AI ‘to quicken UK government decision-making’; Australian public servants await pay offer: policy & delivery news in brief

By on 17/08/2023 | Updated on 17/08/2023
Oliver Dowden walking through Downing Street
Oliver Dowden in Downing Street. Photo by Simon Dawson, No 10 Downing Street via Flickr

Global Government Forum’s digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

AI could quicken government decision-making, says UK deputy prime minister

The UK’s deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden said artificial intelligence (AI) will “totally transform” the country, having greater impact than the industrial revolution.

Speaking with The Times newspaper, Dowden pointed to various effects the emerging technology could have on the productivity and work processes, though he added that AI also posed distinct dangers to democracies.

“It’s going to totally transform almost all elements of life over the coming years, and indeed, even months, in some cases,” he said.

“It is much faster than other revolutions that we’ve seen and much more extensive, whether that’s the invention of the internal combustion engine or the industrial revolution.”

He also highlighted that the use of AI could quicken elements of government. The UK government’s Home Office already uses AI to process asylum applications, though Dowden said the technology could streamline other work processes too, leading to a reduction in paperwork for ministers.

Register now: Public Service Data Live | Thursday 14 September 2023, Business Design Centre, London

Australian public servants await pay offer

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has said that a new pay offer will be made to public servants before the end of the month after a proposed increase of 10.5% was rejected by the Community and Public Sector Union.

In an update on how the government would respond to the rejection, Peter Riordan, public service employer’s chief negotiator, said he anticipated “discussions on pay, the base salary structure to address pay fragmentation and parental leave will now occur on Tuesday 29 August”.

The update acknowledged that the commission had lagged behind schedule in providing a follow up due to cross-government discussions over the offer.

“Due to the need to work through government processes, the timeline to complete APS-wide bargaining is slightly later than expected. The chief negotiator continues to work towards concluding APS-wide negotiations in August,” the update said.

Read more: Australia’s public service commission rejects four-day week bid

TikTok ban prompts concerns among US government contractors

The US federal government’s ban on contractor use of TikTok has sparked concerns among industry groups, who have said the measure leaves unanswered questions around privacy and censorship and could make monitoring compliance and implementation difficult.

In response to a new interim rule published by the Federal Acquisition Regulation, the Professional Services Council (PSC), a trade association, said banning applications on employee-owned devices raised “privacy and censorship concerns as well as on-going legal challenges to the prohibition at it pertains to private (i.e., non-government) devices”.

PSC added that the ban was further complicated by so-called ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) policies, which became more common during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeking clarity on which devices the interim rule would apply to going forward, it asked: “Does this prohibition apply to employee-owned devices for only those contractor employees who work directly on the contract? What about back-office, contract support or indirect staff?”

The Coalition for Government Procurement voiced concerns of its own meanwhile. It said that the federal government should amend the rule “to account for the practical realities faced by some firms”, which “technically may not be capable of ensuring full compliance with the prohibition”.

It also said BYOD policies “may represent a significant expense, especially for small and/or disadvantaged businesses”.

Read more: CIA chief sets out era of US-China ‘strategic competition’ in AI and beyond

IRS readies for massive hiring drive over coming decade

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has begun implementing a hiring drive that could add tens of thousands of staff to the agency.

The IRS saw 43,000 employees leave the department between 2018-19 and 2021-22. In 2021-22, around 11% of IRS revenue agents left. The Inspector General (IG) government watchdog subsequently advised the agency to use financial incentives, such as bonuses, to boost recruiting and retention.

However, the new hiring drive does not include such measures.

IRS had previously paid bonuses to essential staff that were required return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bonuses had also been used in the past to hire or keep employees in non-IT positions that presented a unique hiring challenge. These incentives were used in just 31 instances between fiscal years 2019 and 2022, however.

IRS currently has a US$60bn budget to spend over the next 10 years, which comes as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. A large proportion of that budget will go towards hiring new staff, and the watchdog said the agency planned to hire more than 25,000 employees. Of that number, 12,000 will fill positions that were lost in the fiscal years 2019 and 2022.

IRS said it aimed to bring on 10,000 employees in fiscal 2023 and another 20,000 in fiscal year 2024.

Read more: IRS to develop more diverse workforce: management & workforce news in brief

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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