Digital Transformation Agency spent $18 million in 18 months on temporary workers

Digital Transformation Agency spent $18 million in 18 months on temporary workers

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's pet public service project, the Digital Transformation Agency, has spent more than $18 million hiring temporary workers and contractors in its less than 18 months' existence.

Other taxpayer-funded spending by the micro-agency includes $1 million for five months of "agile coaching" by a private sector outfit Pragmateam, $43,000 on whiteboards and hundreds of thousands of dollars on public relations.

Former head of the Digital Transformation Agency, Paul Shetler.

Former head of the Digital Transformation Agency, Paul Shetler.

The project's first leader, UK-import Paul Shetler walked away from his job in November saying the Australian Public Service must wean itself off the "eye-watering" expense of hiring contractors and temps to undertake its IT projects.

Contracts publicly notified on the federal procurement website AusTender show that much of the DTA's spending since it was established in July 2015 has been on contractors and temporary staff including $125,000 paid to recruitment outfit Hudson to provide a personal assistant for 12 months.


The Digital Transformation Office was launched by Mr Turnbull, then communications minister, in July 2015, to drive his vision of "agile and innovative" government by working with departments to enhance their use of digital technology.

But the DTO struggled to get projects off the ground in the face of resistance from the entrenched power structure of Canberra public service bosses determined to resist interference in their operations.

The project was re-launched in October with a new name, the Digital Transformation Agency, boosted status and with Mr Shetler replaced at the helm with career public servant Nerida O'Loughlin.

Mr Shetler was given a new job, Chief Digital Officer, but quit after just six weeks, slamming the public service's "remarkable" over-dependence on outsourcing which created "perverse outcomes" and a culture of "blame aversion".

But the AusTender contracts reveal the DTO and its new incarnation the DTA is heavily reliant on outside contractors with several firms snaring lucrative deals to supply experts, technicians and managers.

Plenty more spending looks likely with the government committing $254 million to "digital transformation" in the 2015 budget and in the 2016 budget, $500 million, ripped from departmental operating budgets, was pledged to "improve Commonwealth public sector productivity and innovation."

An DTA spokeswoman confirmed that $18.5 million in contracts had been agreed with labour hire firms.

"The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), and its predecessor the Digital Transformation Office, have put in place contracts to spend up to $18.5m for Labour Hire Services," she said.

"These contracts cover multiple financial years." "The DTA runs a number of different digital projects and it's common practice to employ highly-skilled people with specific digital and related expertise on a time-limited basis to deliver these projects."The spokeswoman said the agile coaching spending was needed to make sure DTO projects were run in accordance with best practice.

"The contract with Pragmateam allows for up to five expert coaches to guide the DTA, and other government agencies, through the different stages of the Agile methodology," she said.

"This ensures that projects are run in accordance with best practice and ensures knowledge transfer for future application.

"The Agile methodology underpins the DTA's work internally and with other agencies.

"It involves fast and intense development, testing and adaptation drawing on a wide range of expertise.

"This contrasts with more 'traditional' approaches to software and service design which involve lengthy specification design and rigid implementation approaches."

The DTO spokeswoman confirmed that the whiteboard contract had bought 24 units for DTO offices in Sydney and Canberra.

"There have been 24 whiteboard panels installed in the DTA Canberra and Sydney offices which assist in the running of projects," she said.

Correction. An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that $500 billion had been pledged to improve Commonwealth public sector productivity and innovation. The correct figure is $500 million.