The federal government will soon unveil the findings of its review of the Australian Public Service, commissioned just over a year ago.
When the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced the review, he said the bureaucracy's structure reflected the "outcomes of a royal commission held back in the mid-1970s" (the Coombs commission).
"It is therefore timely to examine the capability, culture and operating model of the APS, to ensure it is equipped to engage with the key policy, service delivery and regulatory issues of the day," he said.
The implication was that the review would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to update the structure of Australia's public administration; if required, to radically reshape the way government worked.
That will not happen - not least because the review lacked the time for a thorough analysis.
Many of the recommendations were so broad or nebulous that one could never be certain whether a future government had actually adopted them.
The review team provided a glimpse of its likely findings back in March, when it released a draft report. It's fair to characterise many of the findings as repetitions of past recommendations. It's also fair to say that many of these recommendations were so broad or nebulous that one could never be certain whether a future government had actually adopted them. For example, urgings to be more transparent, reliable, flexible, transformative, digitally enabled and so on sound wonderful, but it's not advice that's clear to follow, nor is it easy to measure whether any change happened.
There were a few exceptions. The draft report recommended small legislative changes to give the office of public service commissioner more independence. It also floated the idea of cross-portfolio funding of projects, to encourage collaboration between government agencies.
But the main surprise was a single sentence on page 35, with no further explanation: "A move towards common pay and conditions across the service."
Hopes were immediately raised that, finally, someone had dared to publicly question the APS's bizarre pay system, wherein public servants who are employed to do nominally the same work are paid tens of thousands of dollars a year more or less than each other.
However, the review's chairman, David Thodey, ended much hope of change, saying: "We never said there should be standardised pay ... It's saying we're trying to move towards an environment that would have greater transparency and more common terms ..."
This apparent reluctance to tackle an obvious barrier to staff mobility and recruitment is difficult to understand, particularly as Mr Turnbull told the review he wanted to ensure that the "public service attracts and retains people with the appropriate skills and capabilities to fulfil its functions". Arbitrary pay gaps - based on factors that have nothing to do with the labour market - do the very opposite.
The head of the public servants' union, Nadine Flood, told this masthead recently just why this is a problem.
"The APS is a single employer to a single government with a single cabinet setting policy, yet it bargains over 100 individual agency agreements with no common APS-wide elements," she said.
"Pay-and-conditions disparities across agencies are an impediment to public service responsiveness, inhibiting collaboration and cooperation between agencies. We miss opportunities for innovation and increased productivity."
Ms Flood's union would no doubt want an APS-wide wage agreement to increase everyone's pay to a higher level, which would obviously be a costly change.
Yet there's no reason why that must be so, were a future government to eventually adopt a more rational approach to setting salaries than the current hodgepodge. Deciding to go down that path would save tens of millions of dollars a year (in time lost to redundant enterprise bargaining, legal and management advice on how machinery-of-government changes affect salaries, and so on).
What should matter is that public servants are paid fairly, that public money isn't wasted doing so, and that their pay system doesn't stymie government efficiency, as it does now.