Shrinking Bureaucracy in Japan

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Fri Jan 5 10:53:02 MST 2001

No good news comes from Japan....   Yoshie

*****   The New York Times
January 4, 2001, Thursday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section A; Page 3; Column 1; Foreign Desk
HEADLINE: Official Japan Does Musical Chairs, and Desks

...The Japanese government is in the throes of the biggest
reorganization in more than a century.  Over the last several weeks,
some 540,000 officials have been engaged in a giant game of musical
chairs as 23 ministries and agencies consolidate themselves into 13
on Jan. 6, part of a grand plan to streamline Japan's powerful
bureaucracy and, in the process, weaken its grip on Japanese life.

The 128 bureaus inside those ministries and agencies will be whittled
to 96, and the number of advisory bodies serving them to 89 from

Plans for the reorganization began four years ago, when Japan was
racked by a deepening economic recession and its financial system
teetered close to collapse.  The failure of Japan's vaunted economic
miracle exposed the shortcomings and high costs of leaving decisions
and regulation to career civil servants, who traditionally held the
upper hand in forming policy, with the politicians acting as a rubber

But with the economic crisis, the politicians led by then-Prime
Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, a driven advocate of conservative reform,
clamored to take hold of the reins of government themselves.

Whether the plan will fulfill its promise to wrest power from
officials and hand it over to politicians -- and more importantly,
whether the politicians will be any more adroit than the bureaucrats
at managing things -- remains to be seen.

The expertise of the bureaucratic ranks, coupled with the relative
weakness of Japanese politicians, all but ensures that the
bureaucrats will continue to dominate policy-making.  Already critics
charge that the Financial Services Agency, supposedly an independent
watchdog, is staffed with so many former officials from the Ministry
of Finance that it is little more than a colony of the ministry that
formerly had its job.

Still, it is early for judgments.  For now, the exercise is a purely
logistical one involving moving companies, box makers, printers and
the like in a massive shakeup that is expected to cost Japanese
taxpayers at least 33.2 billion yen, or $287 million....

Ms. Iki's Women's Bureau is merging with the Children's and Families
Bureau of the Health and Welfare Ministry when the ministry merges
with the Labor Ministry to become the Ministry of Health, Labor and
Welfare.  The new bureau, to be called the Equal Employment, Children
and Families Bureau, will start out split between the 5th and the
18th floors until April, when the entire bureau will move to the 13th
floor.  "Right now, the chaos is at its peak," Ms. Iki said last
Friday.  "We don't know whose working where."

There will be one very obvious change in Ms. Iki's bureau: "The
Women's Bureau has very few men, and the Children's and Families
Bureau has very few women, so we'll be working with a lot more men
than before," she said.

The merger of the two bureaus is supposed to bring about cost savings
by eliminating redundant work, so far the budget for the single, new
bureau has actually risen.  "Put simply, that's so," Ms. Iki said.
"But it's more complicated than that."

She explained that the overall budget had increased because of the
introduction of new policies, like a system of payments to encourage
Japanese families to have more children.  "If you look at it line by
line, though, some items have been cut from several million yen to

As for redundant jobs, the government intends to cut 135,000 public
employees -- 25 percent of the total -- over the next decade, largely
through attrition.  Some of those will retire, but officials hope
that many will be absorbed into the private sector.

The Equal Employment, Children and Families Bureau will have four
fewer posts than the combined number of jobs in the two bureaus that
merged to create it, Ms. Iki said.

In fact, Ms. Iki herself fell victim to her own reform efforts.  "I'm
going to be reassigned to the Employment Security Bureau because my
post will be erased through this reorganization," she said....   *****

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