The public service may become less reliant on contractors as it endeavours to upskill its workforce.
Australian statistician David Gruen was on Wednesday announced as the public service's inaugural head of data profession, a role which will see him attempt to introduce a culture of data literacy across the bureaucracy.
Building on the recommendations of the Thodey report, the Public Service Commission has announced three new professional streams which will assist in recruiting, workforce mobility and strategy implementation in the key areas of human resources, digital and now data.
Dr Gruen joins Jacqui Curtis, head of the HR profession, and Randall Brugeaud, who heads up the digital profession.
One goal of this professional model is to secure key skills within the public service, and one consequence of this might be less reliance on contractors. The federal government spends an estimated $5 billion annually on contractors within the APS.
"I'm certainly a big believer in building native capability within the public service and data is a good example for it," Dr Gruen said.
"A lot of the skills you need for policy development, having a decent amount of data literacy will help in that process."
Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott agreed, saying the APS needed to be evaluating its own capabilities and developing them.
"The private sector is certainly out there trying to attract these people, so there is competition for talent and so we've got to make sure we're competitive," Mr Woolcott said.
"The other issue is the public service has tended to operate in silos. So what we've got to focus on is operating now as one enterprise, one APS."
To that end, the professional streams will allow for significant mobility among data professionals, to get a better understanding of how data is used across the public service.
One way of achieving this, Dr Gruen said, will be through two-way secondments of up to six months in different departments. The Bureau of Statistics will also take on the lion's share of recruiting data professionals, from which other departments can recruit data specialists for their own purposes.
Mr Woolcott said this would encourage recruits to not see themselves as only part of the ABS or one single agency, but as part of a much larger enterprise.
Dr Gruen acknowledged that there were concerns about the government's use of data, particularly in relation to privacy, and these could be exacerbated with the proposed data-sharing legislation.
However, he said "a long term trend of deterioration of trust" in government had been somewhat reversed due to the pandemic.
"The public has seen there are benefits in government having access to data, using it to make decisions and I think that's a window into what this [data sharing] legislation has to do, which is to demonstrate to people there is a purpose to this," Dr Gruen said.
"It's also very frustrating for the public to tell one part of a department a lot of information about yourself and when you talk to another part of the same department they ask all the same questions."
While the new legislation would allow greater sharing of data, Dr Gruen assured appropriate safeguards would be in place.
He also pointed to great benefits that improved data integration had brought to public policy, such as greater fairness in determining school funding after the Gonski review and the recent advancements in using the single-touch payroll system to increase the scope of Australia's labour market data.
"There's an increasing number of examples of things that previously were not possible which deliver concrete benefits to the community," Dr Gruen said.
"The more examples we have where data is used to improve public policy, the better it is."