The Swedish Agency for Public Management

More time for core activities (2016:19)

Statskontoret (The Swedish Agency for Public Management) was commissioned by the Government to analyse how government agen­cies can reduce, simplify or automate administrative procedures or the way information is submitted. The aim is to be able to free up time for their core activities.

In this report, we provide a number of suggestions for how the Government and the ag­en­cies can reduce the unnecessarily time-consuming administrative tasks and activities. This applies to both ongoing work with reigning in the expansion of administrative tasks and to special initiatives aimed at reducing and simplifying the constructive rules and processes for administrative procedures.

This commission presents one of seven parts from a larger Government commission issued to Statskontoret regarding state governance of the public sector.

A number of administrative tasks take too much time

A large portion of administrative tasks conducted by the agencies are necessary and a natural part of the organisations’ need to coordinate complex activities. Administration contributes to maintaining values such as law and order and to strengthening learning, results and development. However, when time demands are high in relation to the benefits of these tasks, they become “time thieves” to the agencies. They steal time from core activities, result in frustration amongst employees and make it difficult for managers to practise good leadership.

A time thief may appear when the benefits of administrative requirements are low. Perhaps the Government does not have much use for the information it requests, or the requirement does not result in the agency working in the way preferred by the Government. On the other hand, a time thief can also appear when costs become too high due to the agency being unable to manage the requirement efficiently or setting an unreasonably high level of ambition for its work.

Administration is a result of both internal and external requirements

All administration is in some way linked to different external requirements. Yet within several areas the agencies have great freedom to design their administrative tasks and processes. Subsequently it becomes difficult to ascertain what is externally or internally generated administration. Our report shows that public administration managers themselves consider the administration to be internally generated to a high degree. They also feel that requirements from the Government and other agencies create administration. For some agencies, requirements from the EU also generate extensive administration.

Strong leadership can counteract internally generated administration

Agency directors and lower-level management play important roles in establishing a reasonable level of ambition for administrative tasks, acting as gatekeepers to limit unnecessarily time-consuming administration. Additionally the agency management is responsible for constantly streamlining and developing the organisation through, for example, removing time thieves.

By adapting its steering the Government can make it easier for agency directors and lower-level management to engage in leadership that counteracts unnecessarily time-consuming administrative tasks and information submission. This primarily involves establishing clear assignments, being conscious of excessively detailed or short-term control measures and building a trusting relationship with the agency director.

Activity adapted requirements from the Government reduce administration

Overly detailed steering and measuring creates unnecessarily time-consuming administrative tasks for the agencies. Unclear cooperation requirements and cross-sector demands that are not adapted to the activities also create administration.

To free up time for core activities, Statskontoret proposes:

  • that the Government continues its work with adapting its steering to the operations of the agencies
  • that the Government Offices continue the training initiatives for their employees in order to increase the knowledge on how different tools can be used in a bid to further adapt steering to the agencies' operations

Simplification and digitalisation can reduce administration caused by report requirements

The work with agencies’ annual and interim reports creates administration.

To free up time for core activities, Statskontoret proposes:

  • that the Government instructs the Swedish National Financial Management Authority to develop systems that enable annual agency reports to be managed digitally in their entirety
  • that the Government communicates the purpose of the annual report to the agencies more clearly
  • that the National Financial Management Authority reviews its directives, guidelines and other material to clarify the purpose and scope of the performance information in the annual reports
  • that the Government instructs the National Financial Management Authority to review how the regulatory framework can be adjusted so that agencies are no longer required to submit a special interim report

The Government should be restrictive in steering  the agencies’ internal processes 

Government requirements on the agencies' internal processes create various forms of administration. In certain cases, these requirements are necessary so government services can uphold values such as law and order and the effective use of public funds. However there are certain requirements on internal processes where administrative costs become too high in relation to their benefit.

To free up time for core activities, Statskontoret proposes:

  • that the Government assesses the internal audit in the civil service
  • that the National Financial Management Authority submits its annual report to the Government regarding the internal audit in central government less frequently
  • that the Government repeals the Ordinance (2007:603) on Internal Management and Control.

Reign in certain requirements from other agencies

Our investigation shows that the extensive submission of information to other agencies creates administration. This includes answering questionnaires from other agencies and following directives from other agencies.

To free up time for core activities, Statskontoret proposes:

  • that the Government introduces a consultation requirement before collecting statistics from government agencies. Statskontoret has noticed that a number of agencies could be suitable for taking the responsibility for such a consultation process
  • that the Government appoints Statistics Sweden to analyse the need to develop existing statistics on the civil service
  • that the Government changes the instructions to the National Financial Management Authority so it does not need to be responsible for the establishment of financial administration values for each agency
  • that the Government instructs the National Financial Management Authority to provide a limited self-assessment instrument that the agencies can use to measure their financial administration standards
  • that the Government approves an addition to the Ordinance (2007:1244) on the Impact Analysis of Regulation when setting regulations so that Section 7 covers the agencies’ administrative burden

Many agencies consider that too much time is needed to manage the shared service in the civil service, which is carried out of the agency Statens servicecenter.

To free up time for core activities, Statskontoret proposes:

  • that the Government investigates Statens servicecenter,

The EU creates administration for a few agencies

For a small number of agencies, reporting to EU institutions is a great administrative burden.

To free up time for core activities, Statskontoret proposes:

  • that the Government Offices clarify in internal guidelines that administrative costs for agencies are to be considered in the work with developing new proposals within the EU. There should also be guidelines for how the responsible negotiator is to weigh the need for monitoring and reporting against consequences in the form of administration for the Member States' authorities
  • that the Government is restrictive with forming its own, deviating reporting requirements for those agencies that deal with extensive reporting to the EU.