COVID-19 has forced some of the largest changes inside the federal public service in at least 30 years, accelerating reforms that might have otherwise been slowed in bureaucracy, a leading public servant has said.
A senior official helping oversee the public service's response to the health crisis, Katherine Jones, said the coronavirus had led to "really significant shifts" in operations for the bureaucracy as it dealt with the health crisis.
"If we're in normal circumstances, a lot of these changes to our operating model, these changes to the way that we're working within our organisations, we would have put them through a lot of process," she said.
"We would have thought about them a lot. We would have had to do a lot of bureaucracy to achieve a small amount of change."
Ms Jones told the new Work With Purpose podcast from the Institute of Public Administration earlier this month that the public service's senior leaders were coordinating their pandemic response and avoiding a siloed approach in ways recommended by the Thodey review of the bureaucracy released last year.
Australian Public Service commissioner Peter Woolcott said despite happening in "grim times", the changes would be beneficial after the pandemic passed.
"One of the main themes that came out of the Thodey review was a need for a much more joined up public service. The idea of 'One APS' and also to focus on the needs of Australians and the service we provide to them," he said.
"And what this crisis is doing is actually driving those reforms in a very real and practical way.
"I actually think the reform process, even though it's not being openly discussed and we're not going into lengthy papers and working out how we need to do this, it's actually happening in practice."
The public service has mobilised its workforce in response to the crisis, redeploying 1100 Canberra-based staff to Services Australia as welfare claims grow following COVID-19 restrictions.
Thousands of bureaucrats across the APS have also started working from home as public sector workplaces try to stop the virus spreading.
Mr Woolcott told the podcast the public service was not "working from a playbook", but instead "feeling our way of it" in response to the unprecedented fallout of the coronavirus.
"We've had some big crises like the Global Financial Crisis, but this is on a scale that none of us who work in the public service now have ever dealt with in terms of its implications in regard to people's health, people's welfare, the economic implications, the national security implications," he said.
"And people are working extraordinarily hard at every level of the public service.
"We're feeling our way of it I've got to say, because it's something that none of us have ever had to do on this scale.
"And I think the other thing that people are realising as well is this is not going to be over any time soon."
Mr Woolcott said he hoped the Australian public's trust in the public service would grow during the pandemic, after years of declining confidence in institutions.
"One of the things we've been wrestling with in terms of the Thodey work about reform and the APS is the issue of trusted institutions and government," he said.
"And what I hope is that the Australian people at the end of this, have a much better understanding of all the things that government does to keep Australians safe and prosperous.
"And a crisis like this which affects every single Australian, including those in the APS, that when we come out of this, there'll be a real sense of confidence in the public service and the ability of the public service to rise and deliver on their behalf."
Ms Jones, a Finance Department deputy secretary and chair of the Chief Operating Officers committee helping lead the bureaucracy's pandemic response, said the committee realised it "couldn't be a little bubble" but had to communicate its decisions throughout the public service.
"It's our responsibility to ensure that any decisions or information or policies that are established in the committee are disseminated to all agencies across government," she said.
"But we also develop communication material that can be used within each department so that everyone across the public service can get the same level of information about the issues that we're dealing with."
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