice’s contractual arrangements for their OneSKY project, which found the project would run 10 years late at a ballooned cost. The project — which hopes to combine civil and military air traffic management systems into one platform — has been underway since 2010.

“If the current contracted timeframes are achieved, there will be a more than 10 year delay in the replacement of the existing separate civil and military systems compared with the timeframe envisaged at the start of the procurement process,” ANAO reported, without any recommendations.

In its latest report, ANAO offered up key lessons for other government entities:

  • Tabling of responses to recommendations formalises government or entity commitments to parliament to implement recommendations. Entities should develop implementation plans that clearly identify intended actions, timeframes and measures of success.
  • To ensure entity objectives are delivered upon, effective governance arrangements should include clear responsibilities, reporting arrangements and systems that provide the accountable authority with a clear line of sight of implementation and assurance that underlying risks and issues that have been identified are addressed.
  • Accountable authorities should regularly review the functions of audit committees to ensure they are meeting the requirements of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule to review the appropriateness of systems of risk management and oversight and internal controls. The audit committee charters should then be updated to ensure they remain contemporary. 
  • Records are a critical part of robust knowledge management practices, such as supporting transparency and accountability for past decisions and informing future decision making.

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