Committee calls for end to govt’s ‘over-reliance’ on tech contractors


Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Limits should be placed on the federal government’s spending on consultants and better funding needs to be provided to internal ICT systems and staff to overcome the current “over-reliance” on tech contractors, a senate committee has found.

The Labor-led Select Committee on Job Security tabled its second interim report this week, shining a spotlight on the insecure workforce within the public sector and the increasing use of contractors and consultants, particularly around ICT-related work.

Canberra Parliament
Gutting the APS: perfect conditions to create an era of government tech failures

An upper limit on the government’s expenditure on consultants and contractors should be introduced, and the savings from this should be invested to increase the internal capacity and capability of the APS, the committee recommended.

Throughout its inquiry, the committee heard concerns about the tech capability of the APS that has been lost due to the prevalence of outsourcing and short-term contracts, particularly in service delivery agencies such as Services Australia.

“The committee is very concerned about the rapid increase in the utilisation of labour contractors and consultants by the government, and its ongoing reliance on an external workforce to deliver key public services to the Australian community,” the committee’s report said.

“The committee believes these types of arrangements are precarious and insecure by nature, and that workers engaged under them commonly enjoy lower conditions, less training and reduced career progression opportunities and certainty.

“Given these deficiencies, the committee strongly supports reforms which will return these roles to the core APS workforce and enhance its internal capabilities. The committee believes that such an approach would promote the career-based nature of the public service and improve community trust in government policy development and service delivery.”

The committee raised significant concerns with the over-reliance on tech contractors and a lack of ICT capability within the APS, and called on the government to work to eliminate this technical capability gap and ensure the public service is a digital leader.

“Although recognising that not all ICT can be done internally, the committee believes it is vital that the APS have internal capabilities, knowledge and experience to manage, monitor and deliver significant ICT procurements and systems across all delivery areas,” the committee’s interim report said.

The government should commit to ongoing investment in tech systems, staff and skills and lift the standard of digital services to that of leading private sector companies, the committee recommended.

It also urged the government to build the expertise and knowledge of the APS to develop and deliver ICT solutions in order to make the public service the “employer of choice for ICT and digital professions”.

The committee also recommended that the APS average staffing limit cap be scrapped, for skills gaps to be identified and filled, and for the transfer of skills and knowledge from external workers to internal staff to be encouraged.

There should be new rules around employing APS staff as contractors or on short-term contracts, with the committee calling for an APS-wide policy of departments and agencies directly employing staff in all circumstances other than when the work is short-term or non-ongoing.

There were also a number of recommendations aimed at improving transparency around these practices and the availability of data on the APS workforce. The committee urged the government to task the Australian Public Service Commission to collect and publish agency and service-wide data on the use of contractors, consultants and labour hire workers, and for the Department of Finance to publish expenditure data.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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