26 September 2023

Pandemic opens APS door to change

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The Australian Public Service’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has opened the door to dramatic change according to APS Commissioner Peter Woolcott, who is hopeful it doesn’t miss the opportunity.

Speaking to a public sector innovation show earlier this month, Mr Woolcott (pictured) described the Government response to COVID-19 as ‘unprecedented’ and the APS as ‘quick to pivot to support the Government’.

“There was a strong sense of a joined up enterprise – one which led to a large scale re-prioritisation of tasks and the re-deployment of staff to critical needs,” Mr Woolcott said.

“The Service is now operating very differently to how it did just months ago.”

He said the APS had shown itself able to shift rapidly to working from home which challenged IT systems and support, disrupted normal rules and directions and required leaders and their teams to interact with each other in different and novel ways.

“Thousands of staff have been redeployed to critical roles or have shifted their priorities in order to focus on the COVID-19 response,” he said.

“We have done this well”.

He said the APS used the crisis to “break out of some bureaucratic cages and focus on delivering, in a joined up way, high quality advice to the government and better services to the Australian people”.

He expressed the hope that as the APS transitions back to its usual places of work and moves into COVID-19 management and recovery phase, the benefits of the emergency are not lost.

“It will be crucial that we don’t slip back into the old patterns of working,” Mr Woolcott said.

“We have learnt much.

“Now is the time to drive reform, drive innovation and lock in the lessons,” he said.

Mr Woolcott’s address in full can be accessed on the APSC website at this PS News link.

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