​Human Services wants to get 'agile'

Standing up another government panel as a result.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is looking for assistance in becoming a more "agile" government entity.

The department has published a request for tender (RFT), seeking explicitly the supply of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Agile "training, workshops, coaching, and implementation support and associated services".

The RFT explains DHS intends to appoint successful "agile" tenderers onto a panel by establishing a standing offer with each. The term of the will be two years, with two twelve-month extension options.

Once stood up, the panel will be available to other government entities that also want to be more "agile".

The department is undergoing "significant business-led, enterprise-wide transformations", across welfare, health, aged care, and child support programs, as well as within the department itself.

"The department enterprise-wide transformation programs ensure our workforce can best respond to customer expectations, in demand skills and responsiveness into the future," the RFT reads.

"As the department responds to evolving government priorities and community expectations to modernise our services, the department will ensure its staff have the capabilities and support they need to develop the behavioural attributes required in a highly competitive and rapidly changing public sector environment."

One such overhaul, labelled one of the world's largest business-led IT system transformations by Minister for Human Services and Minister for Digital Transformation Michael Keenan, is the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program.

WPIT, expected to take seven years to complete, is a billion-dollar project to overhaul Australia's 30-year-old payment system, which processes over AU$100 billion in Centrelink payments each year.

The department that wants help with "agile" is also the one responsible for Centrelink and the contentious data-matching program of work that saw the automatic issuing of debt notices to those in receipt of welfare payments.

The program had automatically compared the income people declared to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) against income declared to Centrelink, and the debt notice -- along with a 10 percent recovery fee -- was subsequently issued when a disparity in government data was detected.

One large error in the system was that it was incorrectly calculating a recipient's income, basing fortnightly pay on their annual salary rather than taking a cumulative 26-week snapshot of what an individual was paid.

A department spokesperson, however, last month told ZDNet that it is inaccurate to say the automated system that came to be known colloquially as "robo-debt" had incorrectly issued debt notices.

"It is inaccurate to say that the system automatically issued debt notices. Letters initiated at the commencement of a compliance review are not debt letters. To refer to them as debt letters is factually incorrect. The letter asks the customer to engage online or call the department to work through a discrepancy," the spokesperson said.

"Last year the Commonwealth Ombudsman confirmed that: It was reasonable and appropriate for the department to ask people to explain data matching discrepancies; the online system accurately calculates debts when the required information is entered; the business rules in the online compliance system that support the debt calculation are comprehensive and accurately capture the legislative and policy requirements; and debts raised are consistent with the previous manual debt investigation process."

DHS acting deputy secretary of Integrity and Information Jason McNamara told the Finance and Public Administration References Committee similar in March, saying the data-matching program went well.

"The department's view would be, we wouldn't agree with the proposition that it didn't go that well," McNamara said with no hesitation.

"Yeah ... We've made it quite clear that we think the project has gone quite well. We've delivered lots of savings. We have quite a number of reviews already undertaken and we have changed some aspects of the system, we've improved aspects of the system but I don't think we'd agree with the proposition that the project hasn't gone well."

Submissions to help the department with "agile" close on December 3, 2018.


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