Australia's border protection service is beset by patchy leadership, an under-developed workforce, an ineffective business plan and an inadequate IT system, according to a frank assessment by public service authorities.
The capability review of the troubled Customs Service has found that poor discipline and the work culture in some sections heighten the risks of fraud and corruption, and there were cultural clashes between ''operations'' in the field and the ''bureaucracy'' in Canberra.
The Public Service Commission said Customs was facing ''many and complex'' challenges including more asylum boats, corruption scandals, reduced government spending and increasing amounts of travellers and goods arriving at the nation's borders.
On the positive side, the review found Customs is ''operationally resilient and collaborates well with stakeholders in the border space,'' that it has good operational and tactical abilities, and was responsive to unexpected challenges.
But the review also noted that in the face of increased public and political scrutiny of the service, the government had established the Customs Reform Board and the service itself had formed an ''internal reform taskforce''.
The capability review is the latest in a series of report cards on public service agencies and departments completed by the Public Service Commission.
They are designed as ''short and sharp'' high-level views of the strategic operations of the agencies and are compiled from interviews with middle managers, external observers and from internal agency documents.
The authors of the review recommend that Customs, which has a staff of 5500 and an annual budget of more than $1 billion, moves quickly to overhaul its management structure.
''The agency's current organisational structure creates an environment where senior leadership can be seen as remote and where cultures clash, between the 'bureaucracy' in Canberra and 'operations' in the regions,'' the report reads.
''The strength of leadership across the agency is inconsistent, ranging from excellent to poor.''
Disciplinary processes and workplace culture also came under the microscope.
''In a few areas, ill-disciplined behaviours have developed where unprofessional conduct is accepted or overlooked and underperformance is not well managed,'' the review noted.
The commission found ''close-knit subcultures,'' among Customs' workforce combined with poor leadership in some regions, resulting in poor discipline. ''This type of culture can present significant risks in terms of potential opportunities for fraud, misconduct and corruption,'' the review said.
The commission also took aim at project management in the service with the majority of projects in Customs going over-time and over-budget.
''Within the agency, 70 per cent of projects have overruns in time and money, demonstrating that project management is not effective,'' the capability review said. ''This is particularly so with IT projects.''