Federal Eye Eye Opener: Selling government service

Happy Thursday! (Unless you’re the Yankees?) About 40 Obama administration officials, lawmakers, Hill staffers, employee organization heads, private sector leaders, good government types and academics met Wednesday in Washington to have a frank, off-the-record conversation about the federal government’s recruitment and hiring process.

“It was an invitee-only, off-the-record session that participants described as a candid conversation about the issues facing Uncle Sam as he tries to overhaul a personnel employment process that seems stuck in the mud,” The Post’s Joe Davidson reports.

“Uncle Sam should do a better job branding and promoting his work,” participants concluded. “The Army and the Marine Corps know how to do it. Certainly money is a motivating factor for recruits, but the military, in part through TV commercials, has successfully branded itself as a place where young men and women go to become mature adults with a clear sense of mission. You can’t say that about your average civilian agency.”

How would you sell civilian public service? Does it require a multi-million dollar advertising campaign? Better use of social media? Better person-to-person outreach at colleges and universities — maybe even high schools?

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Kathleen Immordino

Thinking about the people I’ve observed who are really engaged and passionate about their careers in government, the common thread seems to be the ability to create change…to change society, cities, states, public policy, etc. If we can market that as part of government’s “brand” we could do a much better job of attracting the best and brightest. However…part 2 of that is making a government career accessible – easy to apply, easy to get into the system – because it certainly is not right now.

Marco Morales

I think Kathleen (Immordino) hits some key items in her response. The branding concept is good but you also need some sort of tie in to tradition and culture. And the civil service lacks both. As for being “visual” in the eyes of the American public, well, there isn’t much association to any marketing scheme. For example, civilians don’t have a visible ranking system where they can be easily identified in the heirarchy of discipline and order. They don’t wear any iconic crest or symbol on their lapel (except for members of the senior executive service) to distinguish them from any other “civilian” working in the Federal sector, esp. in the Department of Defense. There are no uniforms, as in the military ranks, to separate them from any other civilian in the public domain. Therein lies the key to future attraction of younger generations. In other words, what is “sexy” about being just another civil servant who carries no weight in the scheme of decision making or presence? Food for thought.

Renee Houser

I would agree with Kathleen. Those people who have an interest in government are aware of the positives of working in the public sector and the change they can affect. However, the bureaucracy and red tape involved in getting one’s foot in the door can become a huge deterrent. I think there is a large group of the “best and the brightest” that would enjoy working in government but know they can be just as successful within the private sector, without all the challenges of getting in.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Great questions, Ed! Steve Ressler and I tried to offer an answer through the IAmPublicService.org project – allowing public servants to tell Americans about their amazing work in their own words. What if we could create an even larger platform for public servants to tell the stories of their day-to-day efforts to solve problems and provide immense value to citizens? GovLoop certainly could be a staging ground for eliciting and promoting those stories!

Marco – many civilians DO wear uniforms and their stories ARE sexy!

Kathleen and Renee – Agreed. We can make public service more appealing as a career path, but if we line people up at the door and they get frustrated because they can’t get in….well, they may never come knocking on that door again!

Great thoughts, everyone!