A Crikey reader says:

If the Rudd Government is seriously looking for savings, abolish the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) and place it as a branch under the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet … over 40% of the APSC budget comes from revenue raised from conducting leadership, learning and development programs … the Commissioner’s role is “to co‑ordinate and support APS‑wide training and career development opportunities in the APS.” Instead the APSC competes against commercial training enterprises by delivering (not coordinating) programs … when agencies move away from their core responsibilities, ie. legislative frameworks for which they were established, it is time to review their future.

Leave aside any unkind thought that this might come from a training company wanting more Commonwealth love. Any savings suggestion is worth considering, because the government has set itself a huge target.

It was the Hawke government in 1987 that abolished the APSC’s predecessor, the Public Service Board, leaving the new body with a much smaller role.

It would be poetic for the new Labor government to continue the trajectory 20 years on, and it could of course be done – administrative arrangements changes are simple.

The trouble is, administrative changes on their own don’t generate savings. The Fraser government found this when the first Razor Gang under Phillip Lynch in 1981 abolished numerous offices only to find that administrative costs had gone up, not down. The key to making savings is to cut functions, not shift their location.

The question then is should APSC functions be dropped? Training could be done elsewhere – but departments and agencies would still be paying for it. Other functions like encouraging indigenous employment and merit protection are priorities for the government. A product that has contributed considerably to public administration is the annual State of the Service report, providing data and commentary on the public service not found elsewhere. It would be a pity to lose it.

The APSC almost certainly could make cuts — money flowed liberally in the late Howard years and frugality in government was not prized. That’s why the new government has proposed an additional 2% efficiency dividend. But faced with the need for $15b in savings, government will be more likely to be attracted to those ahead in the queue where not just an agency, but its entire function, could be done away with.

Peter Fray

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