Congress set aside May 5-11 for Public Service Recognition Week, to acknowledge and honor U.S. government civil servants.
“We will never get the government we want if all we do is tear it down,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “Amazing things are going on all the time by public servants, and we need to recognize them if we want to see them replicated by other public servants.”
As part of this special week, the Partnership for Public Service on May 6 hosted a Public Service Town Hall, organized by the Public Employees Roundtable. The town-hall meeting examined what federal agencies are doing to deliver public goods at lower costs, how they communicate the value of their work to the public, and how agencies are maintaining employee engagement amid sequestration furloughs and shrinking budgets.
Moderated by Cokie Roberts, political commentator at ABC News, town-hall panelists included Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe and General Services Administration Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini.
Sequestration was a key theme for the discussion. The panelists unanimously agreed the across-the-board budget cuts were not the right way to manage government. “You couldn’t design a worse way to reduce costs,” Donovan said.
Yet, despite the fiscal austerity, “public servants are rising to the occasion, no matter how much their pay is cut,” Perciasepe said.
DHS is trying to shield its valuable public servants by minimizing sequestration’s effect on agency personnel. “We are very personnel dependent,” Napolitano said.
As a counterpoint to sequestration, Tangherlini said there is a need to develop a government driven by data rather than anecdote. Instead of cutting programs, government needs to dive into programs and see the public goods accrued from their presence.
Echoing this sentiment, Donovan suggested delving into how adequate housing plays a role in how children do in school, their overall health and their ability to contribute to the economy, would be more instructive than looking at short-term outcomes.
Each panelist concluded the town-hall meeting by answering the question, “Why I serve.”
“I serve because I grew up in New York City at a time when homelessness was exploding, when we were wondering whether American cities would even survive,” Donovan said. “I was at the 1977 World Series in the Bronx, where Howard Cosell said to the audience, ‘ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning’ and I felt like, having witnessed that, the best way I could give back was by working in public service to try to end homelessness and to help cities come back.”
“I serve because I think the future can and should be better than the present, and I think working in the public service is the best way to help achieve that,” Napolitano said.
Perciasepe said, “I think it’s kind of simple for me: trying to make a difference in the world and that may seem idealistic, but there’s nothing wrong with idealism.”
Tangherlini concluded, lamenting: “I wish I hadn’t had to go last, but why I serve: I blame my parents. It’s their fault. They raised my brothers and me with the philosophy that you have to leave a better world than the one you were brought into.”