UK to upskill civil servants in data science; Australia to review public sector appointments: policy & delivery news in brief

By on 09/02/2023 | Updated on 09/02/2023

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

UK cabinet secretary launches Evidence House data science initiative

Simon Case, the UK government’s top civil servant, has helped launch a new government programme that aims to radically upskill civil servants in data science and analysis through a combination of formal learning and hands-on policy delivery.

The Evidence House initiative has been founded by Laura Gilbert, the director of the UK prime minister’s data science team, with the aim of crowdsourcing solutions to hard-to-solve problems in government, while also boosting the government’s data science and analysis skills.

The project will be based in Admiralty House and as well as the Downing Street data science team, it also includes volunteers from the Evaluation Task Force, the ONS Data Science Campus and the Modernisation and Reform Unit amongst others.

Speaking at the Evidence House launch, Gilbert said that “by improving and connecting our data, upskilling our people and bringing them together across siloes, we can unleash a revolution that improves the lives of everyone in this country”, while Case told those present: “Don’t ever stop investing in your own skills… I will make sure working with other people, we get you what you need to keep you at the cutting edge”.

Early Evidence House projects that civil servants will work on will include: maternal and infant safety; high volume fraud; civil service efficiency and skills; efficient 999 emergency call handling; predicting serious crime; and prevention of homelessness. These projects will be driven through cross-government “hackathons”, in which analysts from across government and beyond work together to link data and draw insights around difficult high-priority challenges.

Following the initial hackathons, existing and aspiring data experts will be offered the chance to apply to join longer term “solution squads”.

These temporary multidisciplinary teams will work together, under the guidance of mentors and technical specialists, to effectively deliver real solutions back into sponsoring departments. Evidence House will also offer free of charge training in everything from safe use of artificial intelligence through to how to evaluate the effectiveness of government spending, looking particularly at difficult cross-cutting issues that have been historically hard to solve. 

Read more: UK Cabinet Office seeks feedback on data sharing legislation to develop digital ID

Australian government launches review into ‘jobs for mates’ culture

The Australian federal government has said it will conduct a review of public sector appointments with the aim of tackling what it has called a culture that prioritises “jobs for mates”.

The review will look at the role of public sector boards, as well as how ministers are advised of board member selections and what it believes ought to be done to make the recruitment process more open to scrutiny.

Lynelle Briggs, ex-Australian public service commissioner, CEO of Medicare and commissioner on the Aged Care Royal Commission, is expected to lead the review.

Australia’s public service minister Katy Gallagher said she believed the review would return public sector board appointments to the merit-over-politics principle.

“We think that board appointments should be made based on skills, so what you know and not who you know — not your relationship to ministers or political parties,” she said.

Gallagher added that along with making appointments subject to fairer processes, the review would also encourage greater diversity of board appointments overall.

“Quite often there’s a small group of board appointees that are looked at and a number of people that are on multiple boards,” she said.

“We know that there’s huge talent across Australia and we need to tap into that.”

Read more: Former Australian PM slammed by inquiry into secret appointments

US senators present bills to better manage federal property portfolio

A group of bipartisan US lawmakers have put forward two bills to enable federal agencies to rent out excess government properties and use the income to maintain others.

The Saving Money and Accelerating Repairs Through (SMART) Leasing Act was introduced by senators Gary Peters, James Lankford, Kyrsten Sinema, and Josh Hawley. Under the proposed laws, agencies would be able to rent spaces they own but cannot sell once they have permission from the General Services Administration (GSA).

“By leasing underutilised public property, federal agencies can reduce costs and raise funds for maintenance and other important projects,” Peters said.

“This common sense, bipartisan bill will not only improve government operations and delivery of essential services to the American people, but ensure taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and efficiently.”

The measure passed the Senate in a vote in December last year, though more time was needed for the House of Representatives to pass the bill before returning it to president Joe Biden.

Lankford meanwhile led a group of senators in tabling the second bill, which would enable the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency to repair the 167 ports of entry across the country. This bill would give CBP the ability to make repairs without GSA’s approval, provided the projects in question are valued at less than US$300,000.

Speaking about the first of the two bills, Lankford said underused federal property was “a waste of taxpayer funded resources”, adding that it would “encourage other agencies to look for ways they can be better stewards of federal property”.

He called the second bill “a straightforward solution that will ensure our CBP officers have the resources they need to keep the country secure”.

Following the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that Biden signed into law in 2021, GSA received US$3.4bn to construct and repair US ports of entry. GSA had previously said it would manage 50 projects involving “major modernisations” and paving replacements. 

Read more: Teleworking: US government agency urged to share insights into the future of federal offices

India records 50 government website hacks in 2022

Fifty Indian government websites were hacked in 2022, according to Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw, the country’s union minister for communications, electronics, and information technology.

The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) – an office within the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology – reported that 59, 42 and 50 central and state government websites were hacked in 2020, 2021, and 2022 respectively.

Speaking before the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of India’s parliament), Vaishnaw said that CERT-In had identified and headed off 283,581 malicious scams in 2020, 432,057 scams in 2021, and 324,620 scams in 2022.

He added that information reported to and tracked by CERT-In showed that there were six data breach incidents observed in 2020, seven in 2021, and eight in 2022, all of which related to government organisations.

“There have been attempts from time to time to launch cyber-attacks on Indian cyberspace from both outside and within the country,” Vaishnaw said.

“It has been observed that such attacks compromised computer systems located in different parts of the world and use masquerading techniques and hidden servers to hide the identity of actual systems from which the attacks are launched.”

When a government organisation is the target of a cyberattack, CERT-In informs it of the incident and advises what to do in response. CERT-In issues regular alerts on the latest cyber threats and vulnerabilities, as well as advisories on countermeasures to protect computers and networks.

Read more: Indian government to activate digital ID at birth

Want to write for GGF? We are always looking to hear from public and civil servants on the latest developments in their organisation – please get in touch below or email [email protected]

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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