Audit queries public servant management

Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

The Department of Social Services has topped the list for the number of staff found to be "less than effective" in an audit of government employee performance.

The auditor-general has released a report into performance management processes for public servants.

The report found between 2012/13 and 2015/16 338 employees or 3.06 per cent of DSS staff were found to have been rated "less than effective", with one in five rated in these terms more than once.

The next-worse was the Attorney-General's department, with 2.73 per cent of its total workforce rated less than effective, with 11 per cent rated this way more than once.

The report found that as few as 14 per cent of staff in the biggest federal government departments felt their managers dealt effectively with under-performing colleagues.

"Under-performance is generally not effectively dealt with in performance management processes, including during the probation period in most agencies, and structured under-performance processes have been infrequently used," the report concluded.

Redundancies and early retirements were often being offered to employees who "no longer have the skills" to perform at their classification.

The practice was especially common in the Attorney-General's Department where 17.5 per cent of staff taking redundancies had been rated less than effective, while in the DSS the figure was 8.2 per cent.

The auditor found while in some circumstances it was cost-effective for agencies to make redundancy payments to underperforming employees "in general redundancies should not be used to replace or undermine ongoing, robust underperformance management procedures".

"It can be uneconomic, create perverse incentives as well as causing resentment in better-performing employees."

There were better ways to deal with under-performance including clearer communication to staff of expectations, provision of regular feedback on work and improved training and accountability of managers.

Former minister Eric Abetz said the report revealed the need for an overhaul of the bureaucracy to lift its performance.

"Taxpayers expect the public service to be lean, efficient and focused on delivery - not to allow for professional slackers who have turned underperformance into a victimhood industry at huge expense to the taxpayer," the Liberal senator said.