A new Senate inquiry will investigate the capability of the Australian Public Service, probing issues such as the staffing cap, the use of consultants, and digital capability.
Referred to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee on Tuesday, the inquiry will look at the APS’ digital and data capability — including coordination, infrastructure and workforce — and whether APS transformation and modernisation projects initiated since the 2014 federal budget have achieved their objectives.
Labor Senator and shadow minister for the public service Katy Gallagher told The Mandarin the inquiry would also examine issues with the APS workforce, including the average staffing level (ASL) cap, and the increasing over-reliance on external contractors and consultants.
In February the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee called for the ASL cap to be scrapped immediately, noting that the cap has led agencies to use more contract labour, which costs tax-payers more in the long run. The committee had also described the outsourcing of government services as “fraught with risk”.
Despite this, the October federal budget revealed staffing levels across the APS would return to 2006-7 levels by 2022-23. The budget also announced new rules requiring federal government agencies to report annually on total spending on contracts and consultancies, and the establishment of a whole-of-government procurement panel for consultancy services.
Gallagher said the pandemic has demonstrated how important the work of the APS is in delivering services to the Australian people.
“The APS has designed, implemented and managed the Australian response to COVID-19 including in providing financial support payments to millions of Australians, in protecting our borders and by working to secure a vaccine against the coronavirus,” she said.
The committee will report on the inquiry by October 31, 2021.