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Automated selection, faulty APS set


There has been a surge in applications for APS promotion reviews and a number of decisions involving the use of artificial intelligence and automated technology have been overturned.

APS Merit Commissioner Linda Waugh

The conclusions are contained in annual report of the APS Merit Commissioner, published on Tuesday.

The MPC was established in 1999 to ensure that APS has fair employment and promotion systems and that public servants are not victims of wrongful or unfair actions or decisions.

The annual report shows that there were 866 applications for a review of a promotion decision, a 50 per cent increase on 2020-2021. This was fueled by a botched recruitment campaign that Service Australia outsourced to a staffing company, resulting in 11 decisions being overturned.

The top three agencies for the number of promotion review requests are Australia Services (354), ATO (335), Home Affairs (113) and ABS (26).

The 130 requests for review of workplace decisions are down 24 per cent, which the MPC attributes to employees having other priorities in the two years of Covid.

The top three agencies for workplace adjudication applications were the Australian Service (45), Home Affairs (12) and the ATO (12).

A total of 996 applications were reviewed by the GDC.

“Unintended problems” with AI

The report found “unintended problems” with artificial intelligence and automated selection technologies used in large-scale recruitment for leadership roles in the Australia Service, Ms Waugh said.

The report shows how the Australian Service advertised a number of APS Level 5 and 6 roles in December 2020, receiving around 18,000 applications. At the end of 2021, 747 APS employees were promoted.

The MPC subsequently received 279 applications for review and rejected 11.

The selection process did not always achieve the main objective, which was simply to identify and select the most deserving candidates for the advertised roles.

Merit Protection Commission

An investigation by the MPC found that the recruitment process, which was handled by an external firm, used automated selection techniques using artificial intelligence, as well as psychometric testing, questionnaires and recorded video responses. There was no selection panel.

“The increased number of cancellations indicates that the selection process did not always achieve its primary objective, which, simply put, was to identify and select the most qualified candidates for the advertised roles,” the report said.

Ms. Waugh said that while APS agencies are trying to implement innovative hiring practices, they also need to understand the risks involved.

“As a result, MPC sponsored an APS graduate project to develop guidance for APS agencies on the use of merit-based AI and automated technology choice assessment tools.”

Positive impact

Ms Waugh said the report’s findings showed the MPC was having a positive impact on the Australian public service and making it a fair and valuable system.

The report said MPC also increased engagement, provided training and information for staff and agencies, and provided recruitment and placement services.

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