Japan needs more people like Masahiro Horie if it hopes to rein in its $5.6 trillion national debt, the world's highest. Tucked deep in the Ministry of Public Management, Horie is the government ombudsman who tries to keep lawmakers from frittering away trillions of yen on dubious bridges, roads, and military gear. Since April 2000, Horie and his 1,120 inspectors have exposed wasteful airports, publicly funded white elephant resorts, and rampant bid-rigging at the Defense Agency. Defense was forced to rewrite thousands of forms, allow open bidding, and publish the results.
Horie uses statistics and business acumen to balance price tags and benefits. "Japanese love to set goals and work hard to meet them, but they rarely evaluate the cost," says Horie, 53, who has a master's in public administration from Syracuse University.
Ho-hum stuff in bottom-line America, but radical in Japan, where pouring cement is almost a civic duty. To prevent more misuse of public funds, Horie is developing databases on spending and forecasts to make it easier for citizens to hold wasteful lawmakers accountable. "A lot of political decisions go into budgets, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't make rational estimates," says Horie, whose writings borrow from former Vice-President Al Gore's "reinventing government" effort. One recent innovation guarantees that Horie will have work for years to come: Japanese consumers can now e-mail their complaints directly to the government, and they have been pouring in.