Appendix: Progress of initiatives to mitigate capability risks in Trade Assurance

New Zealand Customs Service: Managing Trade Assurance capability risks. Progress in responding to the Auditor-General's recommendations.
Staff retention and development
Developing a tertiary qualification that includes a specialist audit component. This qualification has been developed. A precondition for obtaining the new tertiary qualification for Trade Assurance is that officers complete a general, but relevant, Customs qualification. The new qualification builds on the general qualification and is more specific.

Customs told us that 23 Trade Assurance Officers will have obtained the general qualification by the end of2013. Two Trade Assurance staff have graduated with the newly developed specialist qualification and four additional Trade Assurance staff are studying to obtain this qualification.
Implementing a “buddy” system for less experienced staff. Customs told us that it had deliberately mixed together more experienced staff with less experienced staff within the Trade Assurance unit when it put in place the new Trade Assurance structure in July 2013. The new structure is expected to be confirmed by 1 June 2014.

This has the potential to encourage the transfer of institutional knowledge and help with the informal development of newer officers and specialists.
Realigning the structure of Trade Assurance. The new Trade Assurance structure was put in place in July 2013. The aim of the new structure is to improve the way in which Trade Assurance deals with risk, prioritises its workload, and allocates its resources.

The structure now comprises three different workstreams or “focus groups”:
  • Licensing;
  • Revenue; and
  • Supply Chain – Trade Data.
Another feature of the new structure is the Trade Assurance Centralisation Team (TACT). TACT has a central role in receiving, recording, allocating, overseeing, and reporting the work that Trade Assurance does. In our view, this should help Customs to better manage its Trade Assurance capability risks.

Customs told us that the new operating model for Trade Assurance directly influenced this restructure. As previously mentioned, Customs expects that this structure will be ratified in the confirmation of the Revenue and Assurance Directorate structure.
Recognising and rewarding specialist staff as a way to encourage retention. Progress in this area has been mixed.

The reward scale for specialists has not changed since 2008.

From July 2013, specialists were able to become “focus group leads” as part of the new Trade Assurance structure. This means that they are nationally recognised as a leading specialist within one of the three Trade Assurance workstreams.

The pathway for people to become “focus group leads” is subject to positions being available and to business requirements.

Customs told us that there have been adjustments to recognition and reward through contract negotiations, and staff have had annual performance reviews that inform any position in band progression and increased remuneration. Customs also told us that there is an option to make one-off payments to recognise superior performance.
Enhancing the existing Trade Assurance training programme through a formalised and structured approach. In our 2011 audit, we recognised that Customs had a good framework for training Trade Assurance Officers.

We looked for evidence of a formalised and structured approach to the Trade Assurance training programme as per a recommendation from the Trade Assurance Review.

A training programme, the Trade Assurance Staff Development Guide and Training Plan, was finalised in November 2013, and Customs reports that it was issued in the latter part of 2013. We note that some courses/training in this guide are either still under development, only available externally, or not yet available.

In our view, this is a general staff development guide, not a formalised and structured training programme as intended.
Identifying and developing existing subject-matter experts. The new Trade Assurance structure should allow for the development of existing subject-matter experts.

The development of existing subject-matter experts should also be assisted by the staff development guide now that it has been finalised and issued.

We also note that Customs’ Leadership Framework was released in September 2013. This places value on thought leadership provided by specialists as distinct from people leaders, and signals development opportunities for specialists.
Forming a close working relationship between Trade Assurance and Client Services (now Service Delivery). In terms of capability, the main objective of this initiative was to encourage staff development through their movement between the two units because of the close knowledge “synergy” between the two units.

Since our report in July 2011, and as at March 2014, there had been 10 occasions of staff movement from Trade Assurance to Client Services (now Service Delivery) and five occasions of staff movement from Client Services to Trade Assurance.

The reasons for this movement included career development and information-sharing, Customs rotation programmes, and meeting resource requirements.

In our view, this staff movement is encouraging. However, movement between these units could be more balanced. We encourage the achievement of the outcome of providing staff with valuable knowledge that they can take back to the unit that they came from for their career development as well as knowledge-sharing between the two units.
Changing Customs’ Customs’ rotation policy could be a barrier to specialist career development if it is not carefully managed.

The Trade Assurance Review noted that: The current rotation policy is appropriate for the leadership team but potential rotation of technical specialists is a significant risk for the capability needs within Trade Assurance and should be reviewed.

As at November 2013, Customs had not made changes to its rotation policy to assist with the retention of specialist knowledge.
Greater interaction and “synergy” with Australian Customs and Border Protection and Inland Revenue Department Auditors. Customs told us that Trade Assurance management is exploring secondment and exchange programmes with both the Inland Revenue Department and the Serious Fraud Office under existing Memorandum of Understanding instruments.

We found no evidence of auditor exchange programmes in the past.
Secondments of Band 40 Customs Officers into Trade Assurance to trial capability and assist with succession planning. To date, no secondments have occurred.
Staff recruitment
Developing a formal process so that new Customs recruits with the educational qualifications and skills appropriate for the Trade Assurance environment are identified early in their career and offered an opportunity to work in the unit. Of 24 new recruits, Customs identified some in November 2013 as having the requisite skills for Trade Assurance.

We found no evidence of any process to actively monitor and manage these recruits towards a career in Trade Assurance.
Filling the current funded vacant positions in Trade Assurance. In November 2012, Customs identified in its Trade Assurance Review that the current funded vacancies in Trade Assurance needed to be filled immediately. The review identified significant capability and delivery risks if this was not achieved. As previously mentioned, this review was then superseded by Project Compass.

Project Compass meant that a further 12 Trade Assurance staff were lost to voluntary redundancy.

Customs reports that there are no current funded vacancies in Trade Assurance. Customs told us that its new intelligence-led, risk-based approach means that Trade Assurance can operate with fewer staff .

Customs was unable to tell us how many people it will need under this new model, and it is too soon to tell how the reduced staffing levels will affect the ongoing implementation of Trade Assurance’s new operating model.
Accessing people with the required technical skills
Taking a flexible approach to recruiting people with specialist skills from outside Customs based on business needs. The Trade Assurance Review recommended that a flexible approach to recruiting people with specialist skills “on a business needs basis” could help to enhance capability.

We found no evidence, other than the temporary engagement of the former Trade Assurance staff member to prepare the manuals, that recruiting people with specialist skills from outside Customs had been explored or used as an approach.

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