The Platform, Part VI: The Honor of Public Service

This final post on the FAPITCA Platform comes “straight from the heart.” Both of us have worked for government throughout our career. Carl started as a Houston, Texas police officer at age 19, while Chuck began his service to the nation as a Presidential Management Intern for the US Bureau of Land Management  at age 24. Carl completed a 30-year career in the United States Army in 2006 and Chuck continues to work in the federal sector after almost 30 years of service. Our sister served 20 years in the US Air Force and is still a public high school teacher.

Fortunately, in spite of politically-driven attacks on American governance (often by so-called government servants of the more “conservative” party), many still serve America working for the various levels of government: our nation is better as a result. Americans working on behalf of America, providing services to other Americans and foreign visitors makes our nation stronger and more representative of who we are. To be sure, we can always work for America more efficiently and more objectively, but Americans working for America is a good thing.

Representing Americans as elected leaders in office is also a great service, and even though we’ve been critical of our federal legislators in this blog, we also honor their service when performed in the intended role rather than exploitation of the profession for personal power or gain. While helping to draft the United States Constitution, Benjamin Franklin talked about “the classical republican ideal of ‘disinterested public service’”…and hoping that “‘every member of Congress’ (would) consider himself rather as a representative of the whole, than as an agent for the interests of a particular state.” Franklin, also foreseeing the role of political parties, knew how important public service on behalf of all Americans was, having been in that capacity for much of his professional life. [1]

Our nation and our citizens require and should demand honorable public service to make America great. This service may take place in many US Flag over US Backgroundforms, including government, academia and industry that supports our economic growth and fairly promotes access to equal opportunity for all qualified to serve. [2] Without this level of service, our nation would likely fall into the ruin of corporate greed and corrupt political “leadership” that far exceeds what we consider problematic today. We’d be a lot worse off without dedicated service to our nation.

There are threats to effective public service, however. Most of these threats are politically motivated in an attempt to define what is acceptable governance and public service. Since the Reagan era, conservative politics claim government is too big, too inefficient and too generous to Americans and immigrants who are unemployed, homeless or who do not have access to a reasonable level of education. This side tends to favor lower taxes and less government interference in Americans’ lives. [3]

Liberal politics tend to support collection of more and “fairer” taxes, the creation of more opportunities for education and employment, and a government of sufficient size that it can adequately oversee what should be a balance of receipts (of taxes) and expenditures (legislatively approved obligations). Of course, conservatives also claim they want balance in the budget, as well, as long as that balance includes intense scrutiny of public servants and the funds they discharge. We agree…it’s hard not to agree with the idea of reasonable scrutiny and oversight.  It takes capable, inspired Americans to manage the day-to-day delivery of critical government services: clean water, safe drugs, social security payments, national and border security, etc., and provide daily internal scrutiny and oversight.

Both sides say they want balance eventually, but rarely accomplish this balance as there’s always some emergency like a war or recession that demands the budget objectives be delayed “temporarily.” This condition in America is no longer an “emergency” however, but more the way of life in an America that is fighting to be competitive in a globally rising community that includes, among others, China and India.

If this is the case, however, it seems as though we need more and better trained public servants to govern in this new normal, however, not less. We need our best involved in government and service to America!

The budget and fair administration of receipts and expenditures is really only one part of good public service. Another part is good old fashioned “customer service,” whether accomplished by sworn government officials or not; this involves dedication to our nation and concern for our fellow citizens, including fair access to equal opportunities to succeed as Americans and legal immigrants.

This is where things seem to be falling apart these days. As a nation of Americans we’ve quit worrying about the opportunity and income gaps and the advantages of closing those gaps on behalf of our nation. Instead, we’ve been thinking largely about ourselves and what’s in it for us. Service, unless it has an immediate benefit to us as individuals, is for someone else to worry about and to deliver.

Here’s the bottom line: if we are constantly condemning public service and those who dedicate themselves to it; if we fail to take care of our fellow citizens and ensure they have opportunity to compete and even become great public servants, academicians or business people; and if we fail to challenge the growing gaps between the wealthy and the rest of us, how can we ever hope to remain a great nation and a meaningful example to the rest of the world?

Public Service is an honorable profession. In many cases, our governments hire the best, not just those who can’t do anything else. This is equally true among the Millennial generation. [4] These servants don’t seek wealth but rather fair access to opportunity…they deserve our respect and support.

Our government services may not pay as well as the commercial and academic worlds perhaps, but government service offers the chance to serve our great nation in ways that are not possible any other way. If some among great Americans (our best presidents and leaders, members of the military, teachers and many others) had declined to serve, this nation would likely have failed long ago. They were there for us, and we need to be there for our future generations.

Please think about that the next time you are tempted to complain about the “evils of government” that happens when some politically-driven claim attempts to garner votes…that kind of claim really needs to be critically tested. Americans know how to think better than that.  Americans must once again learn to discern and embrace good government, and reject extremist calls for zero…or excessive… government.

Originally posted by Carl and Chuck Hunt, 8/10/2014.

NOTES:

[1] Beeman, R., Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, Random House, NY, 2009, page 151. Also, back in February, 2014, we posted Thomas Paine on Honor and the Congress, in which we recounted Paine’s essay “Reflections on Titles,” a piece in which he commented on the honor of those who served in the Continental Congress and drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence. We refer the reader to those pieces for more reflections on honorable public service as an elected official.

[2] In fact, we also honor the “public” service of businesses that do in fact support the American way of life, furthering access to economic and social opportunity…we could not have succeeded in either war or peace without their support (e.g., the accomplishments of industry in World War II). We have a more difficult time “honoring” businesses that hide behind the need to serve their stockholders BEFORE the nation that makes it possible for businesses to exist. To be sure, stockholders provide investment (for their own personal gain), but without the protections that objective, effective government provides, business would have a much more difficult environment in which to thrive as they have in America throughout its history. Businesses which put loyalty to stockholders before the nation that nurtures their growth should really consider their priorities. This is particularly true in the case of businesses that seek to move their headquarters oversees to avoid the responsibility of paying taxes to support our nation. This so-called process of “inversion” strips America of needed support and creation of increased opportunity within our own borders.

[3] This does not seem to apply to many conservative seniors who still want their social security payments and Medicare access, but who says you can’t have your cake and want to eat it, too?

[4] See for example:  Lavigna, B. and Flato, J. January, 2014 blog post: “Millennials Are Attracted to Public Service, But Government Needs to Deliver.” This article noted that “federal agencies were among the most preferred employers for students across main fields of study: the FBI, National Institutes of Health, NASA, Department of State, and Peace Corps all ranked among the top ten, alongside companies like Google, Walt Disney Company, Apple, and Microsoft. Government employers are particularly popular with humanities and natural science students.” Also see: Fournier, R. “The Outsiders: How Can Millennials Change Washington If They Hate It?” which in spite of the name of the article documents how Millennials “in general, are fiercely committed to community service” but they “don’t see politics or government as a way to improve their communities, their country, or the world.” Sigh…again, edge-driven politics are jeopardizing our nation’s future. Fournier’s August, 2013 Atlantic Magazine study indicated that Millennials are increasingly less likely to enter into politics and government, a trend we must all somehow contribute to reversing to ensure our nation’s future. For one bit of recent bright news, see Millennial authors Eric Zenisek and Mike Stinnett in their Fortune Magazine piece, Why millennials should ditch corporate jobs for public service…their conclusion: “It’s going to take a renewed commitment to service to repair our country. Millennials are up for the task.”

 

3 thoughts on “The Platform, Part VI: The Honor of Public Service

  1. Indeed, serving the public is an honorable choice of career. I carry nothing but pride in the body of total of work I did on behalf of the public – U. S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and the NPS.

    Yet, there is a dark side too. Articles have been written and books published addressing the issue. The issue is what one potentially faces when they elect to “blow the whistle” on waste, abuse, fraud, misappropriations and the many other things that curtail decent public service.

    A few recent examples:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/wp/2014/07/09/va-employees-testify-about-retaliation-against-whistleblowers/

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/whistleblower-in-snyder-tree-case-moves-on-to-a-new-job-wins-settlement-with-park-service/2013/10/03/a8df43c4-1f02-11e3-94a2-6c66b668ea55_story.html

    • Thanks for these insights, Bob. You do indeed point to the darker side of public service where we must question the integrity of the leaders the public entrusts to administer precious resources, including those over whom they have charge. In these cases, their lack of integrity fails to honor the public trust. I would even say that these leadership failings are among the most grievous of shortcomings in our government.

      Update (8/11/2014): Bob, just to add on to the two pieces you cited in your comment, this morning’s Washington Post published “Patent office filters out worst telework abuses in report to its watchdog” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/patent-office-filters-out-worst-telework-abuses-in-report-to-watchdog/2014/08/10/cd5f442e-1e4d-11e4-82f9-2cd6fa8da5c4_story.html?hpid=z3). This article, recounting telework privilege abuses and leadership failures at upper management levels to deal with these abuses, also confirms the darker side of public service.

      Our hope is that the young folks coming into government service and assuming leadership positions of their own will learn from these examples and lead their organizations effectively and objectively as Americans serving America. Many thanks, Bob!

      – Carl

  2. Carl and Chuck, Have you thought of submitting this as a newspaper column? It deserves circulation. Harold

    ________________________________

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