By Canberra, Australia correspondent Erica Quarterbee
A draft advertisement for the position of Chief Engineer is circulating through the corridors of power in Canberra.
The Chief Engineer is to run an independent Bureau to advise on policies relating to technologies and to audit spending on infrastructure and deployment of technologies within all of government. The Bureau of the Chief Engineer will operate as an independent, professional, “corporate consultancy and inspectorate” to the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Australia has lacked a Science Minister since the installation of the current government. It’s understood that the Prime Minister’s Office wants to install a permanent mechanism by employing independent professionals who are able to interpret the science and technology for relevance and effectiveness.
The gap between science and its application has previously led to Australia committing tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars ineffectively, sometimes necessitating even more expenditure to remedy problems caused by the initial expenditure; still leaving the problem unresolved. Engineers are more suited than scientists when it comes to applying science to resolve real problems in the real world, at a cost that is justifiable and pre-determined.
Members of Parliament have, for a long time, been drawing attention to the lack of a Chief Engineer serving Australia. The Institution of Engineers Australia recently reiterated calls for the same, but limited the scope to infrastructure projects. The circulating draft advertisement provides a much wider scope for the Chief Engineer to be effective.
According to the draft advertisement, the Chief Engineer will:
- Be responsible to the Prime Minister.
- Advise government on the viability and suitability of technologies; emergent and otherwise.
- Oversee infrastructure and technical procurement for specific projects and for ongoing expenditure.
- Conduct technology audits of government entities to determine appropriate technologies and their deployment.
- Ensure technical procurement tender completeness, supplier conformance (vis e.g. liquidated damages) and the provision of insurance to cover completion to specified functionality.
- Manage the Bureau with a staff of no more than 6 Deputy Chief Engineers and a pool of no more than 30 other technical and administrative staff.
Curiously, the advertisement’s qualifications and experience do not require the applicant to have an affiliation to any professional body.
- A Professional Engineering Degree from a recognized University
- Extensive private industry experience
- Experience in diverse fields
- Complex project management
- Able to translate technical concepts to be understood by those without technical expertise
The applicant must hold Australian citizenship and be eligible for the highest security clearance.
A memorandum attached to the draft mentions that the initial budget is estimated to be $50 million in its first year, including all salaries, allowances and expenses. It is expected that the Chief Engineer will achieve much greater efficiencies in all of government by advising Ministers where additional engineering expertise can be employed for a nett benefit within their portfolios. Thus, the costs of employing all the necessary engineering staff are shifted to where they can achieve the largest benefit.
Although the description of the Bureau is as a corporate consultancy, it looks like it will have persuasive powers (via Cabinet) as the Chief Engineer will, during the initial contract period of 6 years, be required to identify government entities:
- that require in-house engineering expertise to ably identify, deploy and employ technologies on a continuing basis.
- where substantial automation will be effective at improving service delivery and staff efficiencies.
- improved coordination in technical procurement and deployment is calculated to produce a nett benefit.
Technology and science-heavy government entities have been identified to initially report to the Bureau of the Chief Engineer; allowing their advice to be technically evaluated and interpreted for presentation to the relevant Minister(s).
- DST Group (formerly DSTO)
- Bureau of Meteorology
- Australian Antarctic Division
- Geoscience Australia
- National Measurement Institute
- Chief Scientist
The Chief Engineer and Bureau staff will, to maximise their independence, be exempt from public service provisions and professionally responsible for the advice they provide. Post-employment benefits such as pensions will be tied to the long-term success of their performance while employed.
It’s not understood how well that last element will go down in the tea rooms of the professional public servants. They may perceive it as the thin edge of a wedge.