The Administration is the executing arm of the increasingly ambitious catalog of policies and public services, with which it tries to respond to the expansive social demands, which, in addition, have grown exponentially with the pandemic. As if it were the contagion curve itself.
We entrust our bureaucracy with the management of the treatment of the sick, while, at the same time, it organizes the logistics of the largest known vaccination operation. Or, in the socio-economic sphere, you must spend quickly and efficiently, to reactivate our economy, in rehabilitation after the coma that previously had to induce you in pursuit of the forced social distancing, but, above all, for that exciting objective of contributing to its transformation, preferably before 2050.
Faced with this scenario, the question is obliged, is our bureaucracy prepared for this challenge? There are objective reasons for anxiety. As, for example, that today we are the country with the lowest percentage of execution of the European Cohesion Funds of the 2014-2020 Framework. According to the recently updated European Government Quality Index, our regions, except for Cantabrian exceptions, would only be ahead of those of Greece, southern Italy and eastern Europe. Or, for the World Bank, the bureaucratic difficulty of opening a business in Spain is greater than that of Colombia or Gabon. In fact, we occupy the not honorable position 97. More flattering is the analysis of the World Economic Forum, which gives us the 28th position in institutional quality, within its Global Competitiveness Index.
For all these reasons, the reform of our Administration becomes a quasi-necessary precondition for other dreamy revolutions, such as green or digital. Without the former, the latter run the risk of becoming failed coup attempts.
We need a more consequentialist deontology bureaucracy, for which the following non-exclusive guidelines could be useful:
1. Regulatory naturalism: the requirement and complexity of the economic regulatory framework must be defined, in addition to the principles of necessity and proportionality, by the real capacity of each administration. An over-regulation of the first, above the effectiveness of the second, will suffocate economic activity, stalling, sine die, files and procedures and driving away investments to other territories. Faced with this dilemma, the administration must move towards basic regulation, renouncing regulatory exuberances, no matter how well-intentioned.
2. Reengineering of administrative processes: administrative procedures must be subjected to a continuous simplifying review by the officials who process them, with expert advice. No administrative center should be exempted from this work, least of all those that bear the greatest burden of processing, such as the environment or urban planning. Otherwise, there is a risk of generating a bureaucratic funnel, in which the neck is defined by general intervention mechanisms that are excluded from simplification.
3. After simplifying, digitizing: administrators must enjoy the same level of digital traceability in their relations with the Administration, as in their online purchases. But this digitization must be done in an orderly manner, with common European standards and protocols, which allow the sharing of data in real time between administrations. Raw material necessary for greater government intelligence and an effective Public Policy Evaluation culture.
4. Smart government: with digitalization, artificial intelligence and robotization in the resolution of procedures, they should lead us to a more objective administration, based on quantitative criteria and, therefore, less discretionary. Discretion, in the most favorable scenario, extends administrative deadlines and increases uncertainty, when the result of the procedure depends significantly on the interpretation of the assigned official.
5. Fast track: a true Administration 2.0 must be neutral, that is, it must offer the maximum processing speed to any economic operator, regardless of their size. But, in its version 1.0, the current one, large investment projects, which are subject to strict schedules that compromise their viability (such as those financed by the Next GenerationEU or the investments derived from the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan), must have mechanisms of their own administrative acceleration, such as, for example, the Declarations of Investments of Strategic or Regional Interest.
6. Fewer apriorisms: authorization, which is often delayed, does not guarantee avoiding future unwanted results. The Administration must promote the responsible declaration as a sign of maturity in its relations with the companies, at the same time that it increases its vigilant capacity to inspect any possible negative externality.
To these elements, others could be added, such as promoting a more open and socially inclusive civil service institution, with financial instruments equivalent to those for training research personnel. At the same time that the design of the system of incentives and variable remuneration is improved, which abandons the Stakhanovist myth of long-term self-motivation, troppo bello per essere vero. All this without forgetting to promote greater cooperation between administrations, taking advantage of the experience accumulated in these pandemic semesters.
The task is overwhelming. But, compared to other major procrastinated reforms (labor, regional financing or pensions), that of the Administration is further away from the first line of political conflict, which increases the probability of reaching transversal parliamentary agreements. In addition, several of these proposals have the nihil obstat of Brussels, being eligible for financing with European funds.
An updated Administration, more proactive, efficient and respectful of its deadlines, antithetical to that of “come back tomorrow”, would help to illuminate a true social change, strengthening the ties between citizens and their institutions.
Jose Ignacio Castillo Manzano He is Secretary General of Economics of the Junta de Andalucía and Professor of Economics at the University of Seville.