US senators bid to smooth presidential transitions; New Zealand public service union hits back at planned cuts: news in brief

By on 01/02/2024 | Updated on 01/02/2024
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Global Government Forum’s digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

US senators bid to smooth presidential transitions with new bill

US federal agencies could be given better resources to prepare for future administrations under a new bipartisan bill.

The Agency Preparation for Transitions Act – introduced by Democrat senator Gary Peters of Michigan and Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine – aims to make presidential transitions more efficient and ensure continuity “in times of uncertainty” such as when an election outcome is delayed.

Career civil servants are already required to prepare potential future administrations, in part by drafting materials and answering questions from campaign teams. If the bill were to pass, resources would be allocated to allow such activities to be done quicker and processes put in place to improve communication between the White House and agency transition teams.

Under the bill, the General Services Administration’s federal transition coordinator – who is tasked with addressing inter-agency challenges and responsibilities around presidential transitions and turnover of non-career appointees, among other duties – would be appointed two years before a presidential election, earlier than has been the norm.

Also speeding up traditional timelines, the coordinator would be expected to arrange the first meeting of the agency transition council nine months before an election and to hold these once a month.

This is the latest legislation that aims to clarity transition arrangements in the US ahead of this year’s presidential election on 5 November. In 2022, the Electoral Count and Presidential Transition Improvement Act was passed by Congress and sought to facilitate a smoother transition than that faced by president Biden when Donald Trump refused to concede his election loss, which led to his supporters storming the Capitol, leading to delays in the transition process.

“Facilitating an orderly transition of executive power is of critical importance for any democratic nation,” Collins said. “By clarifying transition timelines, improving coordination, and enhancing congressional oversight, this bipartisan legislation would improve the resilience of our democratic processes.”

Read more:
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New Zealand public service union hits back at planned cuts

New Zealand’s Public Service Association has said public sector cuts targeting government departments and agencies will have long-term negative impact on the country.

The country’s National Party, which came to power last year, has set out plans to make cost savings of at least 6.5%, but the association warned this was short-sighted.

Association’s assistant secretary Fleur Fitzsimons said reductions would specifically “undermine the ability of the government to implement evidence-based policies”.

“They say they want to take an evidence-based approach. Well, I think cutting the public service is not a great way to start,” she said in an interview late last week.

Fitzsimons added that within the context of New Zealand’s current challenges, which include an infrastructure deficit, an ageing population, and the need to reduce emissions, this approach could stretch agencies beyond their limitations.

The PSA plans to work with its members and government agencies to make efficiencies without job losses. However, Fitzsimons warned that the proposed savings would “cut deep” and that the association would monitor the impact of any job losses on services.

Read more: New Zealand Public Service gender pay gap lowest on record

UK government urged to quicken process to place digital duties on top officials

UK members of parliament have urged the government’s Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) to speed up the implementation of a target to boost digital skills among the country’s top civil servants.

In a report published in September last year, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned that government’s digital transformation goals were held back by its approach to recruitment, retention and skills. It recommended that government make digital responsibilities part of letters of appointment to permanent secretaries and other senior officials.

This recommendation was subsequently accepted by ministers, but the government said it would not be implemented until June 2025.

In a letter to CDDO leaders last week, Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said she welcomed that the recommendation had been welcomed, but called for implementation to be quickened.

“In our view, implementing this recommendation should be quite straightforward,” her letter said. “Therefore we urge you to consider getting the necessary agreements from departments in place much sooner and commit to a much earlier implementation date or, alternatively, provide an explanation of why this is not possible.”

Hillier has requested a response from the CDDO by 9 February.

Read more: UK opposition to meet with civil servants ahead of general election

Ethiopia introduces compulsory digital ID for government service access

Ethiopian citizens will soon be required to use valid digital identity credentials to access government services, according to Yodahe Zemichael, the executive director of the Ethiopia National ID programme (NIDP).

In July last year the country’s parliament approved what was referred to as the Digital ID Proclamation, which gives government and private institutions the ability to deny government services to citizens without a digital ID.

Dubbed ‘Fayda’, its digital ID programme has less than four million citizen enrolments, though the government expects to register 90 million additional citizens by 2028. This enrolment target deadline was extended from an initial deadline of 2025 due to delays in the process.

The country recently received US$350m in funding from the World Bank to facilitate large-scale rollout of its digital ID and invest in core infrastructure, such as instant digital payments services and an interoperable data exchange platform.

The NIDP has meanwhile begun expanding the use of Fayda, working with UN agencies to quicken the enrolment process for children and displaced populations and collaborating with banks on implementation.

Read more: Electronic cash registers boost Ethiopia’s tax revenues, finds bank report

UK government introduces cyber threat guidelines after spate of attacks

The UK government has released new cyber resilience guidelines to directors and business leaders, warning that potential attacks must be factored into key business risks along with financial and legal challenges.

The Cyber Governance Code of Practice guidelines are specifically aimed at executive and non-executive directors as well as other senior leaders, and comes as part of the government’s £2.6bn (US$3.2bn) National Cyber Strategy.

Designed in partnership with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), it’s aim is to promote cyber-security to a key area of focus for businesses so that they implement detailed plans for how to answer potential attacks and recover from them.

The code also encourages organisations to bring their employees’ cyber skills to a standard that allows them to work confidently and competently with new technologies.

Government has recommended that as part of these actions, directors allocate clearly defined roles and responsibilities across organisations, as well as increase protections for customers, and strengthen the safety and security of their operations.

The UK government has meanwhile sought opinions from businesses on the latest draft of the code.

Commenting on this, Viscount Camrose, minister for AI and intellectual property, said: “It is vital the people at the heart of this issue take the lead in shaping how we can improve cyber security in every part of our economy, which is why we want to see industry and business professionals from all walks coming forward to share their views.”

Read more: AI key to ‘transform productivity’ of the civil service, says Oliver Dowden

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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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