Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Do we need an academy like West Point, but for civil service?

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

Arizona State University (ASU) will launch a Public Service Academy this fall, an undergraduate program that will integrate cross-sector and civilian-military experiences to develop future leaders. In an interview with Tom Fox, Jonathan Koppell, the dean of the ASU College of Public Service and Community Solutions, talked about the new academy, the types of training it will provide and some of the barriers that currently exist regarding entry into federal service.

What was the impetus for creating a public service academy?

There has been an idea for a long time that we ought to have a public service academy akin to West Point that trains people for civilian public service. There are a wide range of professions that involve public service. We don’t have a prepared pipeline of individuals who see service as part of their lives and who are acquiring skills at a young age.

What skills do students need for government service?

Most people aren’t adequately prepared to work across sectors. Many government policies involve understanding market dynamics — and how a change in one policy or regulation or program filters through a market and sometimes has unintended consequences. One of the negative byproducts is that it has created a mutual suspicion between government and the private sector. That’s something the ASU Public Service Academy addresses, by giving students the opportunity to build trust through their experiences with people in the public and private sector.

You have talked about the need for better cooperation between federal agencies and the military. Can you explain?

The interaction between the civilian and military world can be incredibly dysfunctional. Anyone who has been in the situation can tell you that when you have people from the Army try to interact with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department or nonprofits, there are culture clashes, distrust and a lack of understanding.

One key feature of the new academy is that our civilian service corps is going to work alongside the members of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. We want to start building the civilian-military trust and preparing people for the dynamics of that interaction at the earliest stages of their training.

What other areas need attention?

One of the new programs that we’re excited about is a masters in emergency management and homeland security. Large-scale disasters are simply part of contemporary life, but we don’t have the necessary preparation and capacity-building to respond effectively to these events.

Data analytics is another huge area where public agencies are grappling with the need to have more people prepared to derive value from large data sets.

How do you help students who want to make a difference see the connection between that interest and government service?

When it comes to government service, there is a steep hill to climb to convince a lot of people that it is an effective way to make a difference. We live in an era when government is maligned almost every day. We need to encourage people to see government service as a virtuous and a critical form of public service. We need to introduce students to the direct role government plays in solving societal challenges. That includes educating them about how the public-sector process works and showing them how to successfully navigate it.

What are the qualities you look for in students?

We look for an entrepreneurial or innovative spirit. We often think of the entrepreneurial spirit as key in private-sector work, but the most effective people in the public sector have to be entrepreneurial too, and are constantly thinking of what to do differently. We need to teach our students how to overcome the resistance to change that they will inevitably run into.

Do your students have difficulty getting federal jobs?

The short answer is yes, it’s difficult. It’s also a nightmare opening the doors to internships. One of the things that the private sector does exceptionally well is provide internships to MBA students. That is a huge part of the hiring pipeline, particularly for people at the leadership level. The employer views the internship as an audition. It’s a much better way of hiring somebody than simply going off of a piece of paper and an hour or two of interviews.

The federal government doesn’t do that. They are missing out on a huge talent pool. That needs to be addressed if we’re going to capture that talent. Out of the top schools of public administration and policy, the majority of students actually don’t go into government service. That’s because we don’t make it easy for government agencies to hire those people.

If you could change one thing about the federal hiring process, what would it be?

The hiring process happens very slowly. A lot of students are interested in opportunities, but the gears turn so slowly to process the paperwork and go through the formal requirements that, by the time a decision is made — even if it’s a favorable decision — people have to take other jobs. They are missing out on a lot of good people.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Jul 07, 2015 at 4:45 PM


Reader comments

Mon, Jul 13, 2015 Chris StJohn

Did you forget about Defense Acquisition University? 16 career fields plus a great Leadership Academy. Tuition free. 5 campuses.

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Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
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