Reports of sexual harassment at US federal agencies fall; Australia opens consultation on data and digital strategy: management & workforce news in brief

By on 22/06/2023 | Updated on 22/06/2023
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Global Government Forum’s digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

Survey shows that reports of sexual harassment in US federal agencies have decreased

Reports of sexual harassment from US federal employees fell over the five years to 2021, according to a newly-released survey by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

The survey asked federal employees to indicate whether they had experienced sexual harassment at work by ticking boxes outlining behaviours they been exposed to. The 12 boxes were divided into three categories: gender harassment – “unwelcome behaviours that disparage or objectify others based on their sex or gender”; unwanted sexual attention – “unwelcome behaviours of a sexual nature that are directed toward a person”; and sexual coercion – “pressure or force to engage in sexual behaviour”.

The greatest reduction according to female respondents’ answers, was seen in “unwelcome exposure to sexually oriented conversations,” which had been experienced by 9.5% of the women surveyed in 2016 and 5.7% in 2021. “Unwelcome invasion of personal space” also fell for women, from 12.3% in 2016 to 9% in 2021.

Reports of sexual assault and pressure for sexual favours was found to have remained steady over the five years, at around 0.5% and 1% respectively.

The survey showed that 17% of female federal agents had experienced at least one of the 12 forms of sexual harassment in the two years prior to 2021. This compares with the 21% of female agents who reported the same in 2016.

The MSPB suggested the results might be due to several factors, including successful attempts by agencies to prevent sexual harassment internally. It added, however, that the changes might have been due to a “variety of other influences”, including a sharp uptick in telework throughout the pandemic. According to the survey, agencies where fewer employees worked remotely also showed more reports of sexual harassment.

MSPB said more time was needed to assess whether the results represented “a sustained improvement in the work environment due to changes in the behaviour of management and employees” or simply “the unique circumstances of the 2019-2021 time period”.

Consultation for Australia’s first combined data and digital strategy for government underway

A consultation for the Australian government’s Data and Digital Government Strategy opened on 16 June with an invitation to industry, academia and individuals for feedback.

The consultation, which is open until 25 July this year, will gather responses to plans for how the government should use data and digital technologies from now until 2030.

A draft of the strategy was released in the latest federal budget. It is the first combined data and digital strategy for Australia. Separate strategies – the Australian Data Strategy and the Digital Government Strategy – were previously released in 2021.

Katy Gallagher, Australia’s public service minister, said citizens demanded digital services from government and wanted them to be easy to use, understand and trust.

“The government must embrace digital technologies to ensure that all Australians can access and engage with trusted and secure government services online,” she said.

In a foreword to the draft strategy document, she added that it “supports… public sector agencies to keep up with technology, invest well, proactively leverage technology and adopt leading-edge data practices”.

“The Australian government will continue to transform itself to be data-informed and digitally-capable to improve our effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and accountability to be fit for the digital age,” Gallagher said.

Weighing in on the topic at the Australian Government Data Forum in May this year, Jenny Wilkinson, Australia’s finance secretary, said the government had a “significant opportunity to enhance [its] data and digital systems, to improve how decisions are made, [and] to improve the information upon which decisions are made”.

One third of Canadian public servants consider leaving government over return-to-office rules

More than a third of Canadian public servants are so unhappy with the federal government’s return-to-office approach that they are considering leaving their roles, according to a survey by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC).

The union, which represents 72,000 public service professionals in the federal government and some provincial departments and agencies, surveyed its members in May 2023.

It found that the percentage of those considering finding a job outside government that allows more flexibility on where they can work, jumps to almost half of those aged 30 or under.

“When nearly one in five members of the federal public service is over the age of 55, approaching retirement age, we cannot afford to lose half of our youngest workers,” said PIPSC president Jennifer Carr. “The government won’t be able to deliver the services Canadians rely on if it’s not able to address the major recruitment and retention problem it’s created with its own flawed return to office policy. These numbers add up to a public service in peril.”

In January, the Canadian federal government issued a mandate requiring public servants to work from the office at least two to three days per week, with the transition to more regular in-person work across government expected to be complete by 31 March.

US cybersecurity agency responds to latest attack on federal agencies

Hackers have exploited a flaw in software used by multiple US federal government agencies to transfer data, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has said.

The software, known as MOVEit, is used by numerous companies and public sector organisations.

Eric Goldstein, CISA’s executive assistant director for cybersecurity, said in a statement that the agency was “providing support to several federal agencies that have experienced intrusions affecting their MOVEit applications”. 

“We are working urgently to understand impacts and ensure timely remediation,” he said.

Shortly after the attack, Jen Easterly, CISA’s director, told journalists that the agency was “not tracking a significant impact against the civilian .gov enterprise”, and that the attackers had not threatened to extort or release data stolen from government agencies. 

“Although we are very concerned about this campaign and working on it with urgency, this is not a campaign like SolarWinds, that presents a systemic risk to our national security or our nation’s networks,” Easterly said. 

The attack was traced to a Russian-linked ransomware group known at ‘TA505’. CISA said it had not identified any impact on military or IC networks, though contracting records suggest these entities use other products by Progress Software, the makers of MOVEit. Other agencies potentially affected include the US State Department, the US Army and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Progress Software said the attack had revealed a new vulnerability in MOVEit, and that is was advising its customers on protection going forward.

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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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