Heavyweight operational agencies enter David Thodey’s ring


Home Affairs and ATO advocate a far more cohesive and collaborative APS and suggest ways of removing barriers to cross-agency and whole-of-government cooperation.

At last, we are beginning to see a few submissions from Australian Public Service agencies to the Thodey review.

Two stand out so far: the submissions from two large operational agencies: the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Taxation Office, which between them account for some 25% of APS staff, many of them delivering hands-on, frontline services.

Neither agency has minced its words. Each, in a different way, advocates a far more cohesive and collaborative APS and suggests ways of removing, or at least reducing, barriers to cross-agency and whole-of-government cooperation.

You don’t have to read between the lines to see their obvious frustrations.

Policy leadership is key

The 10-page Home Affairs submission leads with its chin on policy leadership, saying the development of policy advice to government should remain a core role of the APS.

It wants a long-term plan to ensure policy design, development, implementation and decision-making is retained within the APS as far as possible.

“The review (should)consider engaging with education institutions to co-design programs to equip the APS with the skills that will be most in demand in the future.”

But it also advocates partnering with the private sector to adopt the latest technological advances and lift APS skills.

It wants the much-hated central cap on Average Staffing Levels abolished or modified  (the ATO is also critical of the cap) and says joint agency taskforces and other “agile” models should be the norm rather than the exception to harness greater collaboration.

On workforce matters, it recommends the review consider engaging with education institutions to co-design programs to equip the APS with the skills that will be most in demand in the future.

The APS, it says, needs to position itself as an employer of choice in the global knowledge and technology markets. The review should inquire into new methods for engaging the future workforce by understanding trends and conditions that the most talented people find desirable, and providing a common set of tools and arrangements across the APS.

On pay and conditions, it argues for better cross-agency working arrangements, removing the need for lengthy memoranda of understanding or formal transfers, including with non-APS Commonwealth agencies, and finding ways of increasing collaboration, mobility and a seamless exchange of talent and experience.

Modern approach to recruitment

It also advocates a more modern approach to recruitment helped by data analytics and screening, but says it is crucial that merit-based selection and transparent processes be upheld at all levels, underpinned by a set of basic criteria to ensure candidates are fully able to meet APS requirements.

“On automation, it wants the review to explore structures and strategies for preparing the APS workforce to adjust to greater applications of automation and maximise the opportunities.”

On automation, it wants the review to explore structures and strategies for preparing the APS workforce to adjust to greater applications of automation and maximise the opportunities; upskilling with digital, cyber and data analytic skills is a priority, it says.

Then there is the need to improve record keeping, including better information sharing across the APS. Standard systems, forms and templates could allow interoperability and exchange of information; this would also help implement future machinery-of-government changes.

The submission says much more on information and data, including sharing, and on building technology at scale.

And it digs in on the problems of the short budget cycle and the way it hampers long-term investment. It suggests the review consider whether multi-year reform principles such as those that underpin the Defence Capability Model might be extended to other agencies or whether other public funding models exist internationally that could be used.

There is more on risk and innovation; accountability, governance and oversight, all of it important and clearly written.

Enhance citizens’ experience

But now to the ATO submission, albeit briefly. It too is a good one.

Broadly, it says the APS should be striving to provide policy advice and services that are contemporary, fit-for-purpose, streamlined and integrated.

It calls for the APS to further embed a culture of service, accountability and collaboration that supports a whole-of-government approach to the delivery of services and sharing assets and resources.

“The APS requires a whole-of-government approach for managing a contemporary workforce, including developing a common job and capability framework and core policies that apply to all staff.”

This should enhance citizens’ experience with all their touch-points across APS agencies, minimising the requirement to transact with government.

It would require a preparedness and willingness by all areas of the APS and government to take a more holistic, citizen-centric approach that includes shared risks and accountability for outcomes.

It is essential, it says, that there is visible, cohesive leadership and a clear strategic vision for the APS to deliver on the principle that a citizen’s interactions with government are as integrated and seamless as possible.

It outlines three priority areas where it says the review could have the most impact: leadership, accountability and funding models across whole of government; leveraging data across the APS to enhance the citizen experience; and consideration of whole-of-government approaches to people and resource management.

Each of these areas is argued cogently; more about them when space permits.

The ATO also endorses the Productivity Commission’s 2017 report into Data Availability and Use, including the establishment of an Office of the National Data Custodian.

As for the workforce, it suggests among other points that narrow agency-by-agency enterprise bargaining creates inefficiencies. “Efficiency gains could potentially be realised by allowing agreements to be negotiated as one or in clusters (potentially by portfolio).”

It says (in a nutshell) that the APS requires a whole-of-government approach for managing a contemporary workforce, including developing a common job and capability framework and core policies that apply to all staff.

To date, 425 of 668 submissions (most very short) have been uploaded to the review website; let’s hope we soon see more from other agencies. There is no show without Punch.

READ MORE ON THE APS REVIEW:
Back-to-back MoGs induce ‘dysfunction’, warn academics
APS review hears all about the view from the bottom
David Thodey Q&A: your burning questions about the review answered
Thodey asked to pick up where Nugget Coombs left off
Tom Burton: do we really need a public service commission?
Coombs 42 years on — looking back at the review that shaped the APS
The new APS review isn’t everything that former mandarins were calling for
APS review a neoliberal stitch-up, says CPSU

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