Streamlining government organizationsThe Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy changed its name seven times since the founding of the South Korean government in 1948. Other offices — including the Ministry of Science and ICT and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Ministry of Strategy and Finance — also had to change their names several times.
According to the Korean Association for Public Administration Reform (KAPA), the South Korean government has undergone 50 big and small reorganizations since its founding in 1948. That means the governmental organization did not last for more than two years. The government can argue that it had to reorganize to meet administrative needs for fast industrialization, growth, and democratization. Still, experts think hasty reorganization also played a part.
The transition team of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is also working on an organizational overhaul. Government ministries are vying to draw commerce and women’s affairs, among others. Various ideas have been tabled.
But frequent reorganization can cause negative impacts on memory and learning in administrative organization and undermine policy making capabilities. A new government must set national tasks and can overhaul the administrative organization to carry out plans. But over-anxiousness to try to make an impression of a new government can lead to failures. Minimizing the revamp can help draw approval from the legislature. The Lee Myung-bak administration launched the Ministry of Knowledge Economy after adding IT industrial policy to the existing Ministry of Industry and Resources. The strange name made many foreigners wonder what the Ministry of Knowledge Economy really does. The title was scrapped five years later by the next government.
The basic principle of keeping the government lean and efficient must be kept. Developed countries with greater populations and bigger economy have fewer government offices. The United States has 15, Japan 13, France 16 and Germany 15, but Korea has 18. Just because Korea has more government offices, its administrative services does not excel.
If there are too many government offices, the public sector becomes outsized due to increased umbrella institutions. The government that has become oversized under President Moon Jae-in requires dieting. Office integration must be considered if the public sector is deemed too big and inefficient. The rationalization must put top priority on efficiency so that one minister does not oversee an overly enlarged ministry through integration.
Selfishness of government offices also must be kept at bay. Government reorganization should not be a matter for politicians or bureaucrats. The goal is to raise policy efficiency to better the lives for the people.