With around 20 years of experience in the APS, I've been somewhat concerned about two issues that I believe could greatly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the APS if they could be resolved.
The first is the fact that we have virtually no entry-level positions anymore - work areas tend to be top heavy and APS1 or 2 officers are as rare as hen's teeth. However, the entry-level work still exists, and higher level officers are expected to absorb it into their own duties, which sounds very egalitarian and fair, except that for the Australian Taxpayer, it means they are now paying $80,000+ salaries to people who are spending 20% or more of their work day engaged in tasks that would once have been undertaken by people on $40,000 salaries. The lack of lower level positions also means the Australian Government is missing an opportunity to provide meaningful work and training to young people who don't have a tertiary education. The APS would be a perfect environment for introducing new workers to the workforce and providing them with skills and values that will serve them well throughout their careers, either within or outside of the public service. Saving taxpayers' money AND reducing unemployment – I don’t understand why we ever stopped doing this.
The second main area of concern I've had during my years of employment in the APS is the conflict inherent in remaining apolitical while also serving 'the government of the day', whose interests are by definition political. Protecting or enhancing the reputation of the Government/Minister tends to be the driving ideal behind many of the directives that come down through the Senior Executive, and this can be very difficult to navigate in situations where that ideal is in competition with the interests of the Australian Public - for example, should a beneficial initiative be implemented as soon as it's ready, or should it be delayed to coincide with a politically opportune time for Ministerial announcement of the launch? These are relatively small ethical dilemmas, but they are frequent, and ultimately we must do as directed by the chain of command which starts with the Minister. However, the cultural effect of this seems to be an unspoken understanding within Departments that reputation is more important than outcomes, which in turn leads to phenomena like the development of "standard words" - a generic response to public enquiries on a given topic, that has been judged to be ‘safe’, but whether it is actually helpful or informative to any given individual is a secondary concern at best. I don't know what the solution to this problem might be - it's been ingrained in the public service probably forever - but it has been and will continue to be a source of concern and frustration to me as a public servant who genuinely wants to serve the public.
In closing, I’d also like to note that in spite of its imperfections, I see today’s public service as a far more dedicated and hard-working organisation than it was in the early 1990s when I started my first stint of employment. Gone are the days when public servants sit at their desks playing Solitaire for hours on end! Everything I’ve seen of the public service over the past decade speaks of a very busy environment populated by officers who genuinely care about what they do and regularly go above and beyond expectations in an effort to perform well in their duties. This is my view, but I may just be lucky to have worked in some of the best areas of the APS recently...