Administrative Reform Gathering Momentum
When President Lee Myung-bak assumed office 13 months ago, one of his most pressing tasks was to restructure government ministries.
The role of the Ministry of Public Administration and Security (MOPAS) has become more pronounced than ever, as it has the lawful mandate to administer the overarching procedures of reorganizing the administrative branch.
In an interview with The Korea Times, MOPAS Assistant Minister Park Chan-woo outlined the basic skeleton of government restructuring. He heads the Office of Organization, a core unit for reshaping public organizations and functions for efficiency and productivity.
``Enormous changes have occurred during the past year since President Lee's inauguration. Under such dire economic circumstances, we in the public service place utmost priority on implementing policies toward overcoming the crisis, and in order to do our part within the capacity of MOPAS, we are reinforcing measures to readjust government organizations and personnel,'' Park told The Korea Times at his office at the Central Government Complex, central Seoul.
``One of the earliest undertakings was to articulate a specific roadmap for retooling the government organization and workforce for President Lee's administrative reform.''
Organizational & Personnel Shifts
President Lee has introduced a policy of ``Grand Ministry, Grand Bureau,'' a considerable departure from the meticulous subdivisions of the ``team system'' that had been the structural backbone of government ministries under the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration.
``What we are now trying to do is to streamline bureaus and divisions in the administrative branch per key functions. Over the past year, we have sought to complement deficiencies in the team system and revise them with measures focused on upgrading productivity and efficiency,'' said Park, indicating that running government organizations in teams revealed several drawbacks.
Currently, there are 2,084 lower arms at the central government level, a sizable reduction from the previous 2,232.
Under the new initiative, the Lee administration consolidated ministries with duplicate and similar functions, eliminating 11 and bringing the total number of ministries down to 45. Notably, the ministries of maritime and fisheries, and construction and transportation were combined into one organization now known as the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritimes Affairs, while the Government Information Agency was merged into the culture ministry.
The reorganization was in line with President Lee's design to revitalize administrative efficiency. In addition, the government also plans to privatize or consolidate 108 public corporations that have often been criticized for lax management.
When the former administration subdivided public organizations into teams in 2005, a move inspired by efficient corporate management practices, it did simplify bureaucratic procedures and organizations, while creating an administrative atmosphere where efficacy, productivity and team spirit were highly appreciated.
Traditionally, the Korean public sector was perceived as unmotivated and sorely lacking in competency as opposed to the private sector, which actually has to create visible and sustainable outcomes to remain viable.
``Such thorough subdivisions lead to overlapping in costs and personnel, as found in the example of several people doing secretarial affairs in separate teams in a department. And then there were coordination problems among different teams,'' said Park.
Simplified organizations means cutback in work force. As defined in the Grand Ministry, Grand Bureau policy, the government shed excess personnel and minimized fresh recruits by temporarily hiring professionals from the private sector. In addition, new measures to ensure maximum productivity are to be introduced, such as the ``fast track'' system, expanding flexibility in promotion for outstanding performers regardless of their years in service.
These swift administrative transitions got mixed reaction, with some government employees displaying downright opposition. The Administrative Branch Employee Union denounced the Grand Ministry, Grand Bureau policy as hastily conceived and disturbing to the stability and duty of public servants.
Besides implementing structural and personnel readjustments, MOPAS attaches an utmost importance to upgrading efficiency in government functions. The main thrust of MOPAS in this regard is working together with around 250 local governments, formulating an equal and cooperative partnership for the welfare of ordinary citizens across the country.
``Korea does not have yet an established tradition of local autonomy. In order to deepen local autonomy and decentralization, it is crucial to delegate enterprises to local governments that have a direct impact on daily lives of citizens and potential for boosting local revenues. Projects for education, medical services, or transmitting new technology in agriculture and fishery, are good examples,'' said Park.
``At the outset of the current administration, we have created a Presidential Committee for Decentralization, intended to enact necessary laws to strengthen the much-needed institutional and financial self-sufficiency of local governments,'' added Park. Currently, local governments are highly dependent on the central government for finance.
Changes Within MOPAS
A frontrunner in the Lee administration's drive toward government reinvention, MOPAS is no exception to the principle of consolidation for efficiency and productivity. ``As the ministry spares no efforts to implement the President's key policies of innovating the public sector, creating new jobs and promoting ``green growth,'' MOPAS has also adopted new roles and functions, namely contingency management and certain e-government functions that had previously been the charge of the information and communication ministry," said Park.
Born in 1959, the native of South Chungcheong Province joined public service in 1981, serving at the Ministry of Government Administration, offices of the Prime Minister and the President, and the National Archives of Korea among others. He spent one year as vice mayor of Daejeon City before being appointed as assistant minister of MOPAS by the Lee administration.
``Our duties of late have evolved to reflect the organizational expansion. However, since MOPAS has a long tradition and history, it is fully equipped with the capacity and know-how in managing such a large organization,'' noted Park.
Established in 1948, MOPAS is one of the oldest and largest ministries with almost 3,000 employees in its service, comprising five offices, 24 bureaus, 64 divisions, and 8 affiliated organizations.
Its currently title of MOPAS represents the Lee administration's integration of the Ministry of Government and Home Affairs, the Civil Service Commission, the National Emergency Planning Commission, and the national informatization strategy functions of the Ministry of Information and Communication.
Besides administrative restructuring, its wide-ranging responsibilities also include ensuring safety in case of national disasters, working side by side with local governments and implementing e-government initiatives at both the central and local government levels.
Caption: Assistant Minister Park Chan-woo of the Ministry of Public Administration and Security outlines the basic direction of Korea's administrative reform his ministry has been orchestrating during an interview with The Korea Times at his office.