The federal government will create a pilot “free range” workforce that can be quickly mobilised between agencies to meet urgent resourcing demands.

The Australian Public Service Commission quietly revealed “Operation Free Range” on September 30, which it described as a “mobility program designed to enable the quick deployment of pre-vetted employees to priority areas in 2017.”

It is anticipated that the secondments will “fill critical skills gaps” that emerge in participating agencies, as well as enable agencies to use labour more “flexibly … based on “business and development needs”.

The Commission also wants the scheme to assist in the upskilling of federal employees.

“Secondments develop skills and capability, provide new perspectives, build resilience and offer personal and professional growth that can enhance career opportunities,” it said.

“Research tells us that people who have been exposed to different types of experiences are more likely to perform better in complex environments. This makes the argument for immersive development opportunities.”

Presently, employee mobility between federal agencies is “highly variable”.

“In the last five years, only 2.4 percent of ongoing APS employees moved between agencies and only 40 percent of executive level employees reported having worked in more than one agency,” the Commission said.

Gov 2.0 advocate and blogger Craig Thomler welcomed the employee mobility drive and said it was “long overdue”.

“Until now the hierarchies of the public sector have been designed against such free-roaming talent, able to converge as 'strike teams' to assist agencies when they need it, and move on to other assignments when the need wanes,” Thomler said in a blog post.

“There's still the strong (almost feudal) hierarchies in place, but it seems that the innovation agenda, combined with diminishing resources and an increasing need for specialists, are helping to wear away the resistance to the recognition that it's all one federal public service.”

Thomler said he hoped the scheme would find wide support, though he noted there were several challenges that would need to be resolved before it could be implemented.

These include working out when “free range” staff start or finish work in an agency and can be moved on, and finding people that are well-suited to the pilot in the first instance.

“The Commission must find public servants with the right psychology and mindset to move around, without having a 'fixed abode' or a hierarchy to protect their position and career progression,” Thomler added.