Reform Case StudyIntroductionReforms in public management have over the years continued to change the public sector structure as well as the existing relationships between the private and public sectors. In most cases however, gaps have been identified between what the reform intends to attain and what has actually been attained. This paper focuses on the Centrelink experiment and its planning and implementation of reforms. The paper is a deep analysis of Centrelink with focus being on the various models that explain its functioning, the risks and benefits of the frameworks used, the various roles played by the agency and lessons that can be drawn out from the agency.
The Centre Link Experiment: History and Context Centrelink experiment was launched as the commonwealth Service Delivery Agency in 1996 in the month of September and was officially established as an “independent statutory authority” in July 1997with its CEO being Sue Vardon. This new agency got the responsibility of distributing the government services to some of the 7.8 million beneficiaries of the social warfare services as well as benefits, which accounts for roughly $40 billion which is about 30% of the total expenditure of the commonwealth.
In the year 2002 Centrelink employed a total of 23,000 staff spread all over across the 1000 service delivery areas. These varied from the full customer service centers to agents visiting the remote zones. The agency was initially situated at the Social Security Portfolio which was later known as; family and community services, due to the fact that most of its tasks would entail administering the entitlements under legislation of the Social Security (Scott, 1999). On its formation, the agency aimed at establishing effective structures of governance, creating one common culture among the staff members and developing a brand that is easily identifiable.
One major challenge that Vardon faced during the early implementation of the project was on how to create a working culture capable of meeting all of the organization’s expectations of being a firm that is oriented towards meeting the very needs of their customers (Vardon, 2006). Sue Vardon left Centrelink on December 2004. It is also during this period that Centrelink made changes from the modern way of adapting to the government agendas and market forces that were constantly changing to what was seen as a convectional approach.
Role of the CentrelinkCentrelink was set up as a part of the ‘Howard Government’s’ experiment in reshaping the delivery of services as well as reframing the social policy. It served as an embodiment of the key principle to the Howard Vision for the public service; it was a specialized agency of service delivery separated from ‘purchasers’ policy functions. The establishment of Centrelink was along other business lines that operated ‘320 service centers’ as well as those that delivered payments of upto ten million to Australians (Figure 1 presents the business model for the agency).
However as much as the organization enjoyed its monopoly provider status, it was obligated to deliver the services to various clients on behalf of the purchasing departments (up to a total of 25) in accordance with the terms of the- Quasi-Contractual Service Agreement. This was meant to show a larger level of transparency as well as accountability in the administration of the payments totaling to over 60 billion US dollar expenditure of the commonwealth.
For several years the clients and staff at the Centrelink have generally been eager over the transformation (Pollitt, 2000). However, the experiment was reined in after eight years and centrelink was positioned under a fresh managing department and also closer ministerial path. Although the experiment is still on its course, it reflects the impacts of pressure to the service delivery agencies (Rowlands, 2002).