DTA spends $20m on contractors this financial year

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The Digital Transformation Agency has entered contracts worth more than $20 million with recruiters and HR firms for temporary staff in the current financial year alone, with ongoing concerns around turnover and skills retainment at the government’s tech office.

Analysis of tender documents by InnovationAus found 141 contracts in the last eight months signed by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) for “temporary personnel services”, worth a combined $20.23 million.

These include several contracts with high profile recruiters including Hays, Hudson, Talent International and Oakton.

Contractors: Full time people in digital transformation are elusive

The contracts typically run for up to six months until the end of the 2021 financial year, and include only a brief overview of the role, such as “delivery manager’ or “user researcher” and no information on what projects or programs they work on.

The DTA has previously faced questions over apparently high levels of staff turnover at the agency, and for its reliance on contracts rather than long-term employees, leading to the loss of tech skills in the public sector.

The DTA had a total workforce of 244 people as of the end of the 2019-20 financial year, including part-time and non-ongoing employees. The new contracts posted this financial year representing more than half of the DTA’s total workforce, but it’s unclear which are replacing previous contract workers or renewed contracts.

A contractor salary at the DTA ranges from $47,484 to $366,200 per annum, with recruiters and talent agencies also picking up a percentage of the wage for those it places at the agency.

A spokesperson for the DTA said the high number of contractors is helping the agency achieve its tech-focused goals.

“The DTA recruits skills and expertise as required to deliver on key priorities, namely the delivery of the government’s digital transformation agenda. The DTA looks to fill vacancies internally to the APS first, before exploring other options,” a DTA spokesperson told InnovationAus.

“As with many government agencies, our workforce is a mix of APS, contractors and secondees, allowing us to bring in skills from across the public and private sectors for specific periods or projects and delivery outcomes in a timely manner.

“The DTA is proud of the work we have done involving multidisciplinary teams. This allows us to increase the capability of the public sector and also to deliver outcomes in a truly collaborative way.”

Under Commonwealth Procurement Rules, the DTA must publicly publish all contracts with contractors worth more than $10,000.

Of the $20 million in contractors spent this financial year, a large chunk has gone towards Hays, with the UK-based recruitment agency landing 22 contracts worth a total of $2.8 million.

Melbourne recruitment agency Hudson Global Resources has won five DTA contracts worth $643,000 in total this financial year, while Talent International has landed $663,000 across six contracts.

Dutch multinational HR firm Randstad has also won five contracts worth more than $625,000.

Among the series of contracts inked by the DTA recently is one with Recruitment Hive for $122,000 over just two weeks, equating to more than $60,000 per week for the “policy support officer”. The agency publicly says it takes $14.50 per hour for rates over $180 per hour.

Other “temporary personnel” engaged by the DTA in recent months are an “agile coach” for nearly $250,000 over seven months, and “IT procurement specialists” for more than $150,000 over six months.

The DTA’s annual report for 2019-20 acknowledged that its use of external recruitment agencies had increased recently in order to “strengthen [its] capability and resource management to enable us to achieve [its] remit”.

In mid-2020 it was revealed that the DTA had experienced near-100 percent staff turnover in the previous 18 months. In total, 251 staff had ceased their employment at the agency from July 2018 to February 2020, with total employment at the DTA at 256 staff as of early 2020.

The DTA said this was the result of its “agile” way of working, with a reliance on short-term contractors and secondees from other departments.

From December 2016 to June 2018 the agency also saw near-100 percent staff turnover, with 340 people ceasing employment out of a total workforce of 342 people. At the time, the DTA said that 242 people of those who ceased employment were contractors, and 98 were ongoing or non-ongoing employees.

If the DTA has maintained a similar ratio of contractors versus inhouse employees, it would currently have about 171 contractors and 73 employees.

The recent October federal budget also revealed that the DTA would lose more than 30 staff this financial year, with its average staffing level falling from 217 in 2019-20 to 182 in 2020-21, despite the agency receiving an overall funding boost.

This may have led to an increased reliance on contractors on short-term deals.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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