The public service's hierarchical structures are costing taxpayers and risking more government failures, warns the trade union for professionals and managers.
Contributions to the long-awaited review of the public service's hierarchy, springing from the David Thodey capability review in 2019, show many of the concerns about skills shortages and barriers to data-driven services and policy development remain a problem.
Professionals Australia's submission linked high-profile federal government service failures to the skills shortages in the public service, calling for separate classification structure for technical and specialist skills to be formalised across the public service.
Without new structures government failures would become a recurring theme, said the union's Dale Beasley, citing the COVIDsafe app, robodebt, CensusFail and 2.5 million Australians opting out of the My Health Record following 42 separate data breaches.
"Too often APS leadership see technical skills and workforce as something that can be bought off the shelf. This mindset exists because the structures do not allow them to think otherwise," Mr Beasley said.
"The COVID-19 crises demonstrate this explicitly.
"The COVIDsafe app worked so poorly that the Minister for Health in Victoria practically laughed off a suggestion of how it had helped to deal with the crises."
Profession-based streams within a public service career was put back on the agenda in 2019 and 2020 covering human resources, digital and data pathways to establish stronger capabilities within the bureaucracy following years of outsourcing.
However, union members reported that technical workers who were EL1 level were being forced into APS6 roles under staffing and level caps, limiting their opportunities and pay.
Almost three-quarters of public service agencies reported critical skill shortages, notably technical skills in digital, data and ICT.
Some departments now have more outsourced staff than public servants, such as the Department of Defence, which has two outsourced staff for every public servant, an external worker profile bigger than the entire Australian army.
The union's submission argued that when the government outsourced projects, all the experience from undertaking that work was lost to the tenderer rather than retained within the public service, ensuring that future rounds of outsourcing were more likely.
"To put it simply the APS is at risk, without retaining skilled technical staff, of even being able to judge whether outsourced services and acquisitions are value for money, or just cheap and not fit for purpose," Mr Beasley said.