The Digital Transformation Agency is expected to lose 16 percent of its workforce this year, despite the government’s continued push for IT-driven service delivery improvements.

The 2020-21 budget forecasts average staffing at the peak IT agency will fall to 182 by July 2021, down from a high of 217 in 2019-20.

It means the DTA’s average staffing will drop to its lowest since 2016, when it was reborn as a full-fledged agency and took on the government’s IT procurement and policy duties.

The projected drop of 35 stafffollows funding to the tune of $50.2 million over two years in the budget to complete major components of the government’s digital identity program.

The DTA has also secured $15.8 million in additional resourcing this year to “support the continued delivery of government digital transformation priorities”.

Total resourcing is slated at $393 million [pdf] over the next year, compared to $544 million in 2019-20 when it came in significantly higher than the initial estimate.

A spokesperson would not ellaborate on the projected average staffing level reduction, which falls against a backdrop of an otherwise hefty rise in the number of public servants during 2020-21.

“The DTA manages its average staffing level cap and contingent workforce in alignment with our prescribed remit and priorities,” the spokesperson told iTnews.

“Our contingent workforce allows us to engage subject matter experts for defined periods of time and enhance the capability of our ongoing APS workforce, allowing us to demonstrate efficiencies.”

iTnews asked for a breakdown of the agency’s current contingent workforce – its contractors – but was told “our workforce is a mix of APS, contractors and secondees”. 

“DTA’s agile ways of working encourage teams to work across projects with clear, time bound deliverables,” the spokesperson said.

“This allows the DTA to bring in skills from across the public and private sector for short periods and deliver outcomes in a quick manner.”

The projected average staffing level reduction follows a significant period of staff churn at the agency, with a recent freedom of information request revealing almost 100 percent turnover between July 2018 and February 2020.

However, it is not known how many of these places were contractors, who make up a significant proportion of the agency’s short-term project workforce.

The use of contractors – often those offering specialist skills – for temporary or project work has become increasingly common practice across government.

Budget documents indicate a “flexible approach to resourcing” that includes the “selective use of external expertise” is promoted by the government to avoid ongoing APS costs.

As reported by iTnews last year, the DTA’s ongoing employee turnover rate was just shy of 27 percent, or 60 ongoing staff, in the 2018-19 financial year – its highest since 2016.

It followed the agency’s move within the Social Services portfolio last year as part of a shakeup of government service delivery.

Digital identity

Budget papers also reveal the DTA will receive $50.2 million of the $256.6 million set aside over the next two years to continue the development of the GovPass digital identity system.

This leaves the bulk to its partner agencies on the project such as the Australian Taxation Office and Services Australia.

The full $256.6 million package will go towards completing the integration of the myGovID credential on myGov, as well as finding suitable anti-spoofing facial recognition software.

It will also cover the cost of onboarding additional federal government services, a digital identity trial with the states and developing legislation to expand the model to the private sector.

“A major component led by the DTA will be the development of legislation to expand the use of digital identity beyond commonwealth entities,” budget documents state.

“The legislation will embed the highest level of privacy, security protections and formalise ongoing governance arrangements for the system.”

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