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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 11:48 04/11/2008
April 11, 2008

Cautions on New Unified Government Agencies

Hideo FUKUI (Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies)

Recently there have been some proposals for creation and unification of government organizations, such as a new consumer agency and a unified government personnel agency. The question is how to evaluate such a proposal to see whether it should be approved and how it might be modified if necessary.

A key point about evaluation of new administrative agencies is to see what objectives and roles are being asked for and what kind of organization is most efficient and effective in performing appropriate roles to achieve final objectives, where efforts should be made to reduce administrative cost and possibility of errors as much as possible. Here, we must keep in mind that objectives determine methods and organizations necessary to achieve them and, therefore, appropriateness of methods and organizations should be judged according to their final objectives.

Rigidly vertical administrative organization such as the current system of ministries in the Japanese government tends to create administrative conflicts and duplications as well as legal loopholes, possibly resulting in confusion and lack of responsibility in government. In this sense, it might be meaningful to think of a new organization such as a new consumer agency or a unified personnel agency for the purpose of clarifying government responsibility.

However, the current discussion concerning new unified government agencies seems to be focusing too much on the formal aspect of organization, rather than its substance. It should be reminded that organizational reform is merely a means to achieve policy objectives. Therefore, we must not forget original objectives, when we try to create a new government agency.

Take an example of consumer administration. What is needed now is eliminate information disparities between consumers and producers, and also promote information disclosure for helping consumers make right decisions. A new consumer agency, if necessary, should have the role limited to the provision and dissemination of information for consumers. It would be too much power for a government agency, if it is also given the authority to regulate consumer-related industries.

As for public personnel administration, creation of a unified personnel agency could have some merit in terms of efficient allocation and fair treatment of public employees across government organizations, but on the other hand, such an agency might well possess too much authority in personnel administration, possibly leading to various demerits due to the concentration of power.

Furthermore, such a newly created administrative agency tends to become a kind of "mosaic" organization with its members who are temporarily transferred from various related ministries and agencies. Such "visiting" members are likely to look to their original organizations and, therefore, may not be able to work as efficiently as they are supposed to according to the plan of organizational reform. In this sense, the fate of a new administrative agency depends crucially on the availability of those members who can work effectively for their new agency without looking to other organizations.

Also important is to devise a proper incentive (reward) system for new agency members so that they can be encouraged to perform their duties beyond the interests of their original organizations and to achieve their agency’s objectives for the sake of the public and society at large.

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