Working for an 'improved picture' of public servants
As Public Service Recognition Week begins, the Federal Eye spoke with Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, about this week's events, President Obama's recent defense of government and why it's still hard to get a job with the government:
Federal Eye: What do you hope happens this week?
Stier: There are two goals here: to make sure that the current federal workforce gets some real applause, because they deserve it. And the second is that the American people get an improved picture of their public servants.
You got a bit of an assist last weekend from President Obama, who provided his defense of government in a commencement address at the University of Michigan:
He definitely captured a very important point about the nature of our discourse and the importance of our government. I would respectfully add to the list of things that he suggested that young people consider and that is actually government service itself.
I think in today’s world, many people no longer think about government service as being part of public service. ... In today’s world, government service has been bled out of public service. We need to see a change, we need to re-inject government service into public service. ... As important as the nonprofit sector is, without a vibrant, healthy government, none of the other stuff works.
In the view of you and your colleagues, is the current wave of anti-government rhetoric and violence normal?
You can look at the trust in government numbers and there have been other times when they’ve been this low, typically during economic hardship. My sense is that has to do partly with what the president described as the nasty political discourse, because I don’t think people have a good sense of the civil servant and what’s going on day in and day out.
Look at the newspaper today: You have the terrorist incident in New York, so you have the FBI and the set of government agencies that have been built to protect our physical security in the United States. You have the environmental crisis in the Gulf Coast, which draws upon an entirely different set of federal agencies that are designed to address protecting our environment. If you dig in the paper, there’s plenty of other examples of issues we face. ... Economic, physical security, environmental security, it’s all in play right now and we need the best in government to deal with it.
But it’s still too difficult for some folks to find government jobs.
It’s really three problems, and the first is that not enough information is getting to the talent market. Talented people don’t know enough about them. The second is the hiring process and the third is that once people are in government that they’re treated in a way that makes them want to stay and grow.
Have you seen enough progress on any of those three?
I think there is real progress, the most important sign of it being that we’re seeing a leadership commitment to talent. I think the partnership between OMB [Office of Management and Budget] and OPM [the Office of Personnel Management] around talent issues is a hugely important development. It has to be done by both; neither alone is sufficient.
It now seems that the Partnership is the only group in Washington thinking about government service and government operations 24/7. Shouldn’t there be others?
It’s an interesting conundrum. There are thousands of nonprofits dealing with the environment or poverty, and we’re it with respect to making government more effective through people. One of the challenges in the nonprofit world is that resources are fragmented. ...
We need to see a greater investment inside and outside government. One of my favorite examples is that the business community is willing to invest millions, if not billions, of dollars on lobbying around policy not operations, but they don’t invest at all on the management of government. ... We really need to see business, philanthropy, universities, we need to see them putting their time and money where it’ll really matter, and that’s making government work better.
So in a sense you welcome the competition?
We welcome competition. We welcome people caring and investing, because we think that’s important for everybody.
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