Taking action to advance public service in America
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Taking action to advance public service in America

July 31, 2020 | Updated on October 21, 2020

In photo above: Speakers at the “Taking Action to Advance Service in America” panel, clockwise beginning at the top left: Allyson Solomon, president of the National Youth Guard Foundation; moderator Steve Barney, commissioner at the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service; Barbara Stewart, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service; Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service; and Neil Bush, chairman of Points of Light.

Our country is facing phenomenal challenges, and from challenge comes opportunity. More than ever before in my lifetime, the American people are seeing that a well-functioning government is fundamental to our health and safety. We must now guide that interest and energy into constructive and meaningful change.  

In June, I had the opportunity to discuss how our country can address current challenges and advance public service—at an event hosted by the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service to discuss its recent report, Inspired to Serve.

Two and a half years of research by the commission culminated in a final report that provides meaningful and practical recommendations to promote all forms of service, invigorate civil society and strengthen our democracy.

I was one of the four panelists at a session called, “Taking Action to Advance Service in America.” Moderator Steve Barney asked each of us to discuss how we can inspire individuals and organizations to serve, saying, “The current moment requires a collective effort to build upon America’s spirit of service and to cultivate a widespread culture of service as a legacy to future generations.”

My co-panelist Neil Bush said, “A culture of service needs to be deeply embedded” in every organization across the country, including corporations and universities. Bush, chairman of the nonprofit Points of Light, emphasized that everyone has a role to play in helping other people develop this culture of public service.   

Panelist Allyson Solomon, president of the National Guard Youth Foundation, spoke about the need to invest in programs and opportunities we already know are working, and use those to teach others, especially young people, about the importance of serving the community.

People who previously volunteered or worked in public service must also play a role, according to panelist Barbara Stewart, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. She encouraged these individuals to spread the word about the life-changing effects of working in public service.

I offered the following suggestions for advancing public service in our country:

Develop stronger leaders across the government.

Our institutions are only as good as the people who are in them. And leaders are not just selected—they are grown and developed. The Partnership’s Public Service Leadership Model is the standard for effective federal leadership and helps public servants answer the question, “How can we do the most good?”

Harness the innovation of today.

In responding to COVID-19, federal agencies are breaking ground each day on new and better ways of doing business. In the past, the tendency of the government in responding to a crisis has been to act quickly but then to pull back to old ways of doing things after the crisis has passed. We need to harness innovations from this moment in time and make sure they become normal practices going forward.

Highlight the important work of federal employees.

In civics discussions, people typically examine institutions and processes rather than the people who are part of them. Changing this perspective is one of the first steps toward modernizing the U.S. civil service system. One way the Partnership does so is through the Service to America Medals, a program that recognizes federal employees and the important contributions they make to our country.

Read Commissioner Barney’s blog post about the final report on our blog, and watch the full Inspired to Serve: A Path Forward event on Facebook.