A key problem for governmental administration is regulating administrative licensing. Dealing with administrative inefficiency and delayed application decisions, the Nankai District Government initiated a radical innovation in regulatory reform. In August 2002, the Center for Administrative Licensing of the Nankai District Government in Tianjin City began implementing an experimental policy called “Autonomous Approval After Overdue” (AAAO). This policy operates as follows: any application made for any type of licensing will be automatically approved if regulators do not offer a clear deliberation on the application’s approval, extension, or processing. In other words, when in doubt, the application will be approved: the burden is on Nankai regulators to expedite the application process in an efficient and timely manner.
The AAAO procedure is relatively simple, and consists of accepting applications, dispatching them to the departments concerned, subjecting them to joint review, and completing approval procedures in a timely fashion. If Nankai District regulators fail to examine an application by its deadline, the autonomous approval process begins. On the last day before the procedure is due to be completed, Nankai’s computer system has been programmed to mark the delayed application in red and to issue a warning buzz twice every thirty seconds. If the departments concerned do not give a clear decision regarding the application’s fate within 24 hours, the computer system is then authorized to approve the application automatically, printing out a license with an official stamp to be sent to the applicant. Once the automatically approved application has been mailed, formal procedures will be reexamined, and the departments and staff concerned in the overdue application will be investigated.
Currently, 24 governmental departments have set up their service offices in the Center for Administrative Licensing, including offices handling taxation, commerce administration, sanitation, culture, tourism, environmental protection, quality supervision, public security, fire-fighting, land regulation, municipal administration, and so on. By situating their operations within the Center of Administrative Licensing, although their activities are largely independent of the Center’s, they have access to the automated approval systems of the AAAO.
The AAAO mechanism constrains the licensing power of governmental departments, making the procedures simpler, more efficient, and less subject to potential corruption and tampering. Given that basic principles of the Administrative Licensing Law are now conducted entirely by computer, this is considered an effective use of e-government. The computer system also ensures that, even when staff members fall short on completing their duties in time, the applicant will not suffer for their inefficiency; the computer system’s automation provides licensing services regardless of employee shortfalls.
After implementing AAAO, the transparency and efficiency of the Nankai District Government Office’s licensing systems have increased perceptably. In 2005, there were 4,220 newly registered enterprises in Nankai, with total investment exceeding 1.3 billion yuan (approximately $167.6 million U.S.), up 70% and 62% respectively since 2004.