The "craft" of the public service is "endangered", a public administration academic and consultant to government has told a parliamentary inquiry examining the use of consultants in the public service.
Trends towards larger political offices and greater political control over the public service have contributed to the increasing use of consultants, Professor Anne Tiernan said, but changes in the way the public service operates aren't all bad.
"Politics and public administration have changed. These changes are not going to be undone, and while some of them are problematic, they are not necessarily or only changes for the worse," Professor Tiernan said in a submission to an inquiry investigating government procurement processes.
Following an Australian National Audit Office report in December that found that spending on specialist consulting contracts had grown from more than $200 million in 2012-13 to more than $500 million in 2016-17, the joint committee of public accounts and audits has asked government departments and agencies to explain their procurement spends.
In a submission, Professor Tiernan said her perspective as an academic, with experience in the public service and as someone "regularly asked to provide consultancy to Australian governments, including the Commonwealth" is unique.
She argued that while the public service must change to keep up with modern governance challenges, the answer lies neither with "past practices" or more consultants.
"Capacity challenges cannot be addressed through simple contracting out of tasks, and certainly not by getting consultants to do the nation's policy thinking," she said.
Contracting should be more "selectively" used, Professor Tiernan said, but it does have a place in supporting the public service.
According to Professor Tiernan, overall changes in the political sphere have led to governments seeking out more advice from consultants and greater focus on political priorities.
"Successive governments have sought greater political control of the public service, which has reduced its attractiveness as a career, increased turnover and, many have argued, undermined its capacity to offer independent advice," Professor Tiernan said.
"The ministerial office has grown dramatically over three decades, creating greater distance between Ministers and the public servants that support them. The private office is increasingly partisan and preoccupied with politics (in the broad sense) - such that the urgent often crowds out the important"
According to the submission, "there has been a loss of institutional memory, and of the capacity for long-term thinking".
The submission argued that changes should be made to the Council of Australian Governments process to allow governments to receive information and advice from a wider range of sources.
"Traditional models are hierarchical, generalist, and built on outdated assumptions about how governing occurs," she said.
The ANAO report found that the "big four" consultancy companies – KPMG, Deloitte, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Ersnt and Young – earned almost $2 billion in consultancy contracts since 2013.