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Public Sector Informant : PSI
A chance presents itself. An opportunity to experience the something more you ve been looking for. This is that chance. What happens next is up to you. Learning and Development Practitioner $74,321 to $105,062 + super ASIO is seeking experienced learning and development professionals to join a small dedicated team responsible for the evaluation, design and implementation of interventions to build individual capability and agency capacity in support of the National Security Agenda. Please visit ASIO.gov.au for further information on this and other roles currently available. Applications close Friday, 14 May 2010. ASIO.GOV.AU [MAY 2010] 6 THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT [PUBLIC A DMINISTRATION: J. R. NETHERCOTE] The lost art of reviewing government The Moran review The PM must now invest in public sector reform, or the few positives in his blueprint will be lost Mobility is the fall-back position for lazy thinking about personnel management. It is the throwaway line for many matters, from stale performance to limited horizons in policy-formulation With the release of the Henry report on tax, the advisory group's blueprint for Australian gov- ernment administration will slip well and truly into the background. Providing this does not mean neglect, indifference and inactivity, this will be no bad thing. Public services rarely benefit when they are the stuff of front-page news. It is in the nature of good public service development that it usually happens gradually, out of the limelight. The most reassuring feature of the advisory group's labours is its recom- mendations to enlarge and enhance the responsibilities and role of the public service commissioner. It will be a crucial test of the Government's integrity in this exer- cise that these proposals are imple- mented promptly and accompanied by augmented resources to allow, indeed require, the commissioner to proceed on several fronts identified by the advisory group during the next two to three years. The blueprint itself observes, ''Up-front investment will be required to enable the [Public Service Commission] to meet its extra responsibilities.'' Not to proceed immediately with strengthening the commissioner will leave a de facto vacuum at the top of the public service which certainly needs to be filled if the reform agenda is to proceed with dispatch. Present part-time arrangements will be inad- equate for the task. The commissioner, Stephen Sedgwick, has a busy time ahead. The twin tasks of reining in the oversized senior executive service and restoring a unified pay and grading structure, with scope for some flexibility, will be demanding of time as well as staff, and not least in departments and agencies. Such chores are at the heart of routine public service management. Historically, this will be the fifth occasion that the Australian Public Service has been the subject of such overhaul, though the last occasion was almost half a century ago. The modern reformers will need to revive some lost arts in the business of classification review and streamlin- ing, but they have available to them many facilities which their predeces- sors could not even dream of. Another big task will be establish- ing an integrated framework for professional development and train- ing, commencing with induction programs for newly recruited staff. This has been a neglected field in Australian government adminis- tration, and something of a self- inflicted wound. Back in the mid- 1990s, when staff development should have been a central feature of the reform endeavour of that era, the public service leadership of the time was explicitly dismissive of the need for any concerted action on this front. There is now an opportunity to address this deficiency systematically and comprehensively. Fresh thinking will be needed and success is unlikely if the task is off-loaded to consultants and academics (quasi-consultants). Revitalisation can only really come from the public service doing its own thinking (though testing it period- ically against that of others). The idea that the public service needs a blueprint is itself miscon- ceived; the public service is not a bit of machinery. And the advisory group's effort is not itself a blueprint but an agenda which will serve for three to five years. This is essentially as it should be. Public services are large organisations and there are always matters in need of review, renovation, maintenance and, some- times, elimination. There is not much wisdom in trying to do them all at once. There must be judgment about priority and about expected benefit. The blueprint has not so far had a good press, partly because it reads like a series of overheads for a PowerPoint presentation. The public- relations nature of its release a month ago betrayed a lack of confidence in its substance. It will be interesting to see how well it stands up to profes- sional evaluation and appraisal. Aca- demic gradings will likewise be of special interest, bearing in mind that so many academics nowadays are within the pale of government. The blueprint's problems partly arise from its ambiguous character. It seeks to place itself in the lineage of major public service inquiries -- in nominal terms, casting itself as a derivative of the (Coombs) Royal Commission on Australian Govern- ment Administration. But it other- wise brings with it none of the qualities of the traditional public service inquiry, nor their major defect: long, drawn-out proceedings of two or more years. The traditional inquiry, in recent times extant mainly in Canada, had several qualities which gave it dura- bility quite apart from whatever recommendations were advanced. It became a great source of information about the public service and its practices; it gave an airing to matters which otherwise existed largely in the oral wisdom of a public service. It was an instrument for investi- gation and research; as the Coombs commission wrote, the products of its [LEGAL AFFAIRS:PAUL M CGINNESS] Innovation needs incentives, The Moran review Public servants can use contracts to encourage creativity, but must accept that some failure is normal Aspirations are high for the Australian Public Service to be seen as a pin-up for strategic thinking and implementation inspired by innovation. Leadership, risk appetite and time will be a critical part of fulfilling the Federal Government's aspiration to have an innovative public service. There is also likely to be a role for service providers as the bureaucracy makes its way on this journey. The legal framework supporting innovation is likely to be the Financial Management and Accountability Act and contractual arrangements. The Government's report on reform- ing the public service, Ahead of the Game, regularly refers to the aspiration of an innovative public service. ''The goal is to transform the APS into a strategic, forward-looking organisation, with an intrinsic culture of evaluation and innovation,'' it says. In December last year, Auditor-General Ian McPhee issued a better practice guide on innovation in the public service to help bureaucrats to be innovative. Innovation in the public service may involve some radical or transformatio- nal change. Inevitably, it will involve incremental changes. This is important because it directly affects the mindset of organisations seeking to foster change. Risks with incremental change are conceptually easier to manage. Establishing a culture within an organisation, let alone the whole public service, is not an easy task. Like most aspirational changes, it takes personal commitment from an organisation's leaders. They need to walk the talk. This why the Ahead of the Game report puts emphasis on a Secretaries Board to model behaviour for innovation. Agency heads are well aware of their primary obligation under section 44 of the FMA Act to manage agency resources ''effectively, efficiently and ethically''. There may be an argument to say it would do no harm for s44 to also say the agency head must manage the agency's resources ''innovatively'' if the Government really wants to press home its aspiration. Perhaps the key point coming from the Auditor-General's guidance is the need for agencies to assess risk. Innovation and creativity inherently involves change. With any change, there is risk. The Auditor-General says agencies should support their decision- making processes by being conscious of risks and how best to manage them. That said, the critical test will be the risk profile the agency is prepared to accept in order to adopt the innovation. Each agency will need to put in place procedures and education that supports innovative policies and programs. A review of chief executives' instructions would be a logical first step. How do public servants create and implement change when they are al- ready burning midnight oil in their ordinary, less-innovative work? The short answer is that they need time. This involves re-allocation of tasks either between personnel or involving out- siders to help with the ordinary work or the innovation or both. Of course, the public servants are not the only ones within the public admin- istration machinery that need to contrib- ute to the innovation change. Like any large organisation, each agency relies on a range of service providers to
PSI - September