Beleaguered ABS cops yet another review

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Beleaguered ABS cops yet another review

Efficiency probe makes it three on the run.

Australia’s national statistics agency will face a third review of its operations in the second half of this year, with a budget-ordered efficiency audit to run in parallel with two investigations into the bungled 2016 Census.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is already under scrutiny from the Prime Minister’s cyber security advisor Alastair MacGibbon over suggestions the bureau and its IT contractor IBM didn’t do enough to shore up the national survey before it was pulled offline last Tuesday night.

At the same time it will answer questions from the Australian Privacy Commissioner who has set out to verify its claims that no personal information was set loose in the suspected hack.

Now, contracts reveal, the ABS will also be forced to defend the efficiency of its day-to-day operations, with a “functional and efficiency review” lined up for the five months to November this year.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics was one of eight agencies tapped to take part in the 2016-17 round of efficiency reviews ordered by the government.

The rolling program underpins the government’s contestability and savings strategy, and is claimed to have recouped $2.7 billion from agency budgets to date.

In the past four years, the reviews have identified $2.3 billion worth of savings to be pulled out of the social services portfolio, $131 million out of education and training, and $99 million out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

This week the ABS revealed it had signed consultants from Nous Group to complete the audit, which is set to take place between June and November this year.

ABS chief operating officer Jonathan Palmer told iTnews  that as the reviews are forward looking, "the 2016 Census was not a specific focus of this review”.

He said the reviews of departments and agencies would focus on “how their functions and activities align with the government's policy priorities and how the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations can be further improved”.

Meanwhile, the CPSU public sector union is already working to link budget cuts at the ABS to the catastrophic series of events that undermined the Census this month.

“There are 700 fewer staff at the ABS now than when the last Census was conducted five years ago and as a result staff are suffering under massive workloads," CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said in the days following the Census outage.

“Critical planning time was lost as the government foolishly considered axing the Census, chopped and changed ministers three times and dilly-dallied for nearly a year in appointing a new chief statistician."

The other agencies set to face efficiency reviews this year are the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Finance, Treasury, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the AFP, the Bureau of Meteorology, and the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

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