Public Service Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer has urged bureaucrats to take the future of the APS "personally", and consider the impact of their work in the 26th State of the Service report.
Assistant Minister for the Public Service Patrick Gorman tabled the annual report, which canvasses trends in the APS workforce and challenges ahead, on Wednesday afternoon.
In his first report as commissioner, Dr de Brouwer, who took over the role from Peter Woolcott in May, promised an unwavering focus on integrity and capability in the federal public service for the remainder of his five-year term.
Referencing the COVID-19 pandemic, "and other recent challenges", the commissioner wrote that public servants were at their best when they supported one another.
"For those of you currently serving in the APS, please take the future of the APS personally and consider the impact you want to have, as well as how you can help others to achieve what they are trying to do," Dr de Brouwer wrote in his message.
The focus on integrity and capability comes after the robodebt royal commission identified "repeated failures" and lack of independence from senior public servants.
The government's commitment to reduce its reliance on contractors, consultants and labour hire has also been turbocharged in the wake of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia tax leak.
Dr de Brouwer referenced results from the APS census, released at the same time as the report, in his message, noting it was encouraging that 76 per cent of staff reported that their work gave them a sense of accomplishment.
But the overall rate of reported bullying and harassment has climbed in the public service to 10.4 per cent, from 9.7 per cent in 2022.
"We must have a culture of zero tolerance for any form of unacceptable behaviour in the APS, and work together to bring this about," Dr de Brouwer wrote.
Heightened focus on performance of SES
Census data does not measure employees' attitudes to their secretary, but does gather feedback about the group of senior leaders below the department head: the Senior Executive Service (SES).
Results have remained fairly stable for the past three years, with staff rating their SES managers fairly well for managing the strategic directions of their agencies (73 per cent).
But when asked whether communication between SES and employees was effective, or whether SES work as a team, staff returned a positive result of 53 per cent.
These would be "critical areas requiring improvement", Dr de Brouwer wrote.
APS recruitment too 'Canberra-centric'
The last year has been marked by an increasing focus on flexibility in the federal public service.
The shift makes sense for the federal bureaucracy, which can't compete with the private sector on wages, and also faces pressure in Canberra - where 38.1 per cent of the workforce are concentrated - from the ACT government's flexible conditions.
The Secretaries Board announced earlier this year that all APS staff could request a flexible working arrangement, and have the application seriously considered. The right to request flexible work was also bolstered through service-wide bargaining.
But the report also noted that recruitment in the APS is often "Canberra-centric", with the same pool of public servants being hired.
To address this an APS Location Strategy will be finalised in early 2024, to help agencies make decisions about the geographic locations of their workforce.
"Current APS recruitment efforts are often Canberra-centric and tend to attract existing employees," the report states.
"The broader labour market, however, tends to be located in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria."