Biden nominates new head of US tax agency; Australian mandarins confront cost of COVID response to vulnerable citizens: management & workforce news in brief

By on 17/11/2022 | Updated on 17/11/2022
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Global Government Forum’s weekly digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

Biden nominates management veteran to lead IRS

US president Joe Biden announced last week that he would nominate Danny Werfel for the role of commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

A figure praised on both sides of the political aisle, Werfel served in both the Democrat and Republican administrations, leading the tax agency under ex-president Barack Obama as well as being the former controller of the Office of Management and Budget. Notably, he is recognised for leading the IRS in 2013 when the agency faced heavy criticism for its scrutiny of specific political groups regarding their tax-exempt status.

Werfel is expected to replace Charles Rettig, the agency’s most recent confirmed commissioner hired by ex-president Donald Trump.

“Werfel provided immediate stability to the IRS, effectively responding to numerous congressional investigations, successfully launching the Affordable Care Act technology that IRS was responsible for and navigated the IRS through a multi-week government shutdown,” the White House said in a statement.

Read more: IRS tackling big digital transformation and legislative challenges

In a recent interview with Government Executive (GovExec), Werfel said that the agency faced a difficult hiring environment. Pointing to labour shortages as well as a war for talent between the public and private sector, he said that the IRS would need to excite prospective employees about its mission. He added that a message of American patriotism would play a role if this was to be achieved.

Jamaican prime minister urges civil servants to improve implementation

The prime minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness has called for the country’s civil service to improve its policy implementation as well as the delivery of key public services in areas including education, law and order and waste management.

Holness’s comments came as part of a keynote address given at a valedictory lunch for seven Jamaica House Fellows. He spoke of the gains the country had made since the end of the pandemic, though emphasised the need for government to improve the way it put policy into practice. 

“I think we are doing well in economic policy. In this region, we are the only country that can report post-COVID, a reduction in debt, an increase in employment, and an increase in growth – all three things together,” he said.

Speaking with regards to areas in which public services were shown to be underperforming, he added: “Education, law and order, simple things such as the collection of municipal waste. These are issues that give us cause for concern.”

Praising the talent of civil servants who bring to their work what he called “the socio-emotional intelligence to have dreams”, Holness stressed that policymakers nonetheless needed to be driven by implementation as well as vision. He added that government would look more closely at the way key areas of its operations were being staffed, including the levels of training staff received and their motivation to act when areas needing improvement emerged.

“We have many dreamers in our society, we have some visionaries, we have a lot of policymakers – all of you in this room, but where are we falling down? Implementation,” he acknowledged.

Canadian government increasingly ‘hybrid by design’ says minister in response to back-to-office calls

Treasury Board president Mona Fortier has insisted that the Government of Canada is working to harness the best of office and remote working as she responded to calls for business leaders from officials to return to the office.

In an article for the Ottawa Citizen, Fortier responded to calls from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s president, Perrin Beatty for “people to get back to work and for us to get back to as normal an operation as possible”.

This was the latest intervention by a senior business leader, following a letter signed by 32 business associations that called for government employees to be asked to return to workplaces.

In response, Fortier highlighted that Canadian public servants have “never stopped working and they delivered under extremely difficult circumstances when Canadians needed them most: during the pandemic”, working both in person and remotely.

Read more: Canadian government becoming hybrid as minister challenges back-to-office call

Now that society has returned to “some semblance of normalcy”, the public service is “embracing this opportunity to modernise our way of working”.

In the article, Fortier said that the federal government was “moving from remote-by-necessity to hybrid-by-design”.

She added: “This gives us the opportunity to harness the best of in-person and off-site work. In-person work better supports collaboration, team spirit, innovation and a culture of belonging. Being together in the workplace helps teams build trust and learn from each other. At the same time, off-site work can have benefits, such as cost savings.”

Australian public servants told evidence shows poorest were left behind during COVID response

An independent review of the Australian government’s approach to tackling the spread of COVID-19 showed that vulnerable groups including women, people living with disabilities, the elderly, children, and First Nations peoples were often left underserved. 

The review, entitled ‘Fault Lines’, was released last month by a group of three bodies: the Paul Ramsay Foundation, the Minderoo Foundation and the John and Myriam Wylie Foundation.

Report lead-author and former secretary for the department of the prime minister and cabinet, professor Peter Shergold, said that the consequences of the decisions made during the pandemic could be expected to impact generations to come, affecting children as well as many older Australians.
“Policies were too often designed and implemented without proper regard for the inequalities that already existed in our society and the challenges facing particular communities,” he said. 

“Our failure to adequately address disadvantage undermined the effectiveness and fairness of our response.” 

Read more: Australian federal agencies told to expect capability reviews

Shergold also highlighted the affect that unequal access to modern consumer technology had on poorer Australian citizens.

The review found that around one in five students in low State Emergency Services (SES) areas did not own a laptop or home computer, compared to less than 1% (0.4%) in areas with high levels of SES. This disparity led to loss of learning during lockdowns. He explained that such losses were “60% larger for disadvantaged students from less-educated homes”.

For the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, meanwhile, disproportionate rates of poor health, mental illness and suicide were generally worsened by poorer than average housing conditions.

“It’s scarcely surprising that the rate of severe illness was 40% higher for First Nations peoples than other Australians during the Omicron wave,” he said.

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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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