The federal opposition has warned applicants for public service jobs in Canberra could be facing disadvantage if they don't have up-to-date government security clearances.
Described by Labor as a potential "catch 22" for Canberra job seekers, there are longstanding concerns workers struggle to meet public service selection criteria without a Commonwealth background check, but can't receive the check without being hired by a department or agency.
ACT senator Katy Gallagher has used senate budget estimates hearings to grill Finance Department officials over concerns applicants are being overlooked by some departments and private recruitment firms, arguing the situation heavily favours former public servants.
"It would not actually be guaranteeing that the best person for the job is actually winning the job," Senator Gallagher said.
"That is certainly the position that has been put to me by a number of people who believe that on paper they would have been rated the best person for the job quite clearly and have found out they lost the job. The issue they put to me is that it was because they did not have security clearance."
Finance's first assistant secretary for commercial and government services, John Sheridan, said government contracts generally didn't require contractors to have security clearances but it was legitimate to require the checks to have been completed in some urgent procurement.
Mr Sheridan said some labour hire firms were asked to provide lists of potential employees with appropriate experience and security clearances.
"It is a question as to when the contract is required to start and whether there is an urgency involved in getting something done immediately or one can wait for a security clearance to be established," he said.
"If they went to a labour hire company and asked for contractors with particular clearances, then it would be perfectly legitimate to do that. It might be that people complaining about that are actually complaining about what the labour hire company's practices are, rather than the Commonwealth's."
Mr Sheridan said he had not received any complaints about the issue, but said procurement required cost-effective decision making.
"Value for money is not just about price and it is not just about one set of qualifications; it is about a range of those things.
"It might well be about the timeliness of getting a particular job done, and that might well affect whether people have security clearances to do particular jobs in those circumstances. I do not think that one aspect of someone's ability, experience or skills can be weighted differently from other aspects," he said.
Last month, the Australian Public Service Commission warned government departments and agencies that public service job applicants could not be excluded from consideration because they did not have security clearance.
"We have had a number of complaints about jobs being advertised with the requirement for applicants to have a current security clearance.
"Agencies need to ensure that their own recruitment ads - or those run for them by recruitment firms - do not give the impression that an existing security clearance is required.
"Recruitment in the APS is based on merit and on giving members of the community a reasonable opportunity to apply for APS jobs," the commission said in a regular newsletter."