The Australian Public Service is not cowering or weak, APS Commissioner John Lloyd has declared, as he shot back at criticism of the bureaucracy from one of his predecessors.
Comments by former Commissioner Andrew Podger suggesting the service had become weak and lacking self-confidence under the "close political control" of the Abbott government provoked a swift response from the present commissioner John Lloyd.
Mr Lloyd, himself an appointee of Mr Abbott's government, hit back in a piece published on the commission's website, writing that he took issue with Mr Podger's views.
In an opinion piece published in the AFR, Mr Podger also urged Mr Lloyd and Finance Department boss Jane Halton to get over their preoccupation with internal red tape and concentrate instead restoring the APS's lost capabilities.
"While the public sector should be lean and efficient, and should focus on the proper responsibilities of government, there is no advantage for the private sector if public sector cuts leave it cowering, weak and lacking self-confidence," Mr Podger wrote.
"The Australian Public Service is still highly regarded internationally, but it has evidently lost capability in recent years.
"In part this is due to our politicians, on both sides, losing sight of its importance.
"A truly "adult government" recognises the need for professionalism in both politics and administration."
Mr Lloyd was not amused and made his displeasure felt in his rejoinder , also published in the Financial Review, to Mr Podger's piece .
"Recent articles in this newspaper about the APS have eulogised past glory days and asserted the capability of the service is now diminished," Mr Lloyd wrote.
"A former Commissioner even intimated that staff cuts could leave the service "cowering, weak and lacking self-confidence."
"I take issue with such assessments."
There will be no let-up in the war on red tape, Mr Lloyd declared, with a swipe at Mr Podger.
"A former Commissioner suggests that the APS should move on from attending to "the side issue" of reducing internal red tape," the incumbent Commissioner wrote.
"This demonstrates a misunderstanding of what the APS confronts in 2015‑2016," Mr Lloyd wrote.
"The APS is expected to be lean and focussed.
"All governments are committed to reducing the oppressive impact of red tape on growth and initiative.
"It is incomprehensible to argue that the public service should not be doing all it can to reduce its own internally generated red tape."