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Audit Act - Auditor-General - Reports - Audit reports 1989-90 - No. 10 - Office of Supervising Scientist for Alligator Rivers Region: Research project administration


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The A uditor - G eneral Audit Report No 10 1989-90

Office of the Supervising Scientist for the Alligator Rivers Region

- Research Project Administration

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T h e A u d ito r-G e n e ra l

A u d it R e p o r t No 10

1 9 8 9 -9 0

Office of the S u p e r v is in g S c i e n t i s t for the A llig a to r R iv e rs R e g io n

- Research Project A d m in is tr a tio n

A u srtralia n G overnm ent P ublishing Service, C an b erra

© Com m onw ealth of A ustralia 1989

ISSN 1033-968 X

ISBN 0 644 10543 7

T h is w o rk is copyright. A p a rt fro m an y u s e a s p e rm itte d u n d e r th e

C o p y rig h t A c t 1968, n o p a r t m a y b e r e p r o d u c e d b y a n y p r o c e s s

w ith o u t w ritte n p erm issio n from th e D irecto r P u b lish in g a n d M a rk e t­

ing. AGPS. In q u iries s h o u ld b e d ire c te d to th e M anager, GPO Box 84,

AGPS P re ss, C a n b e rra , ACT 2601

THE F IL A M E N T OF THE COMMC IV'EALTH OF AUSTRALIA PARLIAMENTARY PAPER

No. 1 8 3 OF 1989

Ordered to be printed by authority ISSN 0727-4181

Printed in Australia by R. D. R u b ie , Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra

AUSTRALIAN AUDIT OFFICE

A u stra lia n A udit Office C anberra, ACT 6 S eptem ber 1989

Dear Mr P resident ' Dear M adam S peaker

In accordance w ith th e au th o rity co n tain ed in th e A u d it Act ' 1901, I tra n sm it to th e P arliam ent a Report, signed on 6 S ep­ te m b e r 19 8 9 , on a u d i ts , e x a m in a tio n s a n d in s p e c tio n s

carried out u n d e r th e provisions of th e A udit Act.

The H onourable th e P resid en t of th e S enate, The H onourable th e S peaker of th e H ouse of R epresentatives,

Parliam ent House, C anberra, ACT

Yours sincerely.

J . C. Taylor A uditor-G eneral

CONTENTS

Page

1. In tro d u ctio n 1

2. A dm inistration of re se a rc h projects 2

3. O th er m a tte rs 7

4. A udit conclusions 8

A ppendix 9

K e y F in d i n g s

• OSS sh o u ld form alise th e developm ent an d approval p ro c e s s e s fo r in t e r n a l r e s e a rc h p ro je c ts a n d is s u e

guidelines for th e u s e of staff

• policy should be developed for m onitoring the progress of research projects

• m ore p rom pt p u b licatio n of rep o rts on th e re s u lts of

research w ould en h an ce the credibility of the research u n d e rta k e n by OSS an d action should be ta k e n by OSS to reduce delays in th e publication process

1. Introduction 1.1 The s ta tu to iy Office of the S upervising S cientist for th e A lligator R ivers Region w as e sta b lish e d u n d e r the Environm ent Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978. This Act also estab lish ed th e A lligator Rivers Region Re­

search In stitu te an d th e C o-ordinating Comm ittee for the A lligator Rivers Region. The Supervising Scientist and staff, including th e Alligator Rivers Region Research In ­ stitu te w hich is m anaged by the Supervising Scientist,

are collectively referred to a s the Office of the S upervis­ ing S cientist (OSS).

1.2 The S upervising S cientist h a s supervisory, co-or­ d in a tio n a n d r e s e a rc h ro le s in th e p ro te c tio n of th e

environm ent of th e Alligator Rivers Region from the ef­ fe c ts o f u r a n iu m m in in g o p e r a tio n s a n d , follow ing

a m e n d m e n t to th e E n v iro n m e n t P ro te c tio n (A lligator Rivers Region) A ct in 1987, su p erv iso ry an d research roles in relation to th e protection of the environm ent of

the Region from th e effects of general m ining operations in a conservation zone w hich h a s b een declared w ithin th e Region. T he C o -o rd in atin g C om m ittee for the Al­ lig a to r R ivers R egion h a s g e n e ra l c o n s id e ra tio n an d

review fu n c tio n s in relatio n to u ra n iu m m ining o p era­ t i o n s in th e A llig a to r R iv e rs R e g io n a n d m a k e s

re c o m m e n d a tio n s to th e S u p e rv is in g S c ie n tis t w ith

re s p e c t to r e s e a r c h , a n d c o lle c tio n a n d a s s e s s m e n t

program s.

1.3 The various functions of the Supervising Scientist, th e A lligator Rivers Region R esearch In stitu te and the C o-ordinating Com m ittee for th e Alligator Rivers Region are set out in sections 5, 24 an d 17 respectively of the

Environm ent Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978.

1.4 An audit of th e Office of the Supervising Scientist for th e A lligator R ivers Region w as c o n d u cted d u rin g early 1989 a t th e Office’s J a b iru an d Sydney locations.

1.5 The objectives of th e au d it were to:

• e v a l u a te t h e a d m i n i s t r a t i v e p r o c e d u r e s fo r th e

s e le c tio n , c o n t r o l a n d m a n a g e m e n t of r e s e a r c h

projects, and

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• a s c e r t a i n if s a t i s f a c t o r y r e m e d ia l a c t i o n was

u n d e r ta k e n in re s p e c t of fin d in g s a ris in g from the

previous au d it w hich w as u n d erta k en d u rin g 1987 in th e a r e a s of a s s e ts , p e rs o n n e l a n d a d m in is tra tiv e

procedures.

1.6 The scope of th e a u d it did n o t extend to a n ex­

am in atio n of th e su b ject m a tte r of individual research projects or th e relevance of individual re se a rc h projects to th e achievem ent of th e objectives of th e research pro- . gram or research sub-program s.

2. Administration of research projects

Background

2.1 In 1978 th e S upervising S cientist im plem ented a '

research program b ased on the recom m endations of the R anger U ranium E nvironm ental Inquiry an d advice given by a ‘group of experts’ w hich w as reviewed by som e 60 specialist scien tists at a m ajor w orkshop held in August

1978. The research program w as fu rth e r reviewed and en d o rsed by a w orking p a rty set up by th e A ustralian

Science an d Technology Council in 1982. The research sub-program s w hich com prise th e c u rre n t research pro­ g r a m a r e , w ith t h e e x c e p tio n o f g e o m o rp h o lo g y , ]'

essentially those w hich w ere defined and detailed in that planning and review process. ^

2.2 The In stitu te u n d e rta k e s research su b -p ro g ram s in the area s of aquatic biology, environm ental radioactivity, , e n v iro n m e n ta l m o d e llin g , e n v iro n m e n ta l c h e m is try , p la n t ecology and geomorphology. E ach research s u b ­ program h a s its own specific objectives w hich have been · f o r m u la te d a n d a g re e d b y a r e s e a r c h m a n a g e m e n t

group, u su ally c o n sistin g of th e S upervising Scientist, th e D irector an d A ssistan t D irector of th e In stitu te and th e relevant research scientist.

2.3 The in tern al research capability of the In stitu te is

su p p lem en ted by u se of c o n s u lta n ts an d collaborative re s e a rc h p ro je c ts w ith o rg a n is a tio n s s u c h a s R anger

U ran iu m M ines Pty Ltd, th e C om m onw ealth Scientific a n d I n d u s tr ia l R e s e a rc h O rg a n is a tio n (CSIRO), th e A u stralian N uclear Science and Technology O rganisation (ANSTO) an d various te rtiary education in stitu tio n s.

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2.4 The In s titu te ’s research su b -p ro g ram s are m ade up of in d i v id u a l r e s e a r c h p r o je c ts . S u g g e s tio n s for

proposed re s e a rc h p ro jects are provided by the C o-or­ d in a tin g C o m m itte e fo r th e A llig a to r R iv ers R egion, R anger U ranium M ines Pty Ltd. th e N orthern Territory G overnm ent, th e A u stralian N ational P arks and Wildlife

Service and staff of th e Institute.

2.5 The D irector of th e In stitu te h a s responsibility for th e a sse ssm e n t of proposed research projects, approval of r e s e a r c h p r o je c ts fo r in c lu s io n in re s e a r c h s u b ­

program s an d determ in atio n of priorities for funding of new research projects.

Development and approval of research projects 2.6 D uring AAO review of research projects u n d erta k en by th e In stitu te, in sta n c e s were noted w here it w as not p o ssib le to verify s a tis fa c to rily th e s u b m is s io n , c o n ­

sid eratio n an d , w here applicable, approval of research projects b ecau se of inadequacies in th e form al docum en­ ta tio n of th ese projects.

2.7 A lthough th e Supervising S cientist is advised orally of new re s e a rc h p ro je c ts d u rin g h is v is its to th e In ­

s t i t u t e , th e AAO c o n s id e r e d t h a t g iv e n h is o v erall

resp o n sib ilities for th e research program he should be form ally advised of all new research projects.

2.8 The AAO reco m m en d ed th a t OSS form alise the

d ev elo p m en t a n d ap p ro v a l p ro c e s s e s for in te rn a l re ­ search projects an d issu e guidelines an d p rocedures for th e u s e of staff. T hese g u id elin es sh o u ld ad d ress the

need for adequate docum entation of decisions m ade in re la tio n to th e s ta tu s of re s e a rc h p ro jects. The co n ­

sid e ra tio n of th e m e rits of v a rio u s p roposed research projects should also be adequately docum ented.

2.9 The AAO c o n sid e re d th a t d o c u m e n ta tio n of the

developm ent an d approval of in tern al research projects should include th e following:

• a n outline of th e research proposed, including details of objectives, tim ing, staffing and expenditure required

• d e ta ils of th e c o n s id e ra tio n a n d e v a lu a tio n of th e

p r o p o s e d r e s e a r c h p ro je c t b y th e D ire c to r of th e

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I n s titu te , in c lu d in g a n a s s e s s m e n t of th e p ro je c t’s

re le v a n c e to th e sp ecific ob jectiv es of th e re s e a rc h su b-program and co n su ltatio n s w ith staff

• fo rm a l a p p ro v a l of th e r e s e a r c h p ro je c t in c lu d in g

o b je c tiv e s, s ta ffin g , e x p e n d itu re a n d tim in g of th e project. Any v ariatio n s to th e original approval should also be adequately docum ented and approved

• th e priority allocated to each approved re se a rc h project, and

• w r itte n n o tific a tio n of th e a p p ro v e d n ew r e s e a rc h

project should be prom ptly provided to th e Supervising S cientist.

2.10 OSS advised th a t it considers th a t docum enting

all decisions relevant to th e approval of research projects can becom e too b u re a u c ra tic and tim e-consum ing with no real gain in accountability. OSS co n sid ers th a t the process im plicit in AAO recom m endations w as being fol­ lowed and, in m ost cases, docum ented an d it undertook to introduce a system of docum entation along th e lines outlined by the AAO.

Engagement of consultants for research projects 2.11 It w as noted th a t no register of c o n su lta n ts w as

m a in ta in e d to d o c u m e n t th e o r g a n is a tio n s a n d in ­

d iv id u a ls w ho h a v e e x p e r tis e in a r e a s o f r e s e a r c h

relevant to th e functions and objectives of th e OSS.

2.12 OSS advised th a t it established a com prehensive register of c o n su lta n ts several years ago, how ever it had not been up d ated on a regular b asis. In m ost fields of

re s e a rc h in w hich OSS h a s engaged c o n s u lta n ts , th e

n u m b e r of s c ie n tists in A u stralia th a t are qualified to

c a rry o u t th e re s e a r c h is v ery lim ite d a n d th e y are

know n to th e Supervising Scientist, the D irector and to In stitu te staff th ro u g h publication in scientific literatu re an d p resen ta tio n s a t conferences and sem inars. In th is way, th e organisations an d individuals who have exper­ tise in area s of research relevant to OSS functions and o b je ctiv e s a re review ed a n d c o n s id e re d in th e early

stages of a proposal for a consultancy.

2.13 W hen a re a s of re se a rc h are involved for w hich

OSS does not have a good aw areness of th e field of ex­ p erts, it h ad been th e practice in th e p a s t to approach a

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know n au th o rity in th a t area to o b tain a list of scien tists or o rg a n isa tio n s w ith th e n e c e ssa ry expertise to carry o u t th e proposed work.

2.14 OSS u n d erto o k to revise th e c u rre n t consultancy proposal form to provide for a m ore detailed ju stificatio n of th e n o m in a te d c o n s u lta n t a n d d eta ils of any o th er

c o n su lta n ts who w ere considered.

Monitoring progress o f research projects 2.15 There are m an y m ech an ism s available to OSS for u se in ascertain in g if a research project is progressing satisfactorily. T hese m ech an ism s include:

• review by th e C o-ordinating Com m ittee for the Alligator Rivers Region

• a n n u a l research sum m aries

• research project reviews

• sem in ars on th e re s u lts of research projects

• senior staff m eetings a t th e In stitu te

• p a p e r s p r e s e n te d to c o n fe re n c e s a n d p u b lis h e d in

scientific publications, and

• p r o g r e s s r e p o r t s fo r r e s e a r c h w h ic h in v o lv e s

co n su ltan ts.

2.16 The AAO noted th a t there w as a lack of evidence

a v a ila b le a t th e tim e of a u d i t t h a t so m e of th e s e

m e c h a n is m s w ere b ein g effectively u s e d by OSS for

m onitoring th e progress of research projects.

2.17 OSS advised th a t it does n o t consider it helpful, or a n effective u s e of re s o u rc e s , to p u rs u e all th e cited

m echanism s routinely in parallel, b u t it selectively u ses th o s e c o n sid e re d m o s t effective in th e p a rtic u la r c ir­

cum stances.

2.18 A lthough th e AAO observed a n im provem ent in th e m onitoring of th e progress of research projects which involve c o n s u lta n ts d u rin g th e la s t twelve m o n th s, it

c o n sid e rs th a t a policy on th e m o n ito rin g of p ro g ress

should be developed. To ensure th a t th is policy is im ple­ m e n te d c o n s is te n tly a n d effectively g u id e lin es sh o u ld also be developed for the use of staff involved in m onitor­

ing progress of th e key elem ents of th e approved project.

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2.19 OSS advised th a t th e In stitu te is in tro d u cin g a

new series of in tern al rep o rts w hich will be u se d by In­ s titu te scie n tists to rep o rt on p ro g ress of each project

every six m onths. This reporting m ethod will enable the D irector to a ssess m ore readily th e p ro g ress of a project in relation to th e approved schedule. I Reporting on the results of research undertaken

2 .2 0 P ublicly available re p o rts on th e re s u lts of re­

search u n d erta k en by OSS include th e A n n u al Research S um m ary, th e OSS A n n u al R eport, R esearc h Reports, Technical M em orandum s and Open File R ecords. In ad­ d itio n to th e s e r e p o rts , th e r e s u lt s of r e s e a r c h and

in v e s tig a tio n s a re p u b lic ly a v ailab le, in a b b re v ia te d form, in scientific jo u rn a ls and thro u g h p re se n ta tio n s at ; conferences.

2.21 The AAO observed some in sta n ces of long delays b e tw e e n th e c o m p le tio n of r e s e a r c h a n d , w h e re a

decision to publish th e re su lts w as m ade, p ublication of re s u lts. The AAO considered th a t p ro m p t p ublication w ould e n h a n c e th e c red ib ility of th e re s e a rc h u n d e r­ ta k e n by OSS and th a t action should be ta k e n by OSS to reduce delays in th e publication process.

2.22 OSS advised th a t responsibility to rep o rt in any

form o th er th a n in a n a n n u a l report to P arliam ent is not included in th e Act. The p u rp o se of OSS a n d the re ­

search it u n d erta k es is to protect the environm ent from the effects of m ining. The Supervising S cientist en su res th a t th e research inform ation n ecessary to achieve th a t

ob jectiv e is a c q u ire d a n d m a d e a v a ila b le for u s e by »

reg u la to rs an d decision m akers. This does not neces­ sarily require form al publication of th e resu lts.

2.23 N otw ithstanding th e above, the S upervising Scien­ tis t believes th a t p u b licatio n of research re s u lts is an

integral p a rt of th e research process and h a s chosen to publish research resu lts. In th is way th e w ork is subject to peer review and th e inform ation is m ade available to o th e r bodies, n o t n ece ssarily rela ted to m ining in the

Region.

2.24 Some of the delays in the p ublication process are o utside th e control of OSS, e.g., ex tern al refereeing of

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p u b lic a tio n s . O ne c a u s e of d elay in th e p u b lic a tio n

process is th e poor quality of m a n u sc rip ts subm itted by s c ie n tis ts . T he OSS h a s in itia te d a program to tra in

scien tists in b e tte r scientific rep o rt w riting. The OSS a c ­ ce p ts th a t d elay s in p u b lic a tio n sh o u ld be m inim ised

an d h a s attem pted, and is continuing to try, to speed up th e publication of m aterial in th e refereed literature.

Other matters 3.1 The au d it also exam ined a re a s covered during the previous au d it, u n d e rta k e n in 1987, in order to ascer­ ta in if satisfactory rem edial action h a d been u n d erta k en in respect of th e iss u e s arising from th a t audit.

3.2 The m a tte rs arising from the au d it review included:

• problem s w ith th e conversion of d a ta to a com puterised a sse t register an d su b se q u en t in p u t of d ata

• delays in finalising stocktakes

• la c k of p ro c e d u ra l in s tru c tio n s , d e le g a tio n s, a n d a

co m p re h en siv e in d e m n ity ag ree m en t for th e lo an of Com m onw ealth a s s e ts to other p arties

• p ro b le m s w ith th e p e rso n a l is s u e of a s s e ts an d the

disposal of a sse ts

• la ck of records on th e re s u lts of inspections of fu rn itu re w hen officers vacate residences

• problem s w ith th e control over keys, m otor vehicles, advances and accountable form s, and

• a n u m b e r of m a tte rs regarding atten d an c e records.

• 3.3 OSS h a s advised of rem edial action in respect of t h e s e m a t t e r s w h ic h a d e q u a te l y a d d r e s s e s th e

problem s raised by th e AAO.

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4. Audit conclusions 4.1 The AAO considers th a t th e overall ap p ro ac h to the m anagem ent of research projects sh o u ld be docum ented, approved by th e S upervising S cientist a n d dissem inated to all s ta f f involved in th e m a n a g e m e n t of re s e a rc h

projects. A lthough OSS h a s only a sm all n u m b e r of staff and it is possible for inform al inform ation m echanism s to operate reasonably effectively, m ore a tte n tio n should b e p a id to e n s u r in g t h a t d o c u m e n ta tio n re c o rd in g

decisions m ade regarding the various re se a rc h projects is readily available. >

6 S eptem ber 1989 C anberra, ACT

J.C . Taylor A uditor-G eneral

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APPENDIX: The title s listed below are th o se p u blished in th e F inancial Year 1989-90 an d ap p ear in series order:

A udit R eport No. 1 D epartm ent of Defence - O verseas P rocurem ent

A udit R eport No. 2 D epartm ent of V eterans’ Affairs

A udit R eport No. 3 In dustry, Technology and Com m erce Portfolio

A udit Report No. 4 D ep artm en t of Em ploym ent, E d u catio n and T raining - A boriginal S tu d e n t A ssistance Schem es

A udit R eport No. 5 D epartm ent of Em ploym ent, E ducation and T raining - J o b s ta rt

A udit R eport No. 6 D ep artm en t of Em ploym ent, E ducation an d T raining - Post g rad u ate aw ards

A udit Report No. 7 D epartm ent of Em ploym ent, E ducation an d T raining - C om m onw ealth R ebate for A pprentice Full Tim e Training

A udit R eport No. 8 D epartm ent of A rts, Sport, th e E nvironm ent, Tourism and T erritories - ACT A dm inistration

A udit Report No. 9 D epartm ent of Defence - P o st-sep aratio n Em ploym ent

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