+ A “Public Service Academy” Might Make Government Cool Again

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Chris Myers Asch is trying to create a sort of West Point for civil servants, according to an article by Jason DeParle in the NY Times.

With no money, contacts or obvious qualifications, Mr Asch quit his job three years ago (at a Mississippi after-school program) and started a campaign to create a civilian service academy — a West Point for bureaucrats.  It would be free.  In return, graduates would spend five years working for the government.

His idea  was embraced by former Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and some allies in the House and Senate. 

The election of Barack Obama offers a glimmer of hope for such an endeavor.  Obama has pledged to “make government cool again;” and Mr Asch is using that slogan to sell his plan.

Says Asch, “The Public Service Academy can be Barack Obama’s Peace Corps.  He needs to take advantage of this moment when people are recognizing the importance of government and build institutions that will last.

Obama has not yet indicated an interest, but Vice-President Joe Biden Jr and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel have endorsed the idea.  Asch’s plan, once mocked, is now being hailed for its timing.

Arlen Spector, Republican, has joined former Senator Clinton in proposing legislation to create an academy, saying “There’s no doubt that we don’t have the best and the brightest in government.”

Chris Asch argues that American culture derides government work, and dissuades bright young people from pursuing it.  Academia glorifies material gain, he says; even students who choose public service often enter the nonprofit world.

The result, he feels, is the weakened bureaucracies behind disasters as different as September 11 and the response to Hurricane Katrina.

“When government institutions fail, people die,” he says.

The United States Public Service Academy, like its military counterparts, would offer a free four-year education in exchange for five years of government service.  Those who support the idea see both substantive and symbolic benefits: 1200 skilled graduates a year, spread across federal, state and local agencies, and a flagship institution that would give new prestige to government work.

Hillary Clinton has said, “Creating a public service academy would send a clear message that public service is a priority for your nation,”

Such an academy could change attitudes toward government work, says Asch, the way Teach for America has changed the way people feel about public education.

There are various critics.  Small-government conservatives deride “Bureaucracy U,” and representatives of public administration schools say they are already training people for such work.

The cost, as well, about $200 million a year, is also an obstacle.  Could such an academy compete with elite private schools for students and faculty?  Would it create a clubby group of superbureaucrats who would exercise undue power?

And many argue that this academy, however good it might be, wouldn’t address the problems young people see with government jobs.  These include a difficult and lengthy application process, lower pay than private-sector jobs, and civil-service rules that emphasize seniority, making access to promotions and responsibility difficult.

Mr Asch notes that most of the public administration programs are for graduate students, who often take nongovernment jobs.  He wants undergraduates to “have a whole campus of people who are committed to a shared mission — it encourages you to accomplish more.”

There is an Academy Web site: http://uspublicserviceacademy.org/?gclid=CKaH85aDpJgCFQsMGgodFHuJlQ.    It is the official blog for the U.S. Public Service Academy,  where you can find the latest Academy news, links, and videos. 

source: NY Times article by Jason DeParle on 1/6/09.  www.nytimes.com. tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards   614-579-5021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


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