In 2014, the Australian government announced the integration of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) into a single government department, including the formation of the Australian Border Force (ABF).
A year after the integration began, the DIBP leadership sought an independent analysis of the effectiveness and efficiency of the integrated department. This analysis required the RAND Corporation to take a deeper and longer view of the two organisations as they existed, understand how the combined organisation has been able to incorporate into a single entity, and assess the degree to which the new organisation has been able to mitigate weaknesses and reinforce strengths.
The integration of the DIBP reflects an important inflection point in the history of customs, immigration, and border-management activities within the government of Australia. The degree to which this reform achieves its goals largely rests on the ability of the leadership to keep up the momentum, bring the workforce along, and ensure that the necessary capacities that have been built are able to survive.
The analysis suggests key findings in four areas: (1) the case for change, (2) building a single border-management organisation, (3) assessing progress and performance, and (4) looking towards the future.
- Systemic shortfalls in both the customs and immigration organisations, punctuated by several high-profile failings, were noted in the decade prior to the integration.
- Despite long and proud histories, neither organisation had adequately developed the capabilities or professionalisation in the workforce expected of a modern border-management organisation.
- Despite the turbulence of the integration and the reform effort, reduced resources, and increased operational tempo, the DIBP saw overall positive trends in performance during the period from 2014 to 2016.
- Shortly after the integration formally began, during the early phase of execution, difficulties with a loss of momentum regarding the reorganisation were observed.
- Corrective measures were implemented, including developing new metrics for assessing operational effectiveness and efficiency.
- The announced one-year timeline for integration was unrealistic; in many areas, the newly formed DIBP remains in the early stages of reform — an example is building a single DIBP culture, which will take much longer to achieve.
- More effort on capacity-building is required across the department; leadership visibility will be required to ensure continued momentum.
- Building a single DIBP culture (including workforce morale and professionalisation) remains the single biggest challenge for the DIBP.
- Achieving the full reform is at least three to five years away. Some officials commented that it could take a generation until the comprehensive change envisioned by the DIBP leadership is realised.