There are more temporary contract workers involved in government technology projects than full-time Australian Public Service staff, with some large agencies using more than four times as many tech contractors than APS employees.
The data, released late Wednesday by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) in response to a question on notice, confirms most federal government ICT work is being outsourced, which critics say is expensive and undermines internal capability.
But there are significant differences across agencies about how much work is being outsourced.
Services Australia, which is a primary federal government delivery agency and has been responsible for flagship programs like myGov and Digital ID, used 2,266 permanent APS workers in 2019/20 for ICT and digital work. But it used even more contractors for the work, with 2,443 brought in.
At the Department of Defence, 4,334 contractors were used for technology work, more than four times the full-time technology staff at the Department.
At other large agencies like the Australian Taxation Office, work is mostly done in-house. The ATO used 1,752 permanent APS staff on ICT and digital projects last financial year and called in less than 380 contractors, which represented about one-fifth of its ICT workforce.
But there were more ICT contractors than permanent staff at the Department of Home Affairs, while the Department of Health used more than twice as many contractors for technology work.
Across 77 agencies, there were about 20,000 people working on ICT and digital projects last financial year. The work was split almost evenly, with slightly more contractors being used in total than full time staff.
The information was collected by the DTA last October and provided to the current Senate Inquiry into the capability of the APS.
“Depending on agency needs, ICT contractors may be used for specialised skills, for short-term projects, or for staff augmentation during periods of high demand,” the DTA said in answers to questions it took on notice in early March.
The agency’s chief executive Randall Brugeaud told the inquiry there was a huge demand for tech workers and internal staff were used when possible.
“But the reality is …we are in a very competitive market. The people that we employ often have scarce and in-demand skill sets,” Mr Brugeaud said.
“In order for us to maintain the throughput that’s required, we need to use a mix of permanent and contract staff.”
The DTA is currently auditing government spend on ICT and agencies’ capabilities and challenges in delivering projects.
The audit was an urgent recommendation of the 2019 David Thodey review of the APS, which highlighted the lack of oversight on ICT spend across government during a period of underinvestment in in house people and capability.
The survey used for the audit was also provided to the Senate Inquiry. The 70 odd page survey asks a variety of questions about agencies’ people, policies and processes, including barriers to delivery.
The survey will be used as the “baseline” of the recommended audit but analysis may be extended, according to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is overseeing the audit.
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