Streamlining the Blue House

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Streamlining the Blue House

President-elect Park Geun-hye’s transition team is reportedly preparing a revamp of the Blue House organization following the reorganization of government ministries and agencies. Park wants to reduce the size of the presidential office by slashing the number of the Blue House staff of more than 550, downsizing her secretary offices and lessening their authority.

The president-elect said she will give more power to her prime minister than before and that she plans to revive the now-defunct post of deputy prime minister in charge of the economy as a control tower for the government’s overall economic policy direction. Then there would be no need for so many secretary offices. In fact, the current post of policy director at the Blue House has no significant role in the government. Park does not need to appoint senior secretaries for each sector given their alarmingly mighty roles, which are nearly on par with ministers in terms of authority. Park also needs to get rid of a number of obscure posts the Lee Myung-bak administration created.

No doubt ministers have a hard time implementing government policies when a number of high-level officials support the president nearby and have a bigger say than ministers themselves. The transition team’s attempt to downsize the presidential office is appropriate. Senior officers who have worked in the Blue House say there is no problem in state administration as long as the president can take advantage of the expertise of a few senior administrators in crucial fields, including personnel, economy, diplomacy and security.

Instead, the president must make better use of ministers by consulting with them whenever necessary. As Park decided to increase the number of ministerial-level posts, it would be much better for her to utilize ministers’ capabilities as if they were senior secretaries. That will help strengthen the power and responsibilities of ministers. If Park opts to allow her presidential staff to handle policy matters, a small Blue House is impossible.

If the presidential office can turn smaller and more efficient, Park can also eliminate what is called a “Blue House premium,” referring to influence-peddling by senior Blue House officials, particularly in promotion season. Civil servants have regarded their careers at the Blue House as a certificate for their successful public life - thanks to the old tradition of elevating those who were dispatched to the Blue House to higher posts when they return to their departments. Park’s Blue House revamp will not only raise the effectiveness of her government but correct that bad practice in officialdom.

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