DTA to lose 30+ staff despite digital push

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The Digital Transformation Agency will lose more than 30 staff this financial year despite average staffing levels across the public sector increasing.

The federal budget showed the Digital Transformation Agency’s (DTA) average staffing level (ASL) falling from 217 in 2019-20 to 182 in 2020-21, despite the agency receiving a funding boost from the government in the coming year.

The DTA received a funding boost in the federal budget, with an extra $48 million over two years for its digital identity project, $22.5 million over two years from existing Services Australia resources for the myGov work and a general $15.8 million boost in 2020-21 to “support the continued delivery of government digital transformation priorities”.

Parliament house Canberra
Deflating: The Digital Transformation Agency is set to lose staff this year

Overall, the DTA is getting $20 million more in 2020-21 from the government than it received in the previous financial year.

The DTA’s staffing levels have hovered around 200 since a significant increase to the team in 2017. Last year’s budget boosted its numbers to 205 in the 2019-20 financial year. But the budget this week signalled a drop to 182 in the current financial year.

A DTA spokesperson said the agency manages its ASL cap and workforce in alignment with its “prescribed remit and priorities”.

“Our contingent workforce allows us to engage subject matter experts for defined periods of time and enhance the capability of our ongoing APS workforce, allowing us to demonstrate efficiencies,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.

“The DTA has appropriate arrangements in place to manage our ASL cap within the Social Services portfolio consistent with other federal government departments and agencies.”

The agency’s staffing levels will now fall to their lowest rate in more than four years, despite the DTA’s increasingly important workload, and the federal government’s emphasis on digital service delivery and digital transformation.

“The need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that the government and APS serve the needs of the public. The APS has built on the government’s investment in more accessible, smarter and seamless digital services,” the government said in the budget.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated Australia’s acceptance and use of digital capabilities and the government will cement this change in the way Australian businesses work by making further investments in digital capability.”

The staffing cuts also come as Services Australia, the department the DTA now sits within, will get a significant increase to its ASL, and the overall ASLs over the public service are set to increase by more than 3500 to nearly 170,500 in 2020-21.

The DTA has been plagued by high levels of staff turnover since it was created. Between July 2018 and February 2020 the agency experienced near-100 per cent staff turnover, with 251 staff members ceasing employment at the agency out of a total workforce of 256 at the time.

The agency also enjoyed a near-100 per cent staff turnover in the 18 months ending June 2018.

The DTA has said this is due to its “agile” way of working, with an emphasis on short-term contractors and secondees from a range of departments.

Significantly more contracts have been handed to large consultancies by the DTA in recent years too, with an increase in value of nearly five times year-on-year in the 2019-20 financial year.

The bulk of these contracts went towards Deloitte, which is leading the myGov update, KPMG, which is working on the digital identity scheme, and Boston Consulting Group for a range of projects, including the development of the COVIDSafe app.

The 2019-20 financial year saw the DTA sign contracts worth more than $30 million to large consultancies, compared with $6 million in the previous year.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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