US government employee burnout ‘stubbornly high’, EU establishes AI Office: news in brief

By on 20/06/2024 | Updated on 20/06/2024
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich via Pexels

Global Government Forum’s weekly news roundup of public service intelligence

In this edition:

41% of US government workers report burnout

Image: Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels

Burnout among US government employees has dropped from 47% but remains “stubbornly high” at 41%, according to a new pulse survey from Eagle Hill Consulting.

Workers who experience burnout say the top cause is their workload (48%), followed by staff shortages and juggling personal and professional life, both at 44%.

Gen X government employees (those born between 1965 and 1980) report higher levels of burnout, as do employees with children in the household (both 49%).

Eagle Hill conducts the polling twice a year and says that since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers have consistently reported that the following remedies would alleviate their stress: increased flexibility (69%), a four-day work week (68%), decreased workload (65%), and working from home (60%).

While some governments are looking to technology such as AI to improve productivity and free up staff time, 64% of burnt-out workers said that technology changes in the coming year will not impact their stress levels. 

“It’s important that government employers pay attention to this high level of burnout, along with employee views on causes and remedies,” said Melissa Jezior, president and chief executive officer of Eagle Hill Consulting. “When workers are burnt out, they’re less productive, engaged, and innovative. And they’re more likely to leave their jobs, especially given that opportunities in the private sector typically offer higher pay.”

“Worker views provide a roadmap for addressing burnout, and agencies that consider that input and take action will be best positioned to achieve their mission,” she added.

Read the latest Workforce and Management newsletter: UK government to launch attraction strategy for recruitment, a reform idea from Romania, and more

European Commission establishes AI Office

Image: Guillaume Périgois on Unsplash

The European Commission has created a dedicated AI Office intended to strengthen EU leadership in the development and use of safe and trustworthy artificial intelligence.

The Commission says the office has been formed to enable “the future development, deployment and use of AI in a way that fosters societal and economic benefits and innovation, while mitigating risks”, with units covering regulation and compliance, AI safety, AI and robotics, AI for societal good, and AI innovation and policy coordination.

The office will play a key role in the implementation of the EU’s AI Act, which was passed last month. The legislation forms what has been described as a “harmonious” set of rules by which to govern the use of AI. This includes governments’ use of AI in biometric surveillance and the regulation of generative AI systems such as ChatGPT.

The legislation follows a ‘risk-based’ approach, meaning the higher the risk to society, the stricter the rules. It also aims to protect the rights of EU citizens. It will apply to areas within EU law, though does provide exemptions for military and defence uses, as well as for research.

To ensure well-informed decision-making, the office will collaborate with European Union member states and the wider community through dedicated forums and expert groups.

The AI Office will also promote an innovative EU ecosystem for trustworthy AI, and develop a strategic, coherent and effective European approach on AI at the international level, aiming to become a global reference point.

Margrethe Vestager, the executive vice president for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said the office “will evaluate and test general purpose AI to ensure that AI serves us as humans and upholds our European values”, while Thierry Breton, commissioner for internal market, added: “With the new AI Office and its 140 talented women and men, the Commission will have the necessary expertise to drive the implementation of the AI Act and to reinforce Europe’s role as a global standard-setter in AI. The Office will foster a European AI ecosystem that is innovative, competitive and respectful of EU rules and values.”

Read the latest AI Monitor: AI ‘makes slow-moving governments vulnerable’, EU breaks new ground on AI legislation, and more

Data capacities among Australian Public Service reform priorities

Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Enhanced data capabilities are among the key areas where the Australian government is focusing public sector investment.

The government recently set out the key investments in Australian Public Service capability that it would make for the 2024-25 financial year. Covering nine projects, the scheme aims to boost skills in five key areas:

  • Enhancing data analytic and policy integration capabilities
  • Ensuring cultural and psychological safety in physical and virtual workspaces
  • Adapting to a green economy workforce
  • Building APS understanding of AI application in the public sector; and
  • Enhancing APS capabilities for working in Asia and the Pacific

The projects that received funding include an initiative to develop capabilities to use AI tools across the public service, building the foundational knowledge needed to use data and AI effectively.

Other funded projects in the second round include developing a prototype framework to better harness data, and a data tool to map multi-disciplinary data and information about service user needs.

In 2024-25, a total of A$6.5m ($4.34m) is available for capability improvement, with funding allocations to become available from 1 July 2024. Under round one, ten projects totalling A$8.4m ($5.6m) were funded.

Read the latest Digital and Data Monitor: UK election manifesto tech takeaways, a personal reflection on transforming digital services, and more

UN report calls for clear forest targets in national climate plans

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A new report warns of significant gaps related to forest protection, management and restoration in national climate action plans.

Despite global commitments to halt deforestation by 2030, only eight of the top 20 countries with the highest rate of tropical deforestation have quantified targets on forests in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), according to the report from UN-REDD, the United Nations programme for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation.

The research finds that current NDC pledges submitted between 2017 and 2023 “do not meet the global ambition to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030”.

Studies show that forests have the potential to contribute a third of the emissions reductions required to close the 2030 mitigation gap. 

While 11 of the NDCs contain quantified targets relating to afforestation and reforestation, UN-REDD notes that “mitigating climate change requires reducing deforestation first, as it takes many years to capture the carbon lost through deforesting an equivalent area through afforestation and restoration”. 

UN-REDD says it is also crucial for NDCs to integrate strategies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, which 15 of the 20 countries have adopted.  

As countries prepare for the submission of the next round of NDCs for COP30, the report urges countries, especially those with extensive forest cover, to include concrete, measurable targets on forests.   

Neville Ash, director of the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, which carried out the analysis, said: “Increased NDC ambition must be accompanied by strong and immediate action. Predictable financial support at scale for forest-rich countries will be needed to take these steps.”

Read the latest Sustainability Monitor: The missing link in national climate plans – cities, green pledges in UK election manifestos, and more

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