The real price of poor designMost of the visitors to the JoongAng Ilbo find the “News Eye” fascinating. In the middle of the newsroom, a round-shaped partition is built. Inside the partition, a table is located in the middle, and editors’ desks are arranged along the partition. The editors work on their desks most of the time, but they can just turn their chairs and have a discussion. In front of the editors are the respective chiefs for each news department.
Upstairs is an open newsroom where any reporter can sit down and write a story. The editorial writers’ office is located downstairs. The three stories are linked by a staircase in the middle and the users can visit one another easily. It is the design of a media company that maximizes communication. When you run into each other often, you can share information however small, and when you talk, you can brainstorm, refining that information.
Although it is slightly different because they are separated by rooms, the White House has a similar structure. It is a completely different design from the Blue House, where the chief of staff has get in his car if he wants to report to the president. In the White House, there is no reason to argue about when the report was made and whether it was done by a document or face-to-face.
This is about a design of hierarchy, rather than a design of efficiency.
More worrisome is the design of the government complex. Ruling out efficiency has become the Korean style. The inefficiency of the Sejong Administrative City has peaked. If this system continues, the national competitiveness will plummet.
First, there is no teamwork in the government. Ministers are spending more time in Seoul, and their directors and department chiefs have to visit Seoul frequently. A former minister of an economic ministry worried that the reports he received were extremely poor. “Not to mention the actual contents - they contain so many errors and spelling mistakes that I was embarrassed reading them,” he said.
In the past, department chiefs and directors meticulously reviewed and supervised the reports. But these days, they do the job on the road, and they ignore problems.
The biggest problem is that these reports will decide the future of this country.
Morale has fallen and public servants are losing their sense of duty. A departmental chief who is never in either Sejong City or in Seoul should be baffling, but according to Rep. Park Byung-seog of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, there are 15 more of them.
Second, there is also no proper understanding in the fields. In the past, economic ministries often invited civilian experts and listened to their opinions. But it is hard to invite them to Sejong City. Meeting them occasionally in Seoul is not enough. Public servants have become isolated in Sejong City.
The area is also farther away from Incheon International Airport. When senior executives from foreign companies visit Korea, they often meet economic officials. But after the government moved to Sejong, they just visit companies and leave the country.
Third, talented officials are leaving the government. Sejong City is unpopular among public servants. They fight to live in Seoul by volunteering to move to ministries here, although the jobs may not be attractive. After the Korea Development Institute moved to Sejong, foreign scholars hesitated to join. A foreign graduate who received offers both from a private think tank in Seoul and the Korea Development Institute chose Seoul without hesitation after hearing that the institute is located in Sejong.
Fourth, inter-ministerial communication has disappeared. A former minister said it was routine during the period of economic development. Department chiefs from various ministries would gather to have in-depth discussion in the afternoon on a Saturday. But he worried that communication has disappeared even inside the same ministry.
This is not a matter to just blame the lack of sense of duty. Only about 40 percent of the public servants who are working in Sejong City moved there with their families. The rest are either struggling with a four to five-hour commute or living alone in Sejong during the weekdays and reuniting with their families in Seoul on the weekend. They are busy. What more can we ask from them? Communicating with ministries in Seoul is a luxury.
The problem is that these are structural problems that will repeat. For the entire government, the waste and inefficiency are astronomical. This cannot be called a government. And the problem is even more serious when we think about the effects on the economy and people’s lives.
We cannot talk about national competitiveness without pointing out the problems of the public servants’ physical fatigue, lack of communication and poor reports.
The balanced development of the regions is an important task, but it is questionable if it has to be done at the expense of inefficient government. The answer will be moving back all government offices to Sejong or going back to where they used to be. But neither is possible.
We cannot revise the Constitution for the entire relocation, and we cannot bring back the ministries to Seoul. There is neither physical space nor justification. Bringing about a national consensus on this will be even harder.
Because ministers, directors and department chiefs are always on the road, they cannot supervise their ministries, and discipline has slackened. We must find a way to stop this waste of precious national resources.
The biggest reason for the public servants’ travels to Seoul is to go to the National Assembly. If the National Assembly cannot change this situation, it must move to Sejong City to improve the structure.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 9, Page 35
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin-kook