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Reinventing Public Service

I’ve previously made my case for the value of the word “bureaucrat” but it’s a tough battle. To appease the 50th complaint, I changed the profile question to “Who is your favorite public servant?”

Which bring me to public service. A lot of talk has occurred recently on reenergizing public service. When I was in Canada recently, there is a whole program called Public Service Renewal. It’s a pretty in-depth program to recruit and energize the public service. Lots of good projects and I even met someone whose official job title was “Director, Ontario Government, Youth and New Professionals”. If anyone is listening, I’m volunteering for that job in the U.S.

The timing is right to push real change in the public service. Obama already has proposals on the table to extend tuition reimbursement for those that volunteer for Americorp and PeaceCorp and expand these programs in general.

However, I really hope that government employee is included in the discussion of public service. Often, the topic is focused more on non-profits and volunteering without really discussing the need for energetics and talented govies.

Let’s hope we see some movement on this in the next few years. Even with the retirement tsunamai slowing with 401ks declining, we need to ensure that gov’t agencies recruit/retain the best and the brightest not the most patient and cautious.

My proposal: A reinvention of the Presidential Management Fellows program. Make the program bigger and broader (include undergrads). Copy from “Teach for America”‘s success and rebrand it “Work for America.” 2-years, tuition reimbursement, job rotations. If marketed right, it would be flooded with applicatons and get great people in government.

Plus, I like U.S. Public Service Academy. (Note – Would love to teach there if it ever happens).

Note: I hear a lot of complaints about these new programs focusing on the youth. I know this is controversial but personally, I think that’s fine – almost all of all entry-level programs at major corporations (GE, McKinsey, J&J, etc) focus on recent college (undergrad/grad school) grads. Plus, that’s my expertise – I would welcome a creative approach to bringing in talented mid-level and senior level innovators to government.

And gov’t is already filling most of their entry-level positions with mid-level staff. Merit System Board found average age of entry-hire is 33 who is most interested in job stability and vacation time. I would personally like more young energetic people on-board who joined for a chance to serve their country and care about improving their country in a specific mission (environment, homeland security, etc). Look at what Capital Hill does with their staffers.

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In France, it’s considered an honor to be a government worker. We need more of this attitude here. What greater cause than to serve your country, right? But in the mass discussion, “serving” seems to only mean the armed services — or at best, including things like Americorps or Peace Corps. But we are all public servants, and it would be nice if we all recognized that.

And I don’t just mean that others should view us that way. We need to view ourselves that way too. Too many people forget that the whole purpose of our jobs is public service. I’ve spent my career on the front lines, so my awareness is always there — but as I move increasingly into desk-driver mode, I encounter too many people who view the public as a hassle.

On a side note: I have a real beef with the Pres. Management Fellows program. Too often these people are treated like Golden Children and handed promotions on silver platters. I have seen too much unjustified favoritism bestowed upon them, at the expense of other equally-talented employees who just happened to be unfortunate enough not to have been exposed to the program at the right moment in time to apply. I’d like to see more professional leadership developement programs for EVERYONE.