How to Make an Inefficient Public Service
Much change is occurring within the Australian Public Service at present as organisations search for cost savings that will allow their ongoing operations to fit within ever leaner budgets. Politicians and senior managers are fond of saying that “we can always do better” and that “efficiencies implemented will not affect front line services”. But have you ever wondered how it is that after many years of implementing efficiency improvements there is still so much that can be done? I have, and here is how I think it works.
We start the process with a strong foundation, in this instance a relatively efficient public service and then we proceed as follows:
- Employ generalist managers wherever possible at middle and senior management levels. These skilled individuals should be able to manage continuing operations and one-off projects without any of the conflict associated with a detailed knowledge of the subject matter involved.
- Implement an efficiency dividend, the level to be selected randomly and applied equally to all departments and agencies. This arrangement allows the detailed decisions on what to stop to be made at the level where the real knowledge isn't, the generalist managers. Unfortunately, equal application penalises those organisations that are presently most efficient.
- Now we can commence outsourcing. A good way to do this is to undertake a tender process, recognising that you can't define exactly what it is you are tendering for. The result should be a contract with a well known foreign company. Then the staff that have been doing the work can be made redundant. Hopefully they will be employed by the company and will be able to continue doing the work, an excellent outcome (and a nice profit for the company).
- Next, open plan offices. Of course, senior managers should retain their own private offices because of their regular need to have private conversations but most staff will be able to work effectively in the open plan area. Any loss of productivity due to noise and loss of concentration should be easily recouped through fit-out savings.
By now I think you can see where this process is going. There are many more “improvements” to be made including enterprise bargaining, performance pay, centralising service functions and/or decentralising service functions. Add Machinery of Government changes to support Ministers' personal interests and the siting of offices for electoral rather than functional reasons and I think it is a little clearer where the inefficient processes are being generated. Luckily there are so many ways to improve. As is said somewhere in the Yes Minister scripts, it takes longer to do things quickly and it's more expensive to do them cheaply J