Friday, September 04, 2009

Three views of the public service

The public service has been a bit in the news of late. Today we saw an interesting contrast between the desire for Kevin Rudd for the "best public service anywhere in the world" including "more prescient and creative policy advice, an emphasis on programs and services that put the citizens first, a continued culture of impartiality and honesty, greater flexibility, and to be effective and efficient in all its operations".

The contrast was the story that John Howard did not want advice from departments on whether to go to war in Iraq, only how.

I had my own experience of this discrepancy. The Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy has a document setting out itsstrategic directions. This includes a section headed Our practices: how we will approach our work which says they will;

* develop and implement effective policies and programs that clearly deliver the policy agendas of our Minister and the Australian Government
* set out our key strategies, priorities and performance measures for each financial year in the Portfolio Budget Statements
* adhere to our Service Charter standards and the Australian Public Service Values and Code of Conduct
* uphold good governance and public accountability practices
* align our planning, performance management and reporting to support Government policy
* encourage consumer and industry representation in policy development to stimulate innovation and improve outcomes
* nurture our relationships with key stakeholders
* continually review our processes to ensure that they support, and not hold back, the delivery of outcomes
* ensure that our people are working in a safe and healthy environment
*provide our people with support to perform and opportunities to develop their capability and build a career within the Department, and
* improve internal and external communication.

I was briefly working at the Department at the time this was finalised and suggested that perhaps the first item should be "ensure the Minister is appraised of the economic, social and technical developments that may require policy responses." I was not privy to any discussion of the suggestion. However it would appear that that is exactly what the Prime Minister expects.

Anyhow the Department has a new Secretary and this is where we find our third view. The new Secretary has been attacked by Senator Minchin over the course of electronic conveyancing. His first is somehow the idea that Harris might be "hopelessly conflicted" which is something I do not understand. Paid wage labourers regularly take on tasks at variance from their previous tas, most notably moving between firms. There is a real difficulty with politicians like Minchin have only served "the party" in its aministration or in parliament.

The second is that Harris's record of delivery might suggest he is the wrong person. this ignores the fact that th Secretary his Government imposed had an equally poor record with the Access Card, and the fact that NBN delivery will rest with the NBN Board and CEO not the Departmental Secretary. The latter being a perfectly good example of how to separate policy advice from program delivery - on which more another day.

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