It is essential to strengthen the government’s policy-implementing capabilities by slimming down its organization and strategically reallocating its employees.
The government has adopted a new policy at a Cabinet meeting on the organization of national government employees and the management of fixed numbers of personnel.
The policy calls for reallocating or reducing at least 10 percent of around 300,000 employees in general administrative work, excluding the members of the Self-Defense Forces, over a five-year period starting in fiscal 2015. The target figure is the same as that set for fiscal 2010 to 2014.
The Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs, which was established in May, has set target numbers for reallocating and reducing personnel for all government ministries and agencies. Based on these targets, personnel will be reallocated to increase the number of officials at offices suffering from manpower shortages, including the Disaster Reconstruction Agency, the Japan Coast Guard, customs and immigration offices and quarantine stations.
Reconstruction from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami disaster has not met the expectations of people affected. The Japan Coast Guard has had difficulty in deploying personnel to protect Japan from such threats as repeated intrusions of Chinese government vessels into the Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands.
It is reasonable to reallocate personnel flexibly by reducing the number of officials at government agencies with diminished administrative importance and increasing personnel for those with greater need.
Conventionally, the government relocates or reduces personnel mainly in local branches of the central government offices. In the fiscal 2007-10 period, the government ignored the boundaries of bureaucratic sectionalism by transferring a great number of officials in charge of statistics and food management at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry to offices dealing with prisons and regional taxation bureaus.
Target hard to attain
Given the current progress in reallocating and reducing the number of government officials, attaining the goal of “10 percent in five years” appears to be increasingly difficult.
For this reason, the government has come up with a policy of having individual government ministries and agencies reexamine their clerical work requirements at their own initiative to promote abolition and consolidation of offices and transfer clerical work to local governments and the private sector. To encourage ministries and agencies to streamline their work, the government makes it clear they would be able to transfer superfluous officials to other sections of their own offices.
Nevertheless, the government offices’ streamlining efforts have been strongly criticized as being halfhearted compared with those made by the private sector.
The Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs wants to realize efficient personnel cuts by utilizing information and communication technology. In cooperation with the Administrative Management Bureau of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, it is indispensable to strictly examine the streamlining programs of individual government ministries and agencies.
Since fiscal 2006, the government has achieved a net personnel reduction of 1,000 to 2,000 annually, excluding personnel transferred to independent administrative institutions. Such efforts must be continued.
The Democratic Party of Japan-led government cut back on the hiring of national government employees by 30 percent to 40 percent in fiscal 2011-12 in line with the party’s campaign pledge for the 2009 general election to reduce “overall personnel costs by 20 percent.” That administration decided to reduce the hiring of new recruits by more than 50 percent in fiscal 2013, a target that faced a barrage of public criticism.
Extreme restraint on hiring, which is aimed at winning favor with the public, would not only distort the personnel composition of ministries and agencies but also narrow the door of opportunity for new university graduates facing difficulty in finding jobs and lead to talented people showing no interest in becoming government employees.
Recruitment of public servants must be promoted strategically from a mid- and long-term perspective.