Government Reform Must Not Create a No Man's Land
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 9, 2012
Summary: The government is undergoing its second stage structural reform. It began on New Year's Day. In recent days chaos has prevailed. Rival ministries are fighting over the most desirable agencies. Undesirable agencies have become orphans. Even more seriously, some agencies are seizing the opportunity to expand their scope and increase their staff. As a result, the greater the transformation, the greater the bloat. These phenomenon are undermining the original intention of improving government efficiency.
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The government is undergoing its second stage structural reform. It began on New Year's Day. In recent days chaos has prevailed. Rival ministries are fighting over the most desirable agencies. Undesirable agencies have become orphans. Even more seriously, some agencies are seizing the opportunity to expand their scope and increase their staff. As a result, the greater the transformation, the greater the bloat. These phenomenon are undermining the original intention of improving government efficiency.
The chaos is mind-boggling. For example, the Construction and Planning Agency was supposed to be incorporated into the Ministry of Communications. In the end however, only a handful of personnel were transferred. The Ministry of Communications was supposed to be upgraded. It was supposed to become the figurehead for the Ministry of Transportation and Communications and the Directorate General of Highways. The Central Weather Bureau was supposed to be subsumed under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications. But that decision was reversed long ago. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environmental Resources and Ministry of Science and Technology did not want it. As a result, it became an orphan. No one wants the Central Weather Bureau. The Forestry Bureau, on the other hand, has a vast forest resources. As a result it has become a bone of contention between the Council of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environmental Resources. So far no one knows where it will end up.
The reason for this chaos is not hard to understand. First of all, the scale of the government's restructuring is much too great. It is attempting to dissolve the boundaries between all the ministries, then re-assemble them. This is not something that can be done overnight. Secondly, the Executive Yuan Organization Law was hurriedly amended three years ago. Many problems have yet to be ironed out. Failure to do so led to today's result: cutting and grafting and total gridlock. The current batch of legislators also have their own ideas. They want to do some cutting and grafting of their own. Thirdly, the various ministries cannot rise above their parochialism. They are unwilling to relinquish their current resources. They are unwilling to take over thorny sectors. They are engrossed in expanding their spheres of influence. These all add to the difficulty of restructuring.
One factor however, is the most puzzling. Government reform is the cornerstone of the government's long-term plans. Yet the Executive Yuan has not treated this as a high priority. It entrusted the responsibility solely to the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission (RDEC), an agency which commands little prestige. Therefore, many ministries will attempt to haggle during the coordination process, and even subvert the administration's agenda. The final round of restructuring will be difficult. Yet the Executive Yuan has not sought consensus through internal negotiations. Instead, it has allowed cadres to lobby individual legislators and attempt to directly amend the law. This has provided the ruling and opposition parties the opportunity to engage in confrontation and back room deals.
Consider the root of the problem. The restructuring of the government is meaningful and necessary, The government should make reasonable changes to its organizational structure in response to changing times. The government should urge government agencies to reevaluate their function and their performance. But it must never forget that restructuring is merely the means, not the end. The end is to create a government that better serves the people, and more effectively uses government and social resources. Will restructuring result merely in the hanging of new signs everywhere? Will policy implementation remain hobbled by outdated thinking? Will the governments' problem-solving ability remain as weak as before? If so, then the restructuring can hardly be termed a success.
Furthermore, restructuring is not simply the dismantling of various agencies and reassembling them elsewhere. It is evolution that enables the new organization to function more effectively. Otherwise, the government is merely rearranging the blocks in a game of Lego. In other words, reinventing government requires internal software integration, not external hardware reorganization. The former is the key. Alas, a number of problems have appeared. Executive branch agencies apparently cannot even solve the hardware problems. Solving the software problems is going to be a case of "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
The Central Weather Bureau has been reduced to an orphan. The Forestry Bureau has become a bone of contention. These are passing phenomenon that will eventually be resolved. But unmanned service windows reveal the failure of upper echelon government official thinking. Restructuring has exposed their lack of direction. The greatest irony is in the existing government structure. The Forestry Bureau sits on valuable resources. Yet it was a neglected agency. Now, during restructuring, it has become a bone of contention between rival ministries. This is truly a paradox. Just what role do the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Environmental Resources want the Forestry Bureau to fulfill?
What is the most worrisome aspect of the governmental restructuring? Some organizational functions were omitted during agency consolidation. They were relegated to a no man's land. But no one noticed. This is the most common pitfall during reform. The scale of the current restructuring is especially great. It was allowed too little time and given too little promotion. The public is accustomed to the current government structure. They no longer know where to seek solutions to many problems, old and new. Moreover, restructured agency personnel must be transferred hither, thither, and yon. New personnel must settle in and adapt to their new environment. If they are not properly settled, they will inevitably feel resentment. The public may not realize how much harm reinventing the government has already done.
Reinventing government requires time to iron out the kinks. But the process must be accelerated. Otherwise it will lead to social discontent. Premier Chen must pay more attention. He must resolve inter-ministerial differences. He must not allow rival ministries to treat restructuring as an opportunity for haggling. He must not allow the current administration to become the object of opposition party and public ridicule.