Go to contents

[Op-Ed] Grade One Civil Servants

Posted January. 15, 2009 08:34,   


Grade one civil servants are considered the “flowers of career bureaucrats” in the public sector. In central government agencies, they are deputy or assistant ministers. The Roh Moo-hyun administration created a system called the “high-ranking civil servants group” by combining grade one officials with those of grades two and three, or director-general level. A vast gap in levels remains between grades one and two and three. Key posts, including the heads of the budget and tax policy offices at the Strategy and Finance Ministry or the chief of the Seoul branch of the National Tax Service, are so powerful that they occasionally criticize a lawmaker in public and seek to curry favor behind the scenes.

Directors-general engage in intense competition to rise to grade one. Of course, they must win recognition for their competence to get promotions and are often politically influenced. Such a practice existed in the past, but became more prevalent after the Kim Dae-jung administration replaced grade one officials en masse based on political judgment. High-ranking officials suffered mental damage under the highly progressive Roh Moo-hyun administration due to the aftereffects of conflicts dividing the people based on political ideologies. Certain officials used overreaction irrespective of their political propensity to climb the ladder or survive.

Many government agencies in which grade one officials tendered their resignations en masse late last year are conducting personnel reshuffles. People have mixed views on whether a new government should force ranking officials to resign whenever a new administration is inaugurated. Nonetheless, it is a worrisome that all civil servants are focusing on reshuffles due to delays in personnel revamping. If a grade one post remains vacant for a prolonged period, directors-generals or directors under the post become highly vigilant of their own promotions and transfers. As a result, the organization as a whole fails to function properly, a natural phenomenon in the public sector.

Another problem is the failure of the presidential office to clarify its position on the scope and timing of a Cabinet reshuffle. Many analysts say it is difficult for ministers to conduct drastic reshuffles without knowing his or her own fate. The president must recognize the problem of the prolonged vacancy of grade one officials. He needs to give clear signals to ministers who will remain and thus prompt them to speed up shakeups in their ministries. Civil servants should not get confused amid rumors of reshuffles at a time when they must work day and night to promptly and efficiently tackle pressing issues facing the country amid the global economic crisis.

Editorial Writer Kwon Soon-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)