Showing Appreciation for Our Public Servants

This week we have been celebrating Public Service Recognition Week. And this year, it seems more important than ever that we highlight public servants who are doing great work. In recent weeks, we have all seen a bombast of news stories about wasteful spending at the General Services Administration (GSA), corruption at the Transportation Security Administration and a number of other scandals rocking government workers. We’ve heard the details and as more and more information becomes public, it is easy to forget that the individuals involved in the scandals are the exception and not the rule. But they are.

In an inspiring but honest Public Service Town Hall, Secretaries Janet Napolitano, Ray LaHood, Kathleen Sebelius and GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini spoke bluntly about the challenges that their agencies face as well as the need to encourage and build up public servants. The secretaries spoke honestly about the partisanship that has overtaken Washington and the overwhelmingly negative and accusatory attitude from many leaders. They were also encouraging about all the things that ‘are going right,’ according to Secretary LaHood. Check out this post on GovLoop for some more details on this event.

As I sat at the event, I thought of the National Public Service Awards that ASPA and the National Academy of Public Administration present each year. The award goes to deserving public servants who demonstrate outstanding contributions in and outside their work environments. The recipients come from a diverse background, geographic origins as well as race and gender. They represent the best in public managers in all sectors and at all levels but most are unknown in the wider public.

The reality is that hundreds of thousands of public servants go to work every day with a goal of making a difference. The park rangers who monitor and maintain the nation’s best nature sites, your local police officer who protects your community, the federal employee working on environmental protections and the city worker ensuring access to services when you walk through the door. These are the reflections of public service that we want to highlight during Public Service Recognition Week. We rarely get to tell them THANK YOU. Public Service Recognition Week is a chance for us to do so and do it publicly.

Some contend that public service is a calling. Others argue it’s just a job. No matter the side you favor, it is likely we can agree that those who work in the public or nonprofit sector do so with a focus on mission and then income. And that should not be taken for granted.

As public workers come under attack (many across the country at the local, state and federal level have experienced furloughs and pay freezes) we should not take their contributions lightly. The result could be devastating. The Partnership for Public Service in a 2012 report revealed that only 6 percent of graduating college students was interested in working in government, either at the local, state or federal level. Asked explicitly about federal employment, only 2.3 percent responded that they plan to work for the federal government. The numbers are startling. They are the lowest since 2008 and are a good indicator that public servant bashing is having an impact.

Governments need the best and the brightest. And public service is still the best way to make a difference. We just have to be sure that message gets to the best and brightest. Let’s start sending that message with Public Service Recognition Week. Thank a public servant or ask about what they do. Starting one step at a time hopefully we can help shift attitudes and get our young people back interested in public service.

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