The main public sector union has called on the government to review the Department of Veterans’ Affairs shared services arrangement with Services Australia and bring IT staff back in-house.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) made the call in its submission to the parliamentary inquiry investigating the digital and data capabilities of the Australia Public Service (APS).
The shared services arrangement was first introduced in 2010, but it was expanded when DVA’s IT staff were co-located with Services Australia in 2017, just prior to the start of the veteran centric reform program.
Around 200 staff, including both contractors and APS employees, moved across, leaving DVA with only "limited" internal digital capacity, according to the department's submission [pdf] to the same inquiry.
At the time, then veterans’ affairs minister Stuart Robert said the arrangement would allow DVA staff to “access the most modern and up-to-date ICT systems to provide the best possible support to veterans”.
But the union said the arrangement, which it described as the “outsourcing of ICT infrastructure and software”, had not resulted in what was promised and was “negatively” affecting veteran services, including the processing of claims
It cited a recent members survey, in which only 34 percent said the arrangement with Services Australia had delivered improvements; 45 percent of respondents said there had been no improvements at all.
“[The] response to the CPSU survey would indicate that the shared services model has proven inadequate in dealing with the complex needs of veterans,” the submission [pdf] states.
“Despite changing the way veterans can make a claim, i.e. from the frontend, processing staff must still manually extract data from the backend.
“This is contributing to the delays in processing veterans’ claims.”
One member statement included in the submission said even the smallest of IT problems would often take a day – if not longer – to be resolved, and that the arrangement had ultimately “degraded” IT systems.
“Everyday IT issues are… a nightmare as you can no longer speak to a person to work out minor IT issues, you raise a ‘ticket’ which may or may not be resolved,” they said.
“The time taken for [Services Australia] to work on those tickets is ridiculous - you may as well just pack up for the day and hope it resolves itself overnight.”
Others members said the shared services arrangement was “costing... a fortune and giving us nothing” and that when system improvements did occur they were “overtime” and “over budget”.
“They are a tick on us and bleeding us dry. But we can’t remove them due to a [whole-of-government] strategy, which doesn’t work.
"It costs more and takes longer. Taxpayers should be outraged,” they said.
The CPSU has also called for the removal of the average staffing level (ASL) cap at the DVA after 97 percent of survey respondents said labour hire was being used for normal operating work.
“Labour hire, contracting and other third-party arrangements has reduced the department’s capability to administer basic services, to respond to fluctuations in demand, and to meet its legislative requirements,” it said.
The department currently has 66 contractors or labour hire staff in digital and data roles, whereas it only has 54 in-house APS staff in digital and data roles.