Promote comprehensive work style reform for national civil servants

The number of students who want to become national civil servants has been decreasing, and a growing number of young bureaucrats are leaving their jobs. To improve the quality of public administration, the work style of national civil servants must be reviewed.

The National Personnel Authority has reported to the Diet and the Cabinet about the current situation and the issues that need to be tackled regarding the personnel management of civil servants. The report expressed concern about a decrease in the number of exam takers for career track positions, among other matters, and said securing human resources was an urgent task.

Top priority should be given to rectifying the long working hours that have been spreading among ministries and agencies. The report clearly said “some departments and bureaus have no choice but to constantly order employees to work long hours of overtime.”

The NPA requested cooperation from the Diet, stressing that preparations for answering questions in the Diet are stretching late into the night and have become burdensome for employees. This is the first time that the report has specifically called on the Diet to take concrete action.

The ruling and opposition parties have agreed to notify ministries and agencies of the details of the questions until two days in advance in principle. But in some cases, the notice comes the night before the questions will be asked. Each party should make efforts to abide by the rule.

According to a survey conducted by the government for three months from December last year to February this year, a total of about 3,000 employees did more than 100 hours of overtime per month, which is considered to be the danger line for death from overwork.

Finance Ministry employees who have been engaged in budget compilations did the most overtime, followed by those at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry who have been responding to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

It is problematic that the burden is concentrated on some ministries and agencies, or certain departments and bureaus. In particular, the system at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has not been able to keep up with a large increase in work volume, for example in sections dealing with welfare services. It will be necessary to transcend the bureaucratic sectionalism among ministries and agencies and consider reviewing the number of these officials.

The number of civil servants in Japan, both in the central and local governments, is smaller in proportion to the population than in the United States and major countries in Europe. Progress in administrative reform has streamlined Japanese organizations in appearance, but the negative effect of not being able to respond appropriately to crises is also clear.

As a result of the merger and abolition of public health centers set up by prefectural, municipal and ward governments, the number of full-time employees at these facilities has been reduced, causing delays in coordination with the central government, hospitals and other entities on measures against the coronavirus.

When a new strain of influenza broke out in 2009, experts and others proposed strengthening systems, mainly to secure human resources and improve training programs in preparation for infectious diseases. However, due to budgetary constraints, sufficient measures have not been taken for that purpose.

Reflecting on that, it is important for the government to assign the necessary personnel to the necessary sections, bearing in mind potential future crises.

In addition, there is an urgent need to restore trust in civil servants. Related to the improper handling of official documents was the careless response in the Diet on the political side, including by government leaders. The deterioration of the bureaucracy is not unrelated to the deterioration of politics.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 11, 2021.