Senate opens probe into APS digital, data capability

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Senate opens probe into APS digital, data capability

IT outsourcing also to come under the microscope, again.

A new senate inquiry will scrutinise the Australian Public Service's digital and data capabilities and whether the government’s transformation efforts have been effective over the past six years.

The finance and public administration committee opened the probe without fanfare late on Tuesday after a push by Labor senator Tim Ayres.

The inquiry will look into the “current capability of the APS”, with a focus on its “digital and data capability, including co-ordination, infrastructure and workforce”.

It will also assess whether the government’s transformation and modernisation projects since the 2014 budget have “achieved their objectives”.

The inquiry is also expected to pick up where a shelved contract reporting inquiry left off, with APS workforce issues and “any other related matters” to come under the microscope.

As reported by iTnews, the government is now spending more than $1 billion each year on IT contractors, with some agencies having doubled their expenditure since 2014-15.

Services Australia is one such agency, with the cost of its external technology workforce climbing to more than $500 million in its most recent reporting (2018-19).

Ayres told iTnews the inquiry will take a “forensic look” at the digital projects that have been promised or announced by the government, and what has actually been delivered since 2014.

“Since coming to government in 2014, the Coalition have initiated a series of digital transformation and modernisation projects to overhaul the APS,” he said.

“There have been promises, there have been announcements, there have been substantial contracts signed; we will be taking a forensic look at what they have delivered to the Australian public.

“The digital and data capacity of the APS has a direct effect on the lives of millions of Australians. As the robodebt scandal has shown, this capacity deserves the close scrutiny of the Parliament.

“The Australian public deserves to have confidence that these programs are administered appropriately, that government services are made accessible and efficient and that taxpayer dollars have been spent wisely.” 

The Greens backed the inquiry, with senator Nick McKim, the Green’s deputy leader in the Senate, saying he was “very concerned” about APS staffing and the use of external labour.

McKim also moved for a “comprehensive inquiry into the failings of privatisation”, though this was rejected by Labor and the government.

The APS inquiry will report by October 31, 2021.

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