The Australian Taxation Office's internal culture is so poor that its ability to do its job is in danger, according to a scathing internal report.
The frank assessment, obtained though freedom of information laws, shows an organisation hamstrung by bureaucracy, risk aversion and internal empire building and in urgent need of sweeping “reinvention”.
The report found that a third of ATO workers disagreed that a climate of trust and respect existed in their workplaces and 38 per cent of workers thought taxpayers were not dealt with in an acceptable timeframe.
ATO management said in a statement on Monday that the report was an “honest look at our culture” and a necessary step in the program of change under way at the agency.
Despite calling for sweeping changes across the organisation, the report’s authors found nearly 60 per cent of the workforce did not know what was expected of them from the ATO’s much-vaunted Vision 2020 reform package.
The ATO is undergoing major upheaval, slashing thousands of jobs in an effort to cut costs and facing public and Parliamentary scrutiny for its enforcement of tax laws and its conduct in disputes with taxpayers.
The report lays responsibility for change squarely with the agency's bosses who, it says, must take urgent action to "reinvent" an organisation with a culture so negative its very core functions are threatened.
In the report Reinventing the ATO, the internal “2020 Program Office” advises that productivity and efficiency in Tax was being hampered by excessive bureaucracy, a silo mentality, risk aversion and poor people skills.
“The ATO is not sufficiently service oriented, major improvements are needed in people skills ... there is not enough focus on measuring or reporting performance or accountability for progressing strategic change, the ATO lacks an outcomes-focused approach and there are inefficiencies and over-engineering of process, staff are disempowered,” the report authors wrote.
They also found many staff “strongly disagreed that individuals at ATO were held accountable for their performance,”
“Bureaucracy, risk aversion, cost reduction focus and [a] silo mentality all inhibit flexibility and adoptability to changes in the client experience, it also means that decisions on client cases take longer,” the report warns.
“With staff not empowered to make decisions, it is more difficult and time-consuming for clients to deal with the ATO and its processes.”
The authors concluded that much was expected from a greatly reduced workforce if lasting change was to be achieved.
“Significant cultural change is needed with organisation-wide initiatives that bring about permanent change to the way the ATO works,” the report states.
“It will take concerted effort from everyone across the ATO to break this cycle.”
An ATO spokeswoman said in a statement on Monday that the report also found 82 per cent of the agency’s public servants supported the Vision 2020 plan, even if they were unsure what they were supposed to do to achieve it.
“As part of our commitment to reinventing the ATO, earlier this year we took an honest look at our culture,” the spokeswoman said.
“It was clear from the findings that our staff overwhelmingly agreed with the 2020 mission and vision the Commissioners have set for the ATO.
“We are proud that at a time of significant workplace change, our staff continue to deliver good services to the community and government.”