Recommendations for extensive staff cuts expected through the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit are being implemented pre-emptively less than a fortnight after its announcement.
The Department of the Environment has announced voluntary redundancies for 150 staff as well as its own internal strategic review, which is likely to herald structural and business process changes.
An Australian Public Service-wide external recruitment freeze is also being implemented by the Federal Government, with agencies being told to “look carefully at every position that becomes vacant and ask whether that position is really necessary; or whether there is a better way to do business” and, where recruitment is necessary, to “maximise the use of capability already within the APS by increasing efforts to provide every employment opportunity possible to existing staff”.
The freeze relates to the Government’s aim of cutting 12,000 public sector jobs over two years through natural attrition.
The Department of the Environment’s decision to seek additional internal redundancies was made “in light of existing budget pressures”, according to a media release.
The Department has also announced plans to “conduct an internal strategic review of its operations over coming months to examine its core objectives, roles and responsibilities, and to inform its future priorities and organisational arrangements.
“The review will inform the Department's engagement in and response to the Commission of Audit which will review how government operations can be streamlined and improved.”
“All functions and roles of the Department are included in the scope of the review, as outlined in the terms of reference,” said a spokesperson from the Department.
A scaling back of operations appears likely under the terms of reference, which state that the review will “advise on the priorities for the Department, including activities that could be changed, wound back or ceased”.
Technological changes are an implicit component of this, with the terms of reference including a focus on “eliminating internal duplication and overlap in functions” and “reducing burdens in internal processes”.
The Federal Government’s Commission of Audit, which is expected to hand down an interim report in January 2014 and a final report in March 2014, has similar terms of reference that include finding efficiencies through new technologies, rationalising service delivery and streamlining agency structures.
The Coalition’s ICT Policy, released in August 2013, highlights its preference for shared and managed service arrangements, especially among smaller agencies such as the Department of the Environment.
The Policy outlines the aim to “simplify Government ICT and eliminate duplicated, fragmented and sub-scale activities across agencies by requiring use of shared or cloud services” in departments that are “less intensive users of ICT, and whose needs in most cases are considerably less specialised”.
The Department of the Environment had an average annual ICT spend of around $22.54 million for 2012-13, according to its latest annual report.
A focus on employing technology solutions to improve business processes and capability is included in both its Annual Report and 2013-17 Strategic Plan.
Around 65 research projects are currently underway for “developing and adopting new technologies” relating to the Department’s water functions alone, with most to be completed by June 2016.
In an example of how ICT solutions may be used to reduce overlapping functions and costs, the Prime Minister’s Department recently announced the establishment of ‘one-stop shops’ for Environmental approvals that will streamline state and federal processes into a single application.
“A one-stop shop will eliminate duplication, deliver more timely approvals and enable Australian businesses to expedite their work,” according to a media release.
The Federal Government has signed memorandums of understanding with NSW and Queensland governments for the establishment of the facilities, and expects to sign on the remaining states and territories within 12 months.
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