I haven’t always wanted to make a career in public administration. It’s been the furthest thing from my mind for most of my adult life, even. For most of my undergraduate schooling I had no clue as to what my future might hold. I knew I had a talent for communication in its various forms, and I got some sort of high off of doing it effectively. That’s about it.
After college I noticed that all of the jobs that really seemed interesting to me said “MPA required” or “MPA preferred.” Beyond the search for a job I really loved, though, I had no idea what I was getting into. But somewhere in the middle of my graduate studies something clicked.
See, the private sector is a wonderful place to be. Private companies are in a unique position to have complete control over what they do in order to help themselves and society as a whole. The products they create, the services they provide and the employment they offer can change lives and make an impact on society that no other organizations can. Make no mistake about it, though, with companies it’s all about the money—as it should be. If companies repeatedly make decisions that negatively affect their bottom line in the interest of “serving society,” they won’t be fulfilling the role they need to be in society. For this reason, usually when a company acts in a socially or environmentally “responsible” manner, they advertise the heck out of it in order to induce the public to reward them by using their product. Companies do what they do, as they need to, and they do it very well.
Nonprofit organizations (NP) are an interesting case, too. Like private companies, they worry incessantly about the bottom line. Where they diverge from private companies is the “why.” To NP’s making money is a (necessary) means to an end, the end being helping the people they choose to help. NP’s can’t improve everyone’s lives, nor do they mean to. So they choose a tiny section of society that they deem in need of a product or service, and help those individuals in the best way they can figure—and they do it very well.
Government, however, is an entirely different animal altogether. A government entity is the only type of organization that actually endeavors to improve the lives of all citizens. Perhaps more importantly, the American government is constitutionally required to do so. The Framers of the Constitution endeavored to create a system of government that would allow disapproving citizens to “alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government . . . as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness” (Declaration of Independence). The U.S. Government, and all of its forms throughout states, counties and cities, is in the unique position of not only being committed to securing the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all citizens, but having the means to do so. Whether or not it fulfills this role, however, is certainly up for debate.
This purpose, as well as the possibility that our government is falling short of fulfilling it, draws me to public service. This is why I need my government. This blog’s purpose, over the coming months and years, is to show why my government needs me to be a part of it.
Cooper, this is one of the best breakdowns I’ve ever seen between the private sector, nonprofits and government. Well done. I’m looking forward to seeing future postings.