Surging to meet demand
My starting proposition is one-APS. And I think if you start thinking about your role and your contribution as being part of that much broader entity, psychologically, the idea of moving to different parts of it is a more straightforward proposition. And I think the leadership across the breadth of the APS are increasingly thinking in those terms.11
Katherine Jones PSM, then Deputy Secretary, Department of Finance
The arrival of COVID-19 in early 2020 saw public service leaders around the world find new ways to reprioritise and mobilise staff to deliver Government priorities and meet increased demand for Government services. This response appears to be rewiring organisational processes and practices in the public sector, allowing for the emergence of more cohesive and adaptive workforces.12
Locking in the benefits of a united organisation, the Secretaries Board established a permanent APS Surge Reserve in April 2021. The Surge Reserve is a national effort. It draws on volunteers from across the APS, in every state and territory, who may be deployed for short periods to help colleagues address a surge in demand for Government services or support, particularly during a crisis.
In the first month, more than 2,000 employees volunteered to join the APS Surge Reserve. The APS Surge Reserve complements, rather than replaces, well-established disaster response and management arrangements in individual agencies. By October 2021, more than 70 surge workforce requests had been met, with over 3,000 staff deployed.
Surge in demand for public services
APS agencies have continued to face rapid and significant increases in demand for their services this year, particularly arising from COVID-19-related outbreaks. APS employees have been deployed to other Commonwealth agencies, and across jurisdictions to support this response and priorities.
Services Australia—floods and cyclone
Over 350 staff from across the APS assisted Services Australia’s rapid response to the New South Wales floods in March 2021 and Tropical Cyclone Seroja’s impact on Western Australia the following month. At 30 June 2021, Services Australia had processed more than 360,000 claims for support, answered over 580,000 related calls and provided more than $438 million in assistance to people impacted by these natural disasters.
State and Territory Government health departments—contact tracing
APS employees were deployed to health departments in Western Australia, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, to assist in contact tracing efforts. The New South Wales Government lodged a request for Australian Government Assistance through Emergency Management Australia in July 2021 for up to 64 APS employees to support New South Wales Health with contact tracing. Over 90 nominations were received, with several staff deployed within 48 hours.
Department of Defence, Department of Veterans’ Affairs—Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide
The Secretaries of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs requested assistance in May 2021 to support the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. More than 70 employees nominated to assist in areas such as legal, policy, data and communications.
Services Australia—processing COVID-19 support payments
In July 2021, Services Australia requested support to deliver COVID-19 Disaster Payments to Australians unable to earn an income due to a COVID-19 lockdown. More than 700 APS employees nominated to assist, from large departments to smaller agencies such as the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and IP Australia. Surged staff have worked alongside their Services Australia colleagues to process over 4.1 million claims. More than $11 billion has been paid to assist Australians unable to work and earn an income while affected by lockdowns.13
11 Katherine Jones PSM, then Deputy Secretary, Department of Finance. (2021). IPAA Work with Purpose Podcast Special Anniversary Edition. 29 April.
12 OECD. (2020). Public servants and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: Emerging responses and initial recommendations. 27 April.
13 Services Australia. (2021). COVID-19 vaccine rollout update. 11 October