Hundreds of public servants from across the bureaucracy will soon be redeployed to areas of critical need as the government seeks to maximise its use of the public service in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott will head a taskforce to identify areas where vital government functions are or soon will be under pressure and draw on workers from throughout the APS to ensure operations are sustained.
The APS Workforce Management Taskforce will contribute to the work of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, which was formed on Wednesday to best harness public and private resources to combating the outbreak and limiting its social and economic impact.
The announcement came as Services Australia continued to be stretched by a huge spike in demand for government support after hundreds of thousands of workers were thrown out of work early this week by the decision to close bars, clubs, gyms and other indoor venues and limit cafes and restaurants to providing takeaway-only service.
On Monday and Tuesday Centrelink offices received up to six times the normal number of clients, phone customers were forced to wait for hours and the myGov website repeatedly crashed under pressure from more than 3.2 million inquiries in a single day.
The federal government has promised to hire an extra 5000 Services Australia staff and the agency said the first recruits would begin to work from next Monday.
But the organisation has had to redeploy workers from its compliance area to help meet immediate demand and the creation of the taskforce shows that more extraordinary measures are likely to be needed in coming weeks and months as much of the economy shuts down and hundreds of thousands of people are expected to turn to the government for support and assistance.
"In our working life the Australian Public Service has never been needed more," Mr Woolcott said. "To see Australia through this pandemic our significant capabilities need to be dedicated to the most critical governments services."
The commissioner said the taskforce would draw on the expertise of the Secretaries Board and a "key group of advisors...to manage the mobility of the APS workforce across all departments and agencies".
The development means many in the 150,000-strong public service are likely to be plucked from their current roles to support areas of heightened need, which could be deeply unsettling and challenging.
Implicitly acknowledging this, Mr Woolcott urged public servants to "actively engage" with requests to provide support and extra capacity where needed.
"The dedication and perseverance you have shown to date will continue to be vital as we move to the next stage of our COVID-19 response and seek to maximise our effectiveness and capability to respond," he said.
The APS Chief Operating Officers Committee, a sub-committee of the Secretaries Board, said the public service was "pivoting its focus to the COVID-19 reponse. That's why every public servant who can work, should work to support our community".
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