Turning Away from National Public Service Jobs: Flawed Leadership by Politicians Should Be Reviewed

Bureaucrats, who are policy professionals, are likely to lose their pride if politicians keep them out of management of the government or treat them as if they were lowly servants.

It is no wonder that, seeing the treatment of such bureaucrats, young people no longer aspire to join their ranks. It is necessary to review flawed leadership by politicians.

The National Personnel Authority’s advisory panel of experts on personnel administration, chaired by Akira Morita, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, has compiled an interim report on measures to secure national public employees. The report states that it is essential to raise the remuneration and correct the long working hours of such personnel.

The number of applicants for comprehensive service positions, also known as career-track positions, at central government ministries and agencies has declined by nearly 30% over the past decade. The number of young national public employees who left their jobs less than 10 years after being hired exceeded 100 in fiscal 2018. The figure has reportedly remained high since then.

Dwindling bureaucratic human resources could reduce Japan’s ability to formulate and promote policies and eventually lead to the decline of the nation’s strength.

Last fiscal year, the government raised the monthly starting salary for national public personnel by more than ¥10,000. It also decided to build new housing for such personnel in Tokyo, Okayama Prefecture and elsewhere.

Compared to employees of major companies in the private sector, it cannot be said that the treatment of bureaucrats is favorable. The government apparently aims to attract young people by improving bureaucrats’ current treatment, but this is certainly not the only reason why they turn away from public service jobs.

The government led by the now defunct Democratic Party of Japan restricted bureaucrats from answering questions during Diet deliberations, criticizing the Liberal Democratic Party’s style of politics as a “bureaucratic cabinet system.” It attempted to have policy decisions made solely by politicians, such as cabinet ministers and deputy ministers, but it ended up just spinning with no apparent progress.

After that, the LDP returned to power and sought to build a system led by the Prime Minister’s Office, drawing criticism that bureaucrats had come to act on their surmises of the unspoken wishes and intentions of senior Prime Minister’s Office officials.

The system of single-seat constituencies that was introduced in political reforms in the 1990s created vital tension over the possibility of a change of power, but it is often argued that politicians have become mediocre.

In Diet deliberations, opposition parties have come to focus more on pouncing on careless remarks by members of the government and hunting for errors in responses to questions. As a result, younger bureaucrats and others are kept busy until late at night or early in the morning checking for mistakes, among other matters.

It is important to build a system in which policy decisions are made using bureaucrats’ knowledge even under the leadership of politicians. It is hoped that the system will bolster bureaucrats’ sense of obligation to support the nation.

Bureaucrats themselves also bear a heavy responsibility. It is undeniable that the image of bureaucrats was tarnished due to scandals, such as one in which senior bureaucrats falsified official documents.

The Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs, established 10 years ago, was initially intended to promote personnel who would serve the national interest by allowing the Prime Minister’s Office to take charge of personnel affairs concerning senior bureaucratic positions. However, some people say that this move has led to a loss of motivation among bureaucrats who do not agree with the Prime Minister’s Office. It is desirable to reexamine how the bureau should work.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 2, 2024)