Copyright GLOBIS

Bureaucrat bashing has been going on for some time, but most of the attention has been focused on the amakudari (“descent from heaven” – an institutionalized practice where senior bureaucrats retire to high-profile positions in the private and public sectors) issue. The actual situation with government officials has been ignored. Even if people shout from the rooftops about how bad the bureaucrats are, the essential problem remains unresolved. Kasumigaseki is filled with high-caliber, unselfish, government officials who are working for the benefit of the nation. To ensure that the capabilities of these top-flight bureaucrats can be fully put to use for national administration, we will propose specific reforms relating to recruitment, assignment, evaluation, compensation, human resources development, lifestyles, and second careers.

1. Recruitment/assignment: hire career-track employees in mid-career and through open recruitment. Assign managers to the Cabinet Office (government headquarters)

Regarding the personnel system for public servants, steps have been taken to promote exceptional non-career-track employees to career-track posts, to hire career-track employees in the middle of their careers, and so on, but the fact is that it is internal career-track employees who hold all the power over the making of such promotion/hiring decisions. To transform this into a system based on ability, we would like to propose that each year 1-3% of all posts at the Kasumigaseki headquarters of ministries and agencies should be open to mid-career professionals and subject to open recruitment. In other words, a full-fledged open-recruitment system that would bring in human resources from outside the government should be introduced.

Another big problem with the system for national public servants is the unwritten rule of “putting the interests of one’s ministry before those of the nation.” This rule exists because bureaucrats are hired by and members of ministries, so their direct employer is their ministry rather than the national government. Therefore, how about switching to a personnel system where all managers, i.e. employees at or above section chief level at the headquarters of ministries and agencies in Kasumigaseki, are transferred to the Cabinet Office, and as employees of the Government of Japan, which would act as a holding company, they would then be dispatched to ministries and agencies. Leadership from the prime minister’s office concerning the allocation of personnel would also be further promoted, such that bureaucrats who began their careers at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, for example, could become managers at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Finance. Appointing people from other ministries and agencies as vice-ministers would probably have the biggest impact.

2. Evaluation/compensation: Stop commending people who secure budgets and obtain authority, and introduce a performance-based pay structure

In Kasumigaseki, the people who earn high marks are not the ones who deliver the maximum policy impact on limited budgets, but rather those who secure budgets in the tens and hundreds of billions of yen and then have no trouble using them up. To eradicate the custom of rewarding success in “increasing the budget and authority of one’s own ministry,” it will be necessary to prepare clear, evidence-based indicators and make the total switch to a personnel evaluation system based on policy performance. In addition, make Kasumigaseki a leader in scrapping overtime pay in favor of white-collar exemptions, and introduce an annual-salary system to make the pay structure performance based.

3. Human resources development: Introduce rigorous human resources development programs and promote exchanges with the private sector

It is necessary to thoroughly develop the capabilities of the personnel who will become the Kasumigaseki managers in charge of national administration. As a requirement for advancing to management posts, i.e. section-chief level or higher, at the headquarters of ministries and agencies in Kasumigaseki, bureaucrats should have to study overseas for two years and should have more interactions with the private sector in order to develop them as human resources. At the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, career-track bureaucrats are sometimes dispatched to public junior high schools to serve as principals under a personnel exchange program. Managerial candidates should be developed as human resources by dispatching them to external organizations. These should include not only private-sector corporations, but also the nonprofit sector (schools, hospitals, nursing-care facilities, NPOs, etc.).

Long hours of overtime stretching well into the night and even the early hours of the morning, which are the norm in Kasumigaseki, also need to be uprooted. The main reason for the long hours of overtime in Kasumigaseki is “preparation for parliament,” i.e. the task of preparing responses that the minister will give in parliament the next day, but this can be addressed through rules. Provided that security can be assured, allowing bureaucrats to work remotely at home would probably also be effective.

4. Second careers: Improve the amakudari system and introduce revolving doors

Under the amakudari system, bureaucrats receive the “tap on the shoulder” (a Japanese euphemism for being singled out for early retirement) in their 50s, but to make up for this, they spend their post-retirement age years in posts in various foundations, semigovernmental corporations, and related industries. But because of this, precious tax money is wasted, which is unforgivable. Having said that, we are not condemning the practice of amakudari itself. There are a lot of top-flight personnel who were originally bureaucrats but are now doing well in the business world. Amakudari should be seen in a positive light, and high-caliber bureaucrats should take full advantage of their second careers.

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