The government serves up a weak adminstrative reform bill

On Thursday morning the LDP’s headquarters for the promotion of administrative reform approved an administrative reform plan and passed it along to the cabinet. The cabinet approved it Friday morning and will submit it to the Diet later today.

The plan still calls for a new cabinet personnel agency and restrictions on direct contact between politicians and bureaucrats, including the creation of a new specialist class of bureaucrats to coordinate relations between ministries and legislators. As seemed apparent earlier, however, the plan has been watered down from the version outlined by a consultative group and desired by Watanabe Yoshimi, minister responsible for administrative reform. Unlike earlier drafts, ministries will propose candidates for advancement to the personnel agency, instead of the agency’s selecting candidates itself. Additionally, in regard to restrictions on contacts between bureaucrats and politicians, bureaucrats can communicate freely with politicians with ministerial approval. (I can imagine that ministerial approval will be terribly difficult to secure.) In addition to the new agency, the plan also calls for changing bureaucratic rules to open paths to ministerial leadership to officials in specialist and clerical positions.

As noted in a Mainichi editorial, the LDP’s plan is a victory for the bureaucracy. It does nothing to subordinate ministries and their bureaucrats to the government’s wishes. It certainly doesn’t satisfy the hopes for administrative reform expressed by Mr. Watanabe in an interview in Liberal Time.

The bureaucracy may never have to worry about adjusting to a new system, as the prospects for the bill in the Diet are dim. The DPJ has indicated that it opposes the watered-down bill on the grounds that it does nothing to address the fundamental problems with the bureaucracy that have led to major policy failures like the pensions fiasco — and dissatisfaction with the bill within the LDP is such that if the bill passes the HR only to have the DPJ reject it in the HC, the government may bow to pressure from zoku giin and not bother submitting to the HR a second time. After all, from the government’s perspective, it must be preferable to let the DPJ kill a bad bill and take the blame than to have to confront disgruntled LDP members, which it already has to do on the road construction and gasoline tax bills. (See excellent posts by MTC and Jun Okumura on the looming reformist revolt.)

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