Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Husic has called for the public release of a little-known review of federal government digital transformation efforts that ultimately led to the radical restructure of the former Digital Transformation Office.
The so-called Functional Efficiency Review of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was carried out by CSIRO chairman and former Telstra chief executive David Thodey and handed to government in the weeks following the July election last year.
The review included an investigation of the DTO’s operations, and its effectiveness. Its findings and recommendations were used as the basis for the restructuring of the DTO into the newly-named Digital Transformation Agency, and the ouster of Paul Shetler as CEO.
Mr Shetler was subsequently named as the Australian Government’s Chief Digital Officer within the DTA structure, effectively becoming the agency’s senior delivery executive, but reporting through a new CEO.
Mr Husic has written Assistant Minister Angus Taylor formally requesting that the Thodey report be released to the public domain.
He cites the government’s own commitment to ensuring open transparent practices in relation to major public sector IT projects as reason enough to make the report public, especially in light of the subsequent restructuring of government digital transformation efforts.
Further, Mr Husic has also requested a briefing from Digital Transformation Agency senior executives on the changes that have been implemented as a result of the Thodey review, and a report on the effectiveness of the restructuring so far.
Mr Thodey’s leadership of the Functional Efficiency Review at PM&C and its focus on the operations and effectiveness of the sometimes controversial DTO came to light in a sometimes testy Estimates exchange between Labor Senator Jenny McAllister and PM&C deputy secretary for innovation and transformation Dr Steven Kennedy.
Senator McAllister chastised Dr Kennedy for not having previously discussed the Thodey Functional Efficiency Review when she had directly and specifically asked at an estimates hearing in October last year what discussions and processes had informed the decision to restructure the review.
It is not clear from the estimates hearings last week whether Paul Shetler had been involved or interviewed as part of the Thodey Functional Efficiency Review. But there was much interest from Senator McAllister in understanding how often the then CEO – Mr Shetler – met with the Assistant Minister Mr Taylor.
Having established that the current (and interim) chief of the Digital Transformation Agency Nerida O’Loughlin meets with Mr Taylor on a roughly weekly basis, Senator McAllister was forensic about finding out how often Mr Shetler met with the assistant minister.
Given the depth of the restructure, it is a reasonable point. While Dr Kennedy supposed that “regular” meetings between Mr Taylor and Mr Shetler took place “more than monthly,” he took the question on notice to check diaries.
But it is understood that the two men met one-on-one just twice in the eight months between Mr Taylor taking oversight of digital transformation and the radical overall of the DTO. Even give that an election was held in the intervening period, this would seem extraordinary.
Ed Husic says the Thodey review the DTO operations and efficiency – and the recommendations it made to PM&C – would shed some light on the new strategy government has deployed to improve its performance in service delivery.
It would also give the public insight into how government plans to fix the seemingly systemic problems in government IT projects.
“Angus Taylor has talked about the need to increase transparency when it comes to digital transformation – now he can actually deliver on that by releasing the secret review into the DTO,” Mr Husic said.
“This will help better understand how this government aims to lift the quality of government digital transformation.”