We the Partnership

Impressions from 15 years in public service

By James-Christian Blockwood | March 11, 2021

Without question, I feel grateful and privileged to have worked as a civil servant. My career path included serving in three of the largest executive branch agencies—the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs—as well as the sole legislative branch agency—the Government Accountability Office—responsible for helping Congress with federal program oversight. Government has given me so much, including the opportunity to positively impact various communities and people. Here, I share some of my thoughts on government service as one form of repayment to one’s country.

The federal government bears extraordinary responsibility and power. Our government has over 2 million federal employees, a budget of more than $4.5 trillion and serves 330 million people. When crisis hits, as it unfortunately did in 2020, it is the federal government that distributes the necessary resources and assistance to help people respond. Over the past 200-plus years, our government has consistently delivered when the stakes are at all-time highs.

The time is now to renew our workforce and reinforce what it means to serve. Despite this record of success, however, government and government workers have not always fully served and protected the American public and been good stewards of public trust, particularly during major scandals and economic downturns. Yet I have discovered that certain moments motivate people to get involved and contribute to the greater good in some way. I believe we are currently in such a moment. Confronting our nation’s greatest challenges—and seizing new opportunities to advance the common good—requires public support, a strong civil service and partnership across sectors. During my career, I have seen our government mobilize incredible talent to solve very difficult problems, and right now we have a window of opportunity to recapture and reshape the narrative around government and public service.

There are unique things one can only do in government. I have served alongside military forces fighting for American freedom and the freedom of others. I have traveled the world offering training and resources to strengthen the capabilities of national audit offices that help their countries achieve the highest accountability and governance standards. I have helped craft forward-looking strategies to help ensure our country always supports the veterans who protect us and our way of life, and I have worked across sectors to promote security, trade, immigration and global supply chain management. Government jobs offer a unique opportunity to take on such responsibilities.

Federal service is a gift that can provide unmatched experiences and lasting memories with extraordinary colleagues. Government service comes with a sense of duty and level of fulfillment unlike any other career.  Perhaps my most important takeaway from government is that service is lifelong.

Many who have served in the federal government are inspired by the people, mission and opportunity to directly impact others. Many will continually search for ways to improve government from outside the civil service. I am one of those many—currently contributing to the broader mission of making government more effective for the people of this country as executive vice president at the Partnership for Public Service. I share my government experience with others to inspire service. I strongly encourage people to serve in whatever way and whatever capacity they can—and our government will be better for it.


James-Christian Blockwood