2009/09/05

Why Yet Another ReOrganisation won't improve the Public Service

The Rt. Hon. Ken Rudd PM has suggested on the News that he'll be seeking to improve the Federal Public Service. There's talk of a special Centre at the ANU to train people up too.

Rudd might end up with a bunch of tests, metrics and new programs & processes, but I can guarantee it won't amount to a hill 'o beans. The one thing known about Bureaucracies is their ability to Resit Change.

Read C. N. Parkinson ("Parkinsons Law" etc) for a view from the 1950's and some definitive economic analysis of the ultimate Bureaucracy: The UK's Ministry of Defence. After WWI, ships and fighting men - the essence of the Navy - declined dramatically. The Bureaucracy 'running' them increased overwhelmingly...

Why? Because the primary purpose of Bureaucracies is themselves, not producing outcomes.

The 38 episodes of the BBC's "Yes Minister" from the 1980's are a timeless tutorial for budding bureaucrats, Public or Private sector.

Wind the clock back a 100 years when Gilbreth and Taylor pioneered "Scientific Management", or in todays' language "Evidence Based Management": sound, practical and carefully researched approaches that produced outstanding results while treating employees as Real People. It is notable for both not being embraced and being mischaracterised as 'evil'. The book is on-line and a revelation to anyone willing to read a little.


Parkinson stated his First Law in 1957 as:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

His 1960 Second Law stated:
Expenditure rises to meet income.
Which might be an interesting topic for Dr Ken Henry, Secretary of Treasury, to address in his Review of the Taxation System...


Have either of these hypotheses been disproved in the last 5 decades?
No.

In 1970, Parkinson published a 10-year follow-up on his work. The book had sold impressively, but had anything changed? Not discernibly.

Has Rudd proposed anything that recognises or addresses the central problems?
Not in public...

The people who rise to the top of Bureaucracies, Public or Private sector, are very good at what they do. This is exactly why we had the Enron, Global Crossing,e tc collapses around 2000 and within the decade, Sub-Prime Meltdown and GFC. Senior Bureaucrats overwhelmingly look after themselves and their own positions, not their stakeholders. It's the inverse of Fiducary Duty.

The trouble is What they do, not finding & training highly competent people.
There's over a century of ignored Management Science to prove the point.

What would work?

Consequences, direct and personal, for poor performance.
This needs two separate parts: an expert, independent investigator and a powerful compliance & enforcement body. Behind this needs to be a repository of Known Faults, Failures and Errors. Repeating a Known Problem without Consequence is the antithesis of Good Governance.

The Government knows very well how to do this and exactly what would be required: it already does precisely this for Aviation. The ATSB (formerly BASI) and CASA (formerly CAA).

It'd cost about the same to run as the National Audit Office, indeed, the Investigator would be the ANAO.
The compliance and enforcement powers, and the body to enact them, already exist in the FMAA - Financial Management and Accountability Act. s44 states:
(1) A Chief Executive must manage the affairs of the Agency in a way that promotes proper use of the Commonwealth resources for which the Chief Executive is responsible.

"proper use" means efficient, effective and ethical use that is not inconsistent with the policies of the Commonwealth.
All the machinery is there...

Will politicians actually hold their Senior Bureaucrats to Account?

No.

To do so would deprive pollies of their core modus operandi:
arbitrary and capricious decisions and policy changes.

There cannot be lasting Bureaucratic Reform without Political Reform.

But we'll have a lot of "colour and movement", many press releases & back-thumping and spend a lot of money achieving precisely nothing...

Here's something from the end of 2007 which has never been acknowledged...

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