Response of Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission

22 March 2024

Ms Leeanne McAviney
Assistant Auditor-General, Sector Performance
Office of the Auditor-General | Te Mana Arotake

Tēnā koe Leeanne

Thank you for your letter of 26 February 2024 following up on the Auditor-General’s recommendations in the Performance Audit of the Coordination of the All-of-Government Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic in 2020. I appreciate your office’s engagement on this matter, and the extension in deadline, to ensure we have been able to respond fully to your letter and the recommendations.

I am aware that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, National Emergency Management Agency, the Ministry of Health, and other agencies are writing to you separately regarding the recommendations. In developing our response, we have spoken to DPMC and NEMA, but there are areas where they are best placed, and are more appropriate, to respond as the matters fall within their remit.

The Commission’s role in the Government’s Covid-19 pandemic response and recovery

I thought it might be useful to set out the Commission’s roles and responsibilities in respect of the matters covered by the recommendations.

In 2019, Cabinet mandated DPMC as the all-of-government lead for the Covid-19 response. In support of that effort, and DPMC’s leadership, the Public Service Commission played a role in the following areas consistent with its role in the system:

  • Providing machinery of government advice
  • Preparing and issuing workforce guidance in areas such as flexible working; vaccination policy, and pay
  • Supporting business continuity and providing regular assurance reporting to ministers
  • Supporting chief executives and their wellbeing
  • Leading the Workforce Mobility Hub, which was established to enable rapid deployment of people and expertise to key areas of need.

The details in the attachment to this letter (PDF) set out how the Commission undertook that role, as well as the work we have led since to learn from the Covid-19 experience across the system.

I note that there is work underway to respond to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Covid-19 Lessons learned, which is yet to report.

I also note that the lessons learned from Covid-19 were relevant to the Public Service’s response to the 2023 North Island Weather Response. A Ministerial Inquiry is underway and due to report shortly on that matter, which will influence further actions taken by agencies in respect of emergency management and response arrangements.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on the work we have undertaken on the areas you identified in the performance audit. If you have any questions about the material covered in this letter, one of my Deputy Commissioners, Alastair Hill, is our main point of contact and will be happy to assist you. You are also welcome to contact me directly.

Thank you again for writing to me.

Nāku noa, nā

Heather Baggott (she/her)
Te Tumu Whakarae mō Te Kawa Mataaho
Acting Public Service Commissioner | Head of Service

Information regarding the Public Service Commission’s role in the Covid-19 response and lessons learned since

Capturing lessons learned from the Covid-19 experience – Recommendations 1-6

Your letter notes that the Commission intended to capture and embed lessons from the Covid-19 experience. The Commission undertook a process in 2023 to prepare a Covid-19 narrative, including the lessons learned from the Public Service Leadership Team’s experiences.

The narrative sets out the Commission’s role in the system, what the Commission did during the pandemic, and how some of things have been embedded. For example, the Mobility Hub supported the Cyclone Gabrielle response and has evolved to support secondments and other initiatives where surge capacity might be required. And the Key Role Alternative model, introduced for chief executives and senior leaders to give them a break and to support business continuity, has been embedded as an ongoing approach.

We have attached a copy of the PSLT Lessons Learned for your awareness.

Roles and responsibilities around emergency management – Recommendation 1

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was mandated by the Cabinet as the All-of-Government lead for the Covid-19 response. As the head of the National Security System, DPMC is also responsible for National Risk Framework, led through a dedicated Directorate within DPMC, which provides stewardship and leadership of the all-of-government strategic crisis management arrangements.

DPMC is responsible for coordination and governance of risks and crisis management through the Officials’ Committee for Domestic and External Coordination (ODESC).

We leave for DPMC and NEMA to comment on actions regarding national crisis and emergency management roles and responsibilities in the round. As noted in our letter, the Public Service Commission’s role through the Covid-19 response and in relation to emergency management is:

  • Providing machinery of government advice
  • Preparing and issuing workforce guidance in areas such as flexible working; vaccination policy, and pay
  • Supporting business continuity and providing regular assurance reporting to ministers
  • Supporting chief executives and their wellbeing
  • Leading the Workforce Mobility Hub, which was established to enable rapid deployment of people and expertise to key areas of need

These form the basis for our substantive comments and updates on your recommendations below.

Workforce planning and deployment – Recommendation 3

Your letter highlights recommendation 3 regarding the development and maintenance of workforce plans. Within our remit we have taken a number of actions in recent years to support flexible deployment and surge capacity within the Public Service system. This has included learning from the Covid-19 experience to embed systems and processes, as well as developing new practices through the North Island weather events last year.

Towards the end of 2020, reviews of the Covid-19 response recommended that the Commission was best placed to provide system level oversight and ongoing support for workforce deployment.

The Commission supported this recommendation and on 11 December 2020, the Commission assumed responsibility for critical COVID workforce resourcing from DPMC. A small Workforce Mobility Hub team was established, combining cross system critical Covid-19 workforce resourcing and the manual Workforce Deployment approach.

Our reporting from the time showed that, in total, around 4,500 public servants (core Public Service) were redeployed, through various mechanisms, on the Covid-19 effort.

  • During the initial phase through 2020, over 3,500 including:
    • 2,500 to MIQ
    • 100 to the Ministry of Health’s Response Unit
    • Up to 500 in contact centres for contact tracing
    • 600 in the original all-of-government team and Ops Centre
  • In 2021 the Mobility Hub alone redeployed over 750 public servants using its deployment approach.
    • Around 570 of these for additional contact tracing workforce

The Hub’s success is largely due to the network of Agency Workforce Leads that have been established across the system. Each agency has an Agency Workforce Lead who is the point of contact between their agency and the Hub.

Learning from that experience, we:

  • have developed a digital platform for capturing surge workforces
  • have developed information on temporary assignments and secondments, and are currently looking at overtime arrangements for staff-sharing in response to better enable inter-agency interoperability / staff sharing during responses
  • are participating in the NEMA-led Ru Whenua national exercise to test the functionality of the Hub to source people from the system to support an emergency response
  • are working with the Agency Workforce Leads to build connections between them and Emergency Management and Business Continuity staff across agencies leading to a shift from reactive to proactive identification
  • have identified the need to undertake and support system- and agency-level long-term workforce planning.

The Hub played an important role during the North Island Weather Event response working alongside NEMA.

During the 2023 weather response, our systems and processes for workforce deployment enabled us to facilitate around 90 people through Public Information Management training, which was identified early as a critical system need – both for the Public Service, and local government and regional emergency management. This was rapidly arranged and deployed training, delivered in collaboration with Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office, to support the initial weather response effort both on the ground in Northland, Auckland, and East Coast, as well as in Wellington.

We also facilitated a small number of Strategic Communications leads who were deployed to regions to replace or support local emergency management staff. We are now working with DPMC and the Public Service Communications Head of Profession, which is co-hosted by the Commission, to define strategic communications emergency management roles and requirements, and identifying a cohort of experienced public servants who can be called upon in future to fill short-term deployment needs.

Machinery of government arrangements supporting emergency management – Recommendations 2, 3, 5, 6

More recently, the Commission has been working with DPMC around machinery of government arrangements for an Emergency Management Bill. The previous Government introduced the Bill to replace the Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Act 2002.

The Bill is not a fundamental transformation of the emergency management system but would make some practical improvements to ensure the system can meet current and future needs. For example, in clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the key people and organisations within the emergency management system including the Director of Emergency Management, Controllers, Recovery Managers, government agencies, local authorities, Emergency Management Committees (currently Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Groups), emergency services and critical infrastructure entities (currently lifeline utilities).

The Commission’s input into the Bill has been around clarifying the role and responsibility of the chief executive of NEMA, who also holds the statutory role of Director of Emergency Management, and the Bill, if progressed will be led by DPMC and NEMA. The Bill is due to be considered by the Cabinet Legislative Committee shortly as part of the Government’s legislative programme.

Alternate National Crisis Management Centre – Recommendations 2, 3, 5

We are also engaged with NEMA on their work to establish a model for the Alternate National Crisis Managment Centre in Auckland. That work is primarily in two areas:

  1. System capability to build the response and recovery workforce. From a system perspective this relies mainly on our engagement through Heads of HR and the Mobility Hub to support deployment.
  2. Commission organisational arrangements to support a contingent workforce for our own functions to be deployed to the Auckland NCMC.

That work is ongoing.