15 August 2009
Democratic Party of Japan Eyes Unified Japanese Space Agency
By Shiro Namekata
IHT/The Asahi Shimbun
The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan has proposed integrating the nation's disjointed space administration by the end of this fiscal year to eventually create a "Japanese version of NASA."

Space exploration, research and the use of satellites are currently divided among several ministries and agencies.

The DPJ, stepping up its offensive to wrest power from the Liberal Democratic Party in the Aug. 30 Lower House election, has included the proposal in the party's policy pamphlet, which serves as the basis for its election manifesto.

The party sees the step as part of an overhaul of the nation's compartmentalized government structures, which it says have benefited bureaucrats at the cost of efficiency.

According to the DPJ plan, space-related sections of ministries and agencies and the planning section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will be integrated under the Cabinet Office by March 31, 2010.

The remainder of JAXA will later be incorporated, too, to create a Space Agency.

Masamitsu Naito, a DPJ Upper House member, described the idea as a "Japanese version of NASA."

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration is solely in charge of promoting space exploration, development and use directly under the president.

"We will make it a part of the Kasumigaseki (central government bureaucracy) reform by eliminating vertically divided turfs at each ministry and agency," said Naito, a secretary-general of a multiparty lawmakers' group to promote space development.

Under the current system, the education ministry holds about 60 percent of the government's space-related budget. JAXA, an independent administration agency, is under the education ministry's jurisdiction.

In fiscal 2009, the space budget allocation for the education ministry totalled 196.6 billion yen, while the Cabinet Secretariat obtained 64.3 billion yen for information-gathering satellites and the Defense Ministry 58 billion yen for its ballistic missile defense and other programs.

The land ministry, the meteorological agency, the communications ministry and the economy ministry also receive budget allocations for their part in satellite development and operations.

The enactment of the Space Basic Law in 2008 led to the establishment of the Strategic Headquarters for Space Development, headed by the prime minister.

Based on the law, pushed both by ruling and opposition parties, the headquarters in June created a space exploration plan calling for a shift of focus from research and development to use of space.

The DPJ's strategy is aimed at implementing this basic plan as well as making overall space administration more efficient.

It will streamline decision-making and cut waste from overlapping structures and budgets, party officials said.

But the proposed integration has hurdles to clear.

One question is whether it should cover security and diplomatic fields, including use of information-gathering satellites.

Opposition also remains to the allocation of the entire budget to the Cabinet Office.

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