Centrelink needed 370 extra staff to automate data matching

And still can't say how much money it has recovered, says audit

Automating its troubled Centrelink data-matching program has cost the Australian government's Department of Human Services dearly: almost 370 extra staff were needed to implement it.

That was more than 100 staff more than the 254 the Department (DHS) thought it would hire for its “Strengthening the Integrity of Welfare Payments – Employment Income Matching” program. The 368 staff put on the program doesn't include “management overheads” or other indirect staff inputs.

Those figures come from a new Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has report into seven DHS and Department of Social Security compliance measures.

Whether the extra staff assigned to automated data matching are worth the effort isn't known, because the program's too young for the audit to make a firm finding.

However, across all compliance programs implemented under Labor and Coalition governments since 2012, the ANAO reckons savings fell AU$270 million short of the expected $790 million.

Not so, claims the DHS: it responded to the report with a claim (based on different accounting methods) that it's peeled back nearly $1 billion from welfare recipients.

Exactly how the DHS and the Department of Social Security (DSS) can claim success is an open question, because the ANAO is sharply critical of their modelling, their oversight, and the quality of their reports to ministers.

The ANAO dismisses the DHS accounting out-of-hand: “Human Services also does not have the systems or processes in place to provide advice on the underlying cash savings realised, including debts recovered from the majority of the compliance measures — a key outcome expected from the measures.”

Regarding oversight: “The monitoring and oversight arrangements for the compliance measures, set out under the Bilateral Management Arrangement between DSS and Human Services, have not been effective as they were not followed. DSS as the relevant policy entity did not take responsibility for monitoring outcomes, including impacts and actual savings, achieved from the measures.”

DHS' public reporting of its own performance is questioned, with the reporting observing “it is uncertain whether Human Services’ public reporting against its KPI is accurate”, and it's only offered “ad hoc” reporting to its minister, Alan Tudge.

In spite of a response complaining about pretty much every aspect of the report, the DHS accepted all of the ANAO's recommendations. ®

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