Digital Agency should Be Control Tower for Improvement of Administration

It is important to make up for the delay in digitization and improve the quality of government administration. The wisdom of the public and private sectors must be gathered together and an organization that can respond flexibly must be created.

The basic policy for digital reform, a priority policy of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, has been decided. The main pillar of the policy is to establish a digital agency in September next year to serve as a control tower. A related bill will be submitted to the ordinary Diet session.

Since the information systems for national and local governments have been developed and operated separately, it has been difficult to make them compatible with each other. When the novel coronavirus infection spread, the government was unable to respond quickly, and it took time to provide cash benefits and identify infected people.

It is necessary to accelerate the digitization process and develop a foundation for efficient administrative work. It is hoped that this will support the efforts of public institutions in areas such as medical care and disaster prevention, and lead to new services in fields such as emergency medical care and information provision. Support for the private sector is also an issue.

The digital agency will be placed directly under the Cabinet, and the prime minister will serve as the head of the agency. It will be responsible for seven tasks, including the integration of the central government systems and the dissemination of My Number identification cards. It will have the authority to make recommendations to other ministries and agencies and will also allocate a lump-sum budget for related matters.

The decision to give it great authority is aimed at eliminating the vertical divisions among ministries and agencies. The question is whether it will be possible to build a framework that is easy to use and reject any resistance from ministries and agencies trying to protect their budgets and their ability to exercise discretion.

The new agency will also be responsible for developing the digital infrastructure of local governments. The functions and formats of systems related to the Basic Resident Registration and taxes differ from one municipality to another. When a system is updated, it requires a lot of time and money for modification.

From now on, the government will set standard specifications and require municipalities to introduce systems that conform to them. Introducing a cloud system, where data is managed on the internet, will make it possible to process paperwork in an integrated manner.

The government has set a goal of reducing annual system operation costs, which amount to ¥800 billion for central government ministries and agencies alone, by 30% by fiscal 2025. This should be achieved steadily by reducing the costs of development and maintenance.

The challenge is to secure human resources. Of about 500 employees in total at the new agency, more than 100 will be recruited from the private sector.

It is vital to appoint personnel who can be immediately effective and to introduce technologies and know-how from the private sector. From the perspective of expanding the exchange of personnel between the public and private sectors, active utilization of such workers is expected. It is also essential to increase transparency so as not to invite collusion with specific companies.

The government has set “people-friendly digitization” as the basic principle for reform. It is hoped that it will carefully design the system so that anyone can easily use it and the people can experience its convenience.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 31, 2020.