Technology and science experts at the Department of Defence are likely to be heavily impacted by the agency's latest round of job cuts, a technical union has warned, with 6000 upper and middle management jobs on the line.
Defence secretary Dennis Richardson yesterday sent an email to the entire department advising of a new voluntary redundancy program aimed at senior executive and executive level staff.
The program follows a recommendation by the recent 'first principles review' to slim Defence's executive ranks, after it found 2000 executive level 2 managers were managing less than three staff, while 4000 executive level 1 managers on average only looked after one or two workers.
Defence has cut its workforce by 17 percent - or around 3000 workers - since 2012, and yesterday said the first principles review indicated further restructuring is necessary.
"In respect of executive level staff, you will be aware that, at least since 2012, governments have been concerned that middle management levels across the public service were out of shape," Richardson wrote in the all-staff email, sighted by iTnews.
He said this was especially evident in Defence, where there were multiple examples of same-level executives reporting to each other.
He said the department needed to reduce executive numbers by more than what it could achieve through natural attrition, and would therefore start offering voluntary redundancies to senior executive and executive level managers.
Richardson said he expected the department would be close to reaching "a point of some stability" in terms of overall numbers by the end of the voluntary redundancy program, meaning it could return to normal hiring and promoting by the middle of next year.
The department has not detailed how many jobs it is hoping to cut through the program. It has been contacted for comment.
But technical union Professionals Australia said the program would have an adverse affect on Defence's science and IT workers, despite the first principles review finding significant work to be done to fix the IT shop.
Director Dave Smith told iTnews a lot of the agency's IT and engineering experts sit in the same executive ranks being targeted under the voluntary redundancy program.
"The guidance is, if you don't have many reports, you are more likely to become redundant, and a lot of the IT and engineering experts in the department are at that level," he said.
"[The VR program] demonstrates little value for the intellectual capital in science, engineering and technology that underpins the Defence mission.
"It is a view that is both bone-headed and dangerous."
He said the department had ignored calls by Professionals Australia to exclude science, engineering and IT from further cuts. The Senate is also currently conducting an inquiry into the agency's physical science and engineering workforce.
"All the Defence unions made clear their opposition to the proposal and the damage it was likely to do areas of expertise," Smith said.
"If this approach to subject matter expertise is not vigorously opposed not only will it be impossible to sensibly rebuild engineering and science career paths but internal science and engineering expertise will have no genuine influence, lost beneath multiple layers of management."
In early April, the government agreed to implement 75 of the 76 findings of the Defence first principles review. The recommendations included a thorough and wide-ranging overhaul of the agency's approach to IT.
The review discovered multiple problems spanning inadequate information management and interopability between platforms, a costly and complex application landscape, and issues with management of IT, among others.
Update 6pm: Defence said the program did not have a specific target, and was geared towards ensuring the workforce was best balanced to "deliver capability".
A spokesperson said the agency would be "very careful" to retain the required skills to deliver this capability.