APS staff caps under a spotlight


Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

The increased reliance on outside consultants by the Digital Transformation Agency is leading to a loss of jobs and expertise in the public service, according to federal Labor.

Shadow government services minister Bill Shorten said the “skyrocketing” costs of consultants being used at the agency was alarming.

And the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) says the increased reliance on outside contractors and management consultants was a direct result of the government’s APS staffing caps.

Parliament Canberra
Consultant concerns: APS staff caps have led to poor outcomes

InnovationAus this week revealed that the dollar value of contracts awarded by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) to tier one management consultants increased by nearly five times in the last financial year, jumping from just over $6 million to more than $30 million in 2019-20.

Since Government Services Minister Stuart Robert took responsibility for the agency after it was moved to Services Australia mid-last year, there has been a significant increase in the number and size of contracts handed to tier one global consultants like Deloitte, McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group.

“Labor remains very concerned about the skyrocketing costs of consultants being paid by the agency. Staff turnover at the DTA is at unacceptable rates and we are witnessing a loss of expertise and know-how and a hollowing out of the public service,” Mr Shorten told InnovationAus.

“This agency has huge potential. But under Stuart Robert’s reign it has achieved little beyond an expensive yet largely ineffective coronavirus tracing app.”

A recent Freedom of Information request also revealed that the DTA has experienced near-100 per cent staff turnover in the last 18 months, for the second time in a row.

The agency has also said that its high staff turnover levels are due to its high usage of short-term contracts and secondees from other departments.

But the Community and Public Sector Union is concerned about this, with deputy national president Melissa Payne saying it is the result of the Coalition’s APS staffing cap.

“We know that since 2013 over 21,000 public service jobs have been cut under successive Liberal governments, causing enormous damage to the capacity of the Commonwealth. The Average Staffing Level Cap has cut jobs but also driven outsourcing to labour hire companies and contractors,” Ms Payne told InnovationAus.

“Since 2013, we have seen $3.2 billion given to big consulting companies to do work the APS can and should be doing. The time of jobs for liberal mates is over, the Morrison government has to lift the staffing cap and invest in agencies like the DTA, so they can deliver the essential services that all Australians rely upon.”

Former DTA head of service design and user research Leisa Reichelt, who also used to work at the UK government digital service and is currently the head of research and insights at Atlassian, also expressed concern about the DTA’s reliance on the big contractors.

“Once upon a time the Australian government had – in-house – one of the best digital teams I’ve ever worked with. So sad to see where things are today,” Ms Reichelt tweeted in response to the story.

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