The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has begun studying how to restructure the annual issuance of government white papers, both to cut costs and to reduce the work of bureaucrats, but how much of a reduction can be made is uncertain as bureaucrats themselves are cool to the idea.
White papers are reports that the ministries and agencies compile to analyze the areas they are in charge of, by using statistics and other materials, and demonstrate how they are addressing certain issues.
The first such paper, “Reports on the Actual Economic Situation,” was issued in 1947. In 2005, 43 such papers were submitted to Cabinet meetings, and 25, including those on disasters and local fiscal policies, were presented to the Diet, as required.
Another 18 white papers, including those on economic and fiscal policies as well as on defense, were presented to Cabinet meetings by ministers, although their presentation is not legally stipulated. This year, papers on food education and crime victims are scheduled to be added.
In addition, there are white papers the ministries and agencies individually compile on an irregular basis and do not present to ministerial meetings. “We cannot correctly grasp the number (of white papers), an LDP official said.
Some white papers are compiled by a small group of bureaucrats, while others are the work of nearly 30. Their compilation usually takes about half a year.
When LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Hidenao Nakagawa proposed “white paper restructuring,” a Diet member who is a former bureaucrat said: “The work requires tremendous efforts. It is better (for bureaucrats) to engage in other tasks.”
“Nobody reads (white papers) even if they are compiled,” said an executive of the council.
To be disposed of are white papers with similar themes using the same data. It is difficult for most people to tell the difference between topics like the “environment” and the “recycling-oriented society,” and “atomic power” and “atomic power safety.”
Others that would be dropped are those requiring no urgency and those whose content change little from year to year.
There are already policies on writing white papers, and the LDP is studying their publication once every couple of years, rather than on an annual basis.
The white paper restructuring idea has been welcomed by most bureaucrats. One said: “We have our own jobs. Promotion of streamlining is a good thing.” But another bureaucrat said, “It is meaningful for the people to understand the fields we are in charge of.”
This is not the first such effort, and perhaps won’t be the last.
As one LDP executive put it, “The idea has long been floated and has disappeared.”
Following precedent is very important for bureaucrats. Whether the number of white papers can actually be cut “depends on whether bureaucrats are ready to approve such a reduction,” another LDP official said.
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