The outgoing government CIO John Suffolk has suggested that the top 200 posts in the civil service are put to open competition.
Suffolk's comments appear to reflect his frustration at the resistance of top civil servants to radical changes promised by the coalition to reduce public spending by £81bn.
Some say that Suffolk and his minister in the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, are having their plans for pervasive changes undermined by those who oppose radical reform. Executives at some of the major IT suppliers have their advocates within government who are advising against too much reform too quickly.
Suffolk suggests that those at the top of the civil service should be innate reformers and innovators rather than those who advocate the safety and comfort of the "old ways". Top appointments are made without a clear, transparent process, he said.
He is due to leave his job by March 2011. He told Civil Service Live that the civil service's track record of delivering transformational change "has not been as good as many of us would like".
The coalition's policies give an opportunity to the civil service to reinvent itself, he said.
"Much of the civil service is built for comfort and carefulness, not speed, efficiency and effectiveness. The civil service has a once in a generation opportunity to step back and ask: What do we need to look like? How do we need to operate? What culture do we need to drive accountability, efficiency, effectiveness?"
He was frustrated at the slow pace of reform. "I am disheartened that we seem to be continuing with the ‘old ways must be the best ways’ mentality, and that one of the core values of open competition now seems to be being swept aside in favour of appointing people without a clear transparent process that would be the envy of many private sector organisations.
"We should be asking the truly transformational questions about the structure of the civil service, lift our heads and focus on the bigger picture..." That bigger picture shows the need to save £81bn and yet find extra funding. The NHS alone may increase its costs by half by 2020 he said.
Reform needs to go at a faster pace.
"If I may be provocative, one wonders if a starting point would be to run an open competition for all the top 200 roles. It is what you’d do in many mergers and corporate re-structurings: ensure that the very best people with the skills for the next period, not the last, hold the positions to drive through change."
Interview with John Suffolk - Civil Service Live