The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity has not paid enough attention to its fiscal responsibilities, according to its first-ever performance audit.
The watchdog tasked with preventing, detecting and investigating corruption and ethical breaches in law enforcement agencies has agreed to put more effort into making sure its shadowy operations are cost-effective.
According to auditor-general Grant Hehir, the agency needs to improve the way it prioritises its workload, pay more attention to case management, and line up its resource allocation to its legislation, which calls for a focus on serious and systemic corruption of agencies that are empowered to enforce the law.
Hehir wanted to see if ACLEI had established appropriate measures of its own efficiency. It had not. He also wanted to compare ACLEI’s efficiency to similar agencies and its own past performance, but could not do so.
“As ACLEI has not measured, benchmarked or reported on its efficiency in detecting, investigating and preventing corrupt conduct the ANAO has not been able to conclude whether ACLEI has been operating efficiently,” the auditor-general reports.
The number of investigations started by ACLEI has been growing but its completion rate has not risen to match. It does keep some measures of its timeliness, but “a wider focus on the final outputs to be produced from its operational activities” is needed to provide a better idea of its performance, according to the report.
At Hehir’s recommendation, the agency has now agreed to develop the ways and means to report on its operational efficiency, by setting new performance measures and collecting the”additional” data it needs to do so.
It will also begin benchmarking against comparable bodies like the state-based crime and anti-corruption commissions, and keeping more detailed records on how its own performance fluctuates over time. It currently does not compare its efficiency to similar agencies or its past performance at all, the report states.
Another of the auditor-general’s three recommendations is more of a scoping exercise than strict marching orders. Hehir has gently asked ACLEI to see if it could realistically implement a “more structured” system of risk-based resource allocation.
This would prioritise “the highest value investigations” and could involve reviewing resourcing for investigation teams based on certain triggers — either a set period of time or some other milestone, the auditors suggest.
Integrity commissioner Michael Griffin agreed to all of Hehir’s recommendations and said he found the audit “useful and instructive” overall, but he also defended his administrative efforts to date.
“I believe that I have put in place sufficiently robust processes to allow me and my executive team to effectively manage the balance between carrying out ACLEI’s mandate to detect, deter and disrupt corrupt behaviour; while also appropriately measuring how we do it,” Griffin wrote in his response to Hehir.
“A balance must be found between efficiency and effectiveness. Whilst efficiency and effectiveness are not mutally exclusive, disproportionately focusing on one can be detrimental to the other. I accept that our processes can be strengthened, and that we could capture more data in seeking to do this.
“However I am not aware of any national or international policing and corruption agency which have generally accepted measures of “efficiency” for their major operational activities.”
And, while agreeing to start benchmarking against other similar agencies, Griffin also made the case that ACLEI does unique work.
“I note however that anti-corruption bodies investigate different types and levels of corruption in different legal jurisdictions and in different ways,” he told Hehir. “It is unlikely for there to be a complete isomorphism which would unambiguously compare operations between agencies.”
In the absence of reliable indicators of efficiency, the auditors did their own quick analysis and report that ACLEI’s investigations have probably become less efficient over time, while its assessment processes have become quicker.
“The ANAO’s analysis indicates that the efficiency of ACLEI’s investigation activities requires particular improvement, including to address growth in the number of investigations commenced compared to the number of investigations completed.”
The audit did not look at how well ACLEI does its job, but notes that when it finishes an investigation, successful prosecutions usually follow. Nor did the auditors consider whether it gets enough funding; the main question is how much action the public, the parliament and law enforcement agencies get for it, but the secretive agency is unable to give an accurate answer.
“ACLEI has not established appropriate performance measures to inform itself, the Parliament and stakeholders (including law enforcement agencies) of how efficient its activities are in detecting, investigating and preventing corrupt conduct,” the report concludes.
That’s not to say it did nothing at all in this regard; it has “systems and processes to capture some input and output data which can be used to calculate basic measures of its efficiency, including proxy measures” but needs to collect much more information to demonstrate bang for the taxpayer’s buck.
It also needs a better system to decide which cases are the most important to take on and once selected, which investigations must take priority over others.
The audit report adds that ACLEI has made efforts to improve operational efficiency, by pursuing “information sharing and shared services arrangements” but, again: “The impact of these arrangements is not clear due to a lack of relevant performance information.”