Increasing the Number of Bureaucrats is One Way to Tackle Heavy Workloads

Young people are avoiding jobs as national civil servants. The quality of administrative services could deteriorate unless the trend is halted. It is important to reduce the burden on bureaucrats by curbing the long working hours that have become the norm at central government ministries and agencies.

According to the National Personnel Authority, 14,372 people applied for national civil service recruitment examinations for career-track positions in the spring of fiscal 2023, the second-lowest tally ever. The ratio of recruits to applicants dropped to a record low 1 in 7.1.

For three consecutive years from fiscal 2020, there have been fewer than 20,000 applicants for the examinations held twice a year in spring and autumn for career-track positions. It is obvious that an increasing number of students and others are not attracted to working as bureaucrats in career-track positions, which are called “career bureaucrats.”

Furthermore, the number of people in government ministries and agencies who quit after working for less than 10 years exceeded 100 for the third consecutive year, with 109 in fiscal 2020.

Bureaucrats play a major role in reviewing systems and formulating new policies in response to changes in the economy and society. Work style in the national civil service must be reviewed to stem the decline in the number of people who want to become bureaucrats and the departure of young and mid-career bureaucrats.

Handling Diet affairs is one of the biggest burdens on bureaucrats.

During the extraordinary Diet session last year, on average, bureaucrats finished preparing answers to questions submitted in advance by lawmakers at about 3 a.m. on the day of committee meetings.

At a board of directors meeting in the House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Administration in June, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to “strive to promptly submit questions.” It appears that the official Diet committee has rehashed a 2014 agreement between the ruling and opposition parties. However, is it really possible to improve the current situation by using an ambiguous word such as “promptly”?

A proposal has been mooted in the government to use generative artificial intelligence in the preparation of Diet responses to reduce the burden on bureaucrats.

However, government responses are directly connected to policy. Legislative power must not be entrusted to AI. The burden on bureaucrats should be reduced through the efforts of lawmakers, who must submit questions to bureaucrats earlier.

The duties of bureaucrats are not limited to formulating policies and dealing with Diet affairs.

With the enforcement of the Freedom of Information Law in 2001, bureaucrats were given the additional task of releasing various administrative documents to the public based on disclosure requests.

The operations of all ministries and agencies are subject to inspections under a system of administrative review that was launched to address inefficient measures during the administration of the Democratic Party of Japan. It is important to examine the effectiveness of government policy, but it would do more harm than good if the original goal was delayed as a result.

The government continues to reduce the number of national civil servants as part of its administrative reforms. It is obvious that the per-capita burden on them is increasing.

The number of national civil servants in Japan is lower than that in Western countries in terms of population ratio. One idea to consider might be increasing the number while also utilizing mid-career hires.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 30, 2023)