Thursday, January 08, 2009

Fifty Years Ahead of My Time, Public Service Academy

If memory serves, 50 years ago in my speech at high school graduation, I supported the idea of a public service academy, which got some publicity yesterday in the NYTimes. (I think I had read about the French institution, the ENA. After working in the bureaucracy, my opinion is more mixed. The French and British civil services have virtues ours does not. But our country and government is more decentralized than France or Britain, and implementing a European-style civil service would be difficult.

Jimmy Carter tried to take a step in that direction, with the Senior Executive Service. Part of the idea was to create a more professional class of managers who could be moved around and would not spend their careers in a single agency. I don't think it worked. We continue to have problems of inter-agency warfare and conflict--witness the report of the 9/11 commission, witness the Goldwater Act of the mid 80's for DOD, witness the recurring problems in the USDA.

While I'm skeptical that a public service academy would do a whole hell of a lot in improving the quality of our managers, it might help to create an "old-boys network" which could help cross-agency communication and coordination. As a further point, in today's Federal Diary (Wash Post daily column) says federal employees trust their supervisors ' technical ability more than their managerial ability. I, and most other bureaucrats, tend to be skeptical of "managers", people like Leo Panetta coming into CIA, because we think you have to understand the agency and its problems to do a good job managing. I was a good bureaucrat, so I got promoted to be a manager, where I had more faults than I cared to admit. But that's typical of federal bureaucrats, meaning we aren't likely to support a public service academy. But we ought to give it a try.

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