This article uses the education sector to explore the ability of successive Commonwealth governments to more directly intervene and engage in areas traditionally the responsibility of state and territory jurisdictions. The APS continues to battle against a lack of street-level knowledge to help structure delivery, including effective feedback and sense-making mechanisms. While the overall thrust of policy intent might be achievable and even laudable, the potential for success is undermined by structural imbalances, suspicion and information and power asymmetry. BER exemplifies a growing problem in the capacity of the APS to act as a system manager, able to strategically conceptualise and leverage actors, resources and processes to achieve political outcomes. APS capacity to deliver Commonwealth policy intent reliant on inter-jurisdictional delivery remains a dilemma for advisory capacity and confounds the interventionist ambitions of Commonwealth ministers and exposes them to serious criticisms about their administrative competence.