Patricia McGinnis, professor of practice, Georgetown Public Policy Institute; and former president and CEO, Council for Excellence in Government:
One of the best-kept secrets in America is the positive impact federal public servants have on the quality of our lives every day. We are inundated by news of partisan gridlock or mistakes by government workers — and this negative rancor dominates the media coverage of government to the point that we forget how fortunate we are that talented civil servants add value to our lives every day.
When we wake up, we turn to the weather report to prepare for the day. We breathe clean air as we catch the subway to work, and read or listen to the news, freely reported to inform, educate and entertain us. We take for granted that our workplaces are safe and if there were a fire or other emergency, for example, we can be confident that there are standards — for sprinkler systems, exits, emergency response and more. At lunch, we walk or run in the park — perhaps a national park preserved and maintained for our enjoyment. In the evening, we gather for a family dinner, confident that what we eat and drink is safe. And, we know that a safety net will be there to help us with tough transitions if our jobs are lost.
All thanks to the hard-working public servants at the National Weather Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation Department and other agencies across the federal government.
At the same time, we know the challenges we face — from economic growth and competitiveness to affordable health care and national security — will not be solved by business as usual in the public arena. Public servants on the front lines recognize that these challenges and budget realities — regardless of whose deficit reduction proposal you choose — will require innovation, cooperation, shared sacrifice, honest debate and greater public involvement to make meaningful progress. So, what to do?
Politicians, stop trying to punish your opponents and start collaborating to find practical, fair solutions.
People, reach out to help your neighbors, hold your elected leaders accountable for meaningful progress rather than grandstanding, and appreciate the public servants who have your back every day.
Public servants, apply your talent and experience to build high-performing teams and innovative partnerships, to find breakthrough solutions and to spread your successes and learn from your failures.
Everyone, encourage talented young people to become public servants and let them in on the well-kept secret: Public service offers unparalleled opportunities to learn and grow while tackling our most important problems. Public servants can make a significant difference in the lives of the people they serve.