APS commissioner cracks down on creeping headcounts

By Stephen Easton

Friday December 16, 2016

The federal government’s workforce authority has warned public service leaders it is keeping a close eye on their headcounts and will step in to limit any growth the government would consider excessive.

Direct control of recruitment was handed back to agency heads in the 2015-16 budget, to the great relief of many agencies, but the Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of Finance remain vigilant and will keep a firm grip on the number of public servants on the Commonwealth’s payroll.

According to a statement from the APSC, the external controls have been replaced with a monitoring system. Staff headcounts will be compared to the estimated average staffing levels agencies submitted for the budget process:

“The Department of Finance will collect ASL information regularly to monitor the funded size of agencies and assist Government decision making.

“APS agencies will report employment data monthly to the APS Employment Database (APSED), in order to provide an ongoing indication of agency staffing levels.”

The latest State of the Service report shows the total APS headcount increased 2.3% over the 2015-16 financial year to 155,771 employees. Public service commissioner John Lloyd will call on agency leaders to explain any unexpected hiring sprees or major inconsistencies between their latest estimated average staffing level (ASL) figures and monthly headcount reports. The consequences of non-compliance could be a loss of control:

“Inappropriate growth in staffing numbers may result in case-by-case controls on agencies’ recruitment activity.”

The commission acknowledges the two figures show slightly different things but says it will glean “an indication of trends and variances in agencies’ staffing profiles” from comparing the two data sets.

Government decisions that mean ASL estimates are revised will need be taken into account, of course. The commission confirms these updated ASL estimates will be collected throughout the year, including through the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook and budget processes.

The APSC wants to hear about any significant variations by email to APSED as early in the financial year as possible, including the size and the reason for the change; it would prefer not to have to contact agencies to explain big changes in the data.

Other than government decisions, acceptable excuses for variances between ASL and headcount include “seasonal peaks, planned reductions over the course of the year, significant irregular and intermittent workforce components, short term projects” as well as certain fee-for-service activities.

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