Management of the Australian Public Service’s workforce response to COVID-19

Performance monitoring Public sector leadership Government services Public service Australia

Since its emergence in late 2019, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has become a global pandemic that is impacting on human health and national economies. From February 2020, the Australian government commenced the introduction of a range of policies and measures in response to the emergence of COVID-19 that included:

  • travel restrictions and international border control and quarantine arrangements;
  • delivery of substantial economic stimulus, including financial support for affected individuals, businesses and communities; and
  • support for essential services and procurement of critical medical supplies.

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, the Australian Public Service (APS) workforce had to adapt within a short timeframe to a new operating environment and position itself to handle a surge in demand for government services. Governance of the APS workforce response to COVID-19 has been the responsibility of the Secretaries Board, Chief Operating Officers (COO) Committee, APS Commissioner and agency heads. The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) and Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) have also played central roles in managing the APS’s workforce response over the pandemic period.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the pace and scale of the Australian government’s response impacts on the risk environment faced by the Australian public sector. This audit is one of five performance audits conducted under phase one of the ANAO’s multi-year strategy that will focus on the effective, efficient, economical and ethical delivery of the Australian government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Main conclusions:

  • Management of the APS workforce in implementing the Australian government’s COVID-19 priorities was effective.
  • Arrangements established to oversee and monitor the APS’s workforce response to COVID-19 were appropriate. As a whole-of-government framework for managing the APS workforce in a crisis was not in place prior to COVID-19, planning was conducted in flight and risks were managed reactively. APSC established largely appropriate arrangements to oversee, monitor and report on the work of its cross-agency taskforces. Further, the COO Committee provided appropriate oversight for the response, including appropriate monitoring of actions it initiated.
  • Management of efforts to position the APS workforce to respond to COVID-19 was effective. APSC’s Workforce Management Taskforce deployed 2,240 staff to other agencies, mostly to Services Australia, to meet critical needs. Guidance on COVID-19 workforce measures was largely effective, and various initiatives are underway to capture lessons learned from the response to inform planning for future operations.
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Auditor-General Report No.20 2020–21