Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


U.S. Public Service Academy
November 24, 2007 10:38 PM   Subscribe

U.S. Public Service Academy : A proposal by two Teach for America alum to provide fully-funded top-notch undergraduate education in public service in the style of military academies, but with a mandatory 5-year local/state/federal service work requirement. A bill for this school was put into Congress by Senators Hillary Clinton and Arlen Specter.
posted by divabat (54 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have a feeling that, if it gets off the ground, this public service academy would be host to the highest concentration of gladhanding, self-promoting blowhards to be found in the continental U.S.

(I see the two Teach for America graduates who say this is their brainchild are not shy about declaring themselves the academy's "founders," even though the academy has not been founded yet.)
posted by jayder at 11:08 PM on November 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


An intriguing concept. The only problem I have with it is that the mission is pretty vague. "Public service" is a pretty broad area.

If you go to West Point, it's to be an Army officer; full stop. That's what they train people to do there, and that's why you go there -- to learn how to do it, and get that job. Similarly, the other service academies. They're sort of like the Unix philosophy applied to education: they do one thing, and they generally do it pretty well -- or at least well enough so that they get left alone.

But "public service" isn't really a job in the same vein as "Army officer," and the training that's required to be a teacher and a Border Patrol agent are pretty different. (Well, one hopes, anyway.) There seems to be a pretty big risk that with 5000 students, you wouldn't be producing the 'best' anything, because your curriculum would be too diffuse and you wouldn't be able to concentrate on any one job enough to claim to be producing the 'best xes,' for any x. And that's important if you want people to take the program seriously and for it to succeed.

I agree that this country has a desperate need for qualified, passionate people in the public service, but we need more than just a bunch of liberal arts grads. We need people who are going to be the best in their fields, and that's what a government-funded academy should be aimed at producing. I'd rather see one with a more focused goal (e.g. a "National Teacher Training Academy" that implements all the best practices and produces stellar teachers) than one that just produces 'public servants' generally.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:12 PM on November 24, 2007 [4 favorites]


A quick search of the New York Times archive reveals that this public service academy is not the brainchild of TFA alums Chris Myers Asch and Shawn Raymond; it is the brainchild of someone named Frank R. Nataro who wrote the following letter to the New York Times in 1993:

"Now Create a West Point for Public Service

New York Times, September 26, 1993, Section: 4

To the Editor:

Now that the National Service Initiative has passed into law, it is time the concept be carried a step further.

A United States public service academy should be established on a par with the three major military academies . Designed to attract "the best and the brightest" young people who are idealistic enough to dedicate some part of their lives to public service, it should offer free education on the college and postgraduate levels. It should require strong prerequisite credentials like those now used for the military academies .

It should be apolitical, although recommendations from members of Congress would play a part. It should be headed by a person of great prestige who is neither a politician nor a military officer.

Our country's greatest natural resource is its youth. The idealism and pride of those who want to make the country and the world a better place should be utilized in a United States academy of public service. Taxpayers would be spending their money on training leaders who would wield plowshares instead of swords.

What better way to signify to the world that we seek to lead the quest for political settlement by peaceful means?

FRANK R. NATARO
Westbury, L.I., Sept. 16, 1993"
posted by jayder at 11:18 PM on November 24, 2007


jayder: George Washington was actually the first to propose such an idea, and some others have too, but the two TFA grads were the first to make something concrete out of it.
posted by divabat at 11:24 PM on November 24, 2007


So, a proposal and a website makes it concrete?
posted by Eekacat at 11:50 PM on November 24, 2007


Eekacat: Now that it's going through Congress, it's likely to be more concrete than any previous plans or ideas.
posted by divabat at 11:57 PM on November 24, 2007


The idea does seem to have merit, but I'm already skeptical about the proposed location: Washington DC. Yes, there are some compelling reasons to locate the school in the national capital, but I think that there are better reasons for locating it somewhere else - one of the "fly-over" states, for instance.
posted by davidmsc at 12:04 AM on November 25, 2007


It seems to me that a public service university with the goal of producing people who would serve in the public sector would need to focus on political philosophy/political science, macro and micro economics, (city) planning, ecology, resource management, diplomacy/negotiation, constitutional law, ETHICS ETHICS ETHICS, and history (among other things). It would be a really interesting curriculum, but I worry about it being politicized, as it inevitably would. State colleges manage to pretty well circumvent the natural conservativism of political institutions, mainly through a long chain of command. But, a school directly controlled by the federal government? That would be scary. Would you want our current administration to be training a huge section of our future civil servants?

And I'm going to disagree with Kadin2048: this country DOES need more liberal arts graduates, but in particular more liberal arts graduates who really care about the liberal arts and don't just see college education as a necessary yet ultimately unimportant step to a job as a corporate suck-up.
posted by papakwanz at 12:06 AM on November 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


I agree entirely with Kadin2048's reservations about this idea.

This article also lays out several compelling objections.

And, not to harp on the issue of who "founded" the academy, but if it is a federal institution, it is the federal government founding it. These two TFA alumni are advocating the founding of the academy, not founding it themselves.

A founder is someone who takes his or her own money and builds a school. Advocating for legislation to create an institution is not founding an institution.

To suggest they are "founding" the institution is ludicrous, and suggests shameless, tacky careerism.
posted by jayder at 12:09 AM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think putting it in DC is a terrible idea; it pretty much guarantees that it would be a "beltway insider" mill: instead of public servants, you'd be producing apparachiks and bureaucrats. That's just the DC mileau -- I'm convinced it's in the water. Everything about this place is poisonous to new ideas, particularly anything that challenges the status quo. It's a city that owes its entire existence to top-down, government largesse, and the cynicism directed at anything new permeates down to the lowest levels.

That's exactly what you don't want in any public-service academy of any stripe. You want people who are going to bring in new and fresh ideas to a moribund system; people who are going to revitalize it, not prop it up while they continue to suck it dry. And that means bringing them up far from the sordid corridors of power in Washington.

But I maintain my earlier objection that the whole thing is silly unless it can pick some sort of specialty to concentrate on, in the same style as the service academies. There are enough liberal arts grads with a surplus of naive ambition and a shortage of useful skills floating around without further flooding the pool.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:30 AM on November 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I was just thinking that the Northern Exposure model of education has been underutilized. Surely all the country needs to rekindle its commitment to civil service is a bit of good old-fashioned indentured servitude.


Hey, here's a few novel ideas -- take that money and put it towards loan forgiveness for students who do public service work after college in the areas where we need it the most.

Expand government internship programs and outreach to get students involved in those programs early, and offer college credit for participation in the programs. Offer additional incentives for those who continue to participate in their programs during and after school.

For students who need help paying for college, mix their internship programs in with their regular undergraduate education (summers, alternating years and semesters).

Color me skeptical that, "We pay for your college, and then we own you for five years" is going to end well. I remember the Army recruiters trying that one on me in high school. I didn't find it very convincing then, and I find it even less convincing now.

Why in the world would I want to commit to that without even knowing how much debt I'd eventually accrue, where I'd be going to school, what major I'd end up completing, and what the job market would look like after graduation? Can you say sucker's bargain?
posted by spiderwire at 12:36 AM on November 25, 2007 [4 favorites]


Also, what we need in public service is not more dedicated public servants, but fewer corrupt political appointees to overrule their findings.
posted by salvia at 12:45 AM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


When I grow up, I want to be a bureaucrat.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:55 AM on November 25, 2007


Sorry to double-post, should have previewed on the last one and put it there. Re papakwanz:
And I'm going to disagree with Kadin2048: this country DOES need more liberal arts graduates, but in particular more liberal arts graduates who really care about the liberal arts and don't just see college education as a necessary yet ultimately unimportant step to a job as a corporate suck-up.
I'm trying to maintain an open mind here, but maybe I've been too long in DC or been exposed to too many of the latter type of liberal arts graduate to really think that's what we need.

I guess the problem I have with the liberal arts is that, taken just by themselves, they don't lend themselves to much in the way of productive employment, either in the public or private sector. It's a path that makes sense for people who plan on going on to advanced professional education and want (and can afford to spend the time to get) a very broad base to build on, but little if your goal is to produce a graduate who can be put to useful work performing non-trivial tasks immediately after completion of their bachelor's degree.

With a pure liberal arts background, you can't be a teacher; that requires specialized education. You can't be a cop. You can't be a fireman. You can't do most of the jobs that we really need qualified people to fill in this country, at least not without a lot of follow-on education.

I know literally dozens of young people, really bright, motivated kids, from a cross-section of top liberal arts schools, who are currently learning this lesson the hard way. There's no shortage of well-meaning young people looking to change the world out there -- the competition for entry-level positions at NGOs (where, more often than not, the work is essentially data entry or administrative) is fierce. The market is quite flooded.

If you produce a lot of liberal arts graduates and send them into the public sector with a service commitment of a few years, they're going to be stuck after graduation into soul-crushing low-level positions (because that's all they're really qualified to do), where they'll barely have learned how things work by the time their commitment is up. (Furthermore, all they'll have learned is how things do work, not necessarily how they should or can.) At that point, they'll have little motivation to stay, or if they do, they'll just be another bureaucrat. All you've done is take someone with a vague interest in public service and burn them out.

I think a much better plan is to establish an academy with a very specific focus, be it teaching or something else. Recruit students who really want to do that job in particular, and who also want to do that job in the service of the public, and set high expectations. Done right, the result would be graduates who, like their colleagues at the military academies, would be ready to be slotted almost immediately into leadership positions, and begin making an actual difference in how things work. That, I think, might be a recipe for change.

This is probably a less sexy solution, since it means having lots of smaller, perhaps (dare I say it?) trade-school-ish specialist academies, rather than one big one, but in my experience optimal solutions are rarely sexy.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:11 AM on November 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


MiltonRandKalman writes "When I grow up, I want to be a bureaucrat."

All obsessive compulsive and snotty ? Jamaica !

The problem with burocrats ? Not them, they instrument of power..delay, confusion, arcane laws and language. All of this is incredibily inefficient, but they don't care they spread the price over population. (note that's true of any cost socializing structure)

What is lost to these "brains" is humor, self-irony and one fundamental understanding: that a more efficient, lean, faster society in which the individual can live better and feeling more secure is going to make their life a lot better, even if they will have to work a little more and have a little less power.

One thing is to have millions in fear, paralized by the idea they are going to jail for committing crimes they don't even think exist (see RIAA legislating their "business model" by fear and lobbying) ...another thing is having millions of good workers busy making their life better in a organized fashion, not afraid of tomorrow.
posted by elpapacito at 1:52 AM on November 25, 2007


Good thing we have the snark on MeFi to shoot this idea down. The last thing we need is educated people dedicated to working for the public good!
posted by DU at 5:10 AM on November 25, 2007


I think this is a very expensive way to do something that could be done more cheaply and easily otherwise.

My son goes to a service academy (USAFA). It's not just academics he deals with. It's four years of suck designed to weed out people who cannot handle the stresses of leadership in a military environment. This four years of suck costs the taxpayers quite a lot, I might add.


If you want to establish something similar for public services, what would this academy do besides provide the free education? A public service scholarship would do the same thing. It's not like a teacher really NEEDS to be able to do fifty pushups in a short period of time ;-)
posted by konolia at 5:47 AM on November 25, 2007


I agree with Konolia. As a member of a four-year service academy, we're trained for a very specific job on the federal level. What we're talking about here would on various levels, probably most on state or local governments and organizations. What would make more sense is 1) create a scholarship or 2) have state trade schools/programs. You don't require special equpiment or a centralized ciriculum for what you're talking about, neither are most of these people serving in any way the job capacity. This really isn't a good or approriate idea - there are better options that are less showy but more effective and less national.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:57 AM on November 25, 2007


You're all wrong. Charlie came up with this on The West Wing. The West Wing is the fount of all wisdom.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:18 AM on November 25, 2007


The academies make sense. The military needs officers with a broad education in some areas (eg history, physics), and very specialized knowledge in other areas which traditional students are unlikely to be interested in. They also need the chance to induce new officers into their culture in an intensive way.

Public service does not need either of these. Less academies, more ROTC. Similar to ROTC have people who provide guidance and motivation. Keep education distributed.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:30 AM on November 25, 2007


Wow, it's like we have MeFi consensus. Group hug everyone!
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:32 AM on November 25, 2007


The French have had the École nationale d'administration since just after World War II; an ENA degree has become a gate through which one must pass, as a practical matter, to attain the highest ranks in the French civil service.

It is no accident that the word "bureaucracy" comes to us from the French.

There are plenty of good public policy programs and institutes of government at US universities, public and private, already. Don't see a need here, frankly.
posted by enrevanche at 6:47 AM on November 25, 2007


It's an astonishingly, remarkably bad idea.

As Kadin et al have pointed out, military service has some significant constraints that allow you to at least try to avoid the pitfalls of ideology. (I say "try" because, well, the Air Force Academy...)

But I'm having a really, really hard time imagining why someone as bright as Arlen Specter can't see that with a vague mission like "public service" it would take something less than a semster for the most morally outraged and administratively powerful actors in the equation to hijack such a school to the ends of their own ideology.

It's a recipe for a dictatorship of the Puritanariat.
posted by lodurr at 7:15 AM on November 25, 2007


Can I major in Abstinence Studies?
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:40 AM on November 25, 2007


There are plenty of existing public colleges and universities with outstanding programs -- in Social Work, Education, Urban Planning and Policy, Politics and Government, Law, all Health and Medical professions, etc. This is wholly unnecessary and should be replaced with scholarship programs at existing schools in return for public service afterward. Or even just by using one already existing school, or a nationwide network of existing schools and programs, like Audrey Cohen School for Human Services and Education.
posted by amberglow at 7:55 AM on November 25, 2007


But "public service" isn't really a job in the same vein as "Army officer," and the training that's required to be a teacher and a Border Patrol agent are pretty different.

Except that "Army officer" isn't a job like "Army officer" either. The skills required to drive a tank (and manage others) are pretty different from the skills required to run an infantry platoon are pretty different from the skills required to manage spare parts flows are pretty different from the skills required to evaluate competing proposals for new ground to air missile systems.

It would be arguably even worse in other services. The skills required to land an F-18 are pretty fucking far from the skills required to manage a nuclear reactor are pretty fucking far from the skills required to be a naval police officer.

The best you could say is that they all require skills like "leadership" or "integrity," as if other jobs didn't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:27 AM on November 25, 2007


One of the real problems in the American education system is that population pressures have made professional schools the only effective entry to useful public service, thus guaranteeing that the energies of youth are spent in the library rather than changing the world. Jane Addams identified this problem more than a century ago as "'the snare of preparation,' which... we spread before the feet of young people, hopelessly entangling them in a curious inactivity at the very period of life when they are longing to construct the world anew and to conform it to their own ideals." How much better off would we be if there was an educational pedigree that churned out 22 year-old civic renewal at a brisk pace?

There are a lot of problems with a service academy that has a fixed curriculum, but there's nothing that says you can't have a service academy that offers a basic education alongside professionalizations tracks, i.e. "trade-school-ish specialist academies" that train teachers, police officers, etc. Right now the curriculum has taken a back-seat to the politics of founding this thing, but they're gesturing in this direction with the notion of 'public service concentrations.'

If anything I suspect that such a school would lead to a significant de-bureaucratization of local and state government in favor of civic engagement programs and various opportunities for local leadership. I was a civil servant right after college, and I hated it: it made me want to rip my hair out, but I also learned a lot about why bureaucracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

I think it's absurd to locate it in DC: none of the military service academies are in the district, why should the public service academy be here? Most of the public in need of service lives elsewhere. Put it someplace that could use it: Memphis or New Orleans, etc. A DC location would make the most sense if there was relatively equal representation from each state (perhaps each senator or congresscritter could have a single slot to fill each year) and the graduates were required to return to that state to fulfill their service commitment.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:31 AM on November 25, 2007


Kadin2048: I think that your goals are almost self-contradictory. Trade school-ish models do not produce people who can "think outside the box" or "question the status quo." If you design your education around "productive employment" then you are, in fact, reinforcing the status quo. You have decided that a certain X number of job categories are essential to the system's functioning; you are training people with a certain set of skills and a certain ideology to fit into the machine in a certain way, and there they will remain. And eventually, that position becomes something of a ghetto.

I've been involved in higher education for a while, and I disagree with your claim that liberal arts education doesn't prepare people for "productive employment" (although, to reiterate, I don't think that should ever be the goal of education; the goal of education is to produce productive human beings, not productive workers). Yeah, the job market is competitive, and often times people with more skill-oriented degrees have an easier time finding jobs. But that's due to a number of factors, including many college grads shooting for high end jobs straight out of the box. The kids with business degrees get jobs, sure, but in the long run, they are often stuck in a low end position. Why? Because they have been trained to function in a certain way, and they have pre-sold out to the Man. The liberal arts graduates who can think for themselves and be inventive and learn and evolve (which is, of course, the minority, but that's another issue) are the ones who end up advancing higher in the long run, and they end up making a bigger impact. I think the idea that people with liberal arts degrees are unhireable and unskilled is a bit of "common wisdom" that is not backed up by reality. I've seen liberal arts grads succeed far more than anyone with a trade-specific skillset, simply because the former are taught to think critically, learn quickly, and synthesize new information, while the latter are taught to do a set number of things. Ramble ramble ramble, my point is, the liberal arts, when taught and learned correctly (which is, granted, something that is not often done) are far more valuable in the long run to a society's development than a bunch of kids with business admin degrees and degrees from the ITT Tech school of design and management or whatever.
posted by papakwanz at 8:52 AM on November 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


Can I major in Abstinence Studies?

With a minor in Creationism? You bet!
posted by Avenger at 8:55 AM on November 25, 2007


I recoil at recommending a Regnery book, but there's an excellent book by Josiah Bunting, the former head of Virginia Military Institute, called An Education for Our Time, that proposes something akin to a national public service academy (here's a review of the book). The one he imagines in his book is founded by a private individual, and is kind of a cross between one of the Great Books schools and a military academy (without the military training), with a dash of Deep Springs. The school Bunting envisions is to be out in the desert, with a curriculum based on the classics, a work requirement, a physical fitness requirement, a public service requirement, a requirement that every student run a marathon, etc.

What was very compelling about Bunting's proposal (which resembles Rousseau's Emile in the fictionalized way that it lays out a theory of education to support the concrete proposal) is that the curriculum of his imagined school was designed to instill habits of thoughtfulness and reflection; it was specifically designed not to churn out bureaucrats. His proposal seemed vastly more plausible, as a way of producing leaders, than the one that Clinton and Biden are getting behind.

There are lots of cheap used copies of Bunting's book available; it's very worth reading.
posted by jayder at 9:37 AM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Having good civil servants is for country what middle class is for economy. When you lose them, things get ugly.

Here is how things have worked out in old nation states of Europe: The historical purpose of universities was to produce able civil servants, medical doctors and clergy. All other professions are learned by doing, in master/apprentice relationship or informally. Civil servants are taught all kinds of general knowledge, because civil service is rare career where things really do change; you don't learn how things are done and then just keep doing it. Civil service jobs are related to laws and contracts and changing political and national issues: people there need to be quicker to adjust into new situations than any other existing profession (in that time). Master/apprentice just doesn't prepare for that. Civil servants are educated, they can do many things and they can do things by the book.

So, civil servants - universities link is strong. When universities expand and start producing science too, civil servants are ones that are well prepared to put that new knowledge into use. Policies are created by civil servants, then given upwards to be accepted by current government. Policy makers come from universities and keep their contacts there. Being university educated is high status thing, being civil servant is high status thing, because you're creating policies.

When things grow, there are more and more low-level civil servants, who don't have much to say when deciding policies. Soon there is level where you don't need to be university educated to do the job, because you're just implementing something that doesn't change much anymore. These are the bureaucrats people love to hate. Low-status, one-skill personnel who are not at all flexible. The core is still good, but you don't meet those people.

The core is still good in most of european countries: if the country is so small that most of the civil servants are educated in few universities, then connection between science and policy stays strong and people can go from university to ministry of something without any political ties: this is just what they were educated for. Ministries are quite apolitical from inside: only the actual minister is appointed by political reasons and ministers are tied to those policies that civil servants give to them. So ministries end up having their own self-satisfied, high-status cultures and as long as good people go in and have their careers there, they can make generally good policies, independent from latest political talking points. If this continuity of ministry breaks, like in Eastern Europe in nineties -- and more crudely in Iraq --, corruption ensues. Nordic countries do well in corruption surveys as the civil service sector is strong, smart and very stabile, not having a need to risk its status.

Good civil servants are the backbone of any country, there should be much more honor in doing flawless civil service than being (for example) a successful entrepreneur: civil servant does her job for common good. It is much easier to keep civil servant positions meaningful when they actually can do things: when they are close enough to universities to have hands on knowledge sources and free from political pressure from top and clearly separated from private sector so that you can see the line where bribery and corruption begins and have a pride of not crossing it. And one thing that keeps civil servants loyal is gratitude; they try to do things for the country, because their country offered them their education to this high status job for free.

U.S. problem -- what little I know about it -- seems to be the sheer size. The prestige for civil service is low, as the actual power is usually far away in Washington. Universities are more about top science or top status and paths from university to civil service are not very clear. This leaves room for more political/corporate cruft between university/entry point and entry point/actual power. It is difficult to believe that you can build a new institute close to civil career entry points that wouldn't lure political pressure groups and corporate lobbyists around it, choosing who they want to let in and sponsor.
posted by Free word order! at 10:48 AM on November 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


This is a terrible idea. Nonprofits need so much reformation across the board.
posted by onepapertiger at 11:14 AM on November 25, 2007


Nonprofits need so much reformation across the board.

Agreed: let's start with non-profit churches and non-profit schools.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:33 AM on November 25, 2007


It is difficult to believe that you can build a new institute close to civil career entry points that wouldn't lure political pressure groups and corporate lobbyists around it, choosing who they want to let in and sponsor.

Once upon a time, we could have used the authority of a traditional education to avoid most of these pressures. When the education focuses on Aristotle and Herodotus, it's hard for interest groups to easily influence educational outcomes in an ideological fashion. (The Straussian current that drifts towards fascism is the closest that anyone has come, but it's still not clear whether a 'good' Straussian ought to prefer telecom deregulation or where they'd fall on the issue of regulation as 'takings.') These days, we've lost the sense of a coherent cannon and the sense is that there are too many Great Books to teach them all in a single undergraduate education while also preserving space for a modern science curriculum. It's a problem: human beings may no longer be up to the task of self-governance.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:39 AM on November 25, 2007


Excellent comment, Free word order!

While Canada shares many traits in this respect with the States, your description of ministry functions is as I know it -- an apolitical civil service structure, professionally run (but unfortunately bogged down with meaningless functionary work at the bottom), with a good deal of insulated -- in a good sense -- policy work being done at the core. Unfortunately, very low status and low pay, compared to the private sector. Europeans that I meet are always impressed with a civil servant, which of course seems like an absurd reaction to a North American.
posted by dreamsign at 12:09 PM on November 25, 2007


If you want to establish something similar for public services, what would this academy do besides provide the free education? A public service scholarship would do the same thing.

And ROTC scholarships provide the same thing as the academies -- pushups and shouting in addition to a free education.

What an American ENA would provide would be a shared experience for four years, like the academies do. And a student body with the same focus, like academies have. And attract better students than might take part in a scholarship program, like the academies do.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:26 PM on November 25, 2007


Free word order said:

The prestige for civil service is low, as the actual power is usually far away in Washington.

Keep in mind, this proposed "national public service academy" is focused on "public service," not "civil service." There is a huge gulf between "public service" and "civil service."

1 -- There's plenty of prestige in "public service," which is a euphemism most often used by politicians, who are trying to dress up their naked political ambition so they will look selfless and public spirited.

2 -- There's no prestige in "civil service," which signifies the thankless government jobs, held by anonymous, poorly paid workers in departments of childrens services, Social Security, EEOC, welfare departments, housing departments, etc.

It is very meaningful that this proposed academy has "public service" in its name, not "civil service." The academy boasts that it will give its graduates a fast-track into leadership positions in "public service." I don't think the academy's graduates will be clamoring to get a cramped, windowless office and do the thankless, low-level tasks of our government agencies.

They will, however, be clamoring to get into high-profile jobs in public service. That's why the D.C. location is so important. Here are some young folks in the news who have recently been on the fast-track to public service leadership:

Rachel Paulose: Recently resigned, or was fired, ignominiously from her U.S. Attorney position in Minnesota, to which she had been appointed at the age of 32, because she didn't know anything about managing people, had a dictatorial and imperious manner, caused her staff to resign en masse, and used racial slurs toward her underlings.

Kyle Sampson: Appointed to all kinds of plum jobs because he knew Dick Cheney's daughter in law school; was given the task of compiling a list of U.S. Attorneys to be fired, despite having decades less experience than the U.S. Attorneys in question.

Monica Goodling: The Regent University grad and senior counselor to Alberto Gonzales, who refused to testify before Congress without a grant of immunity due to the danger of self-incrimination concerning her role in the U.S. Attorney firings scandal.

Rachel Brand: Nominated to be a United States attorney for the Western District of Michigan, despite having never set foot in a courtroom as an attorney; many believe she was nominated largely based on her Federalist Society connections; when her lack of credentials was revealed in the press, she was forced to withdraw her name from consideration.

There's your fast track to public service leadership. Do we really want to create an academy that would churn out more of these people?
posted by jayder at 12:42 PM on November 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Rather than a school, what's really needed is a comprehensive national service program.

For such a program to move us toward the goal of greater civic engagement, it would need to:Granted, this is a total pipe dream. It will never happen in my lifetime (though I think it would be a great thing for the country if it did). But even in an imperfect form, national service is far less likely to cause the development of a neo-puritan state in the middle of North America than the institution of a national Public Service Academy.

Even if my nightmare scenario (which doesn't seem that improbable, given the recent politicization of Justice and the conquest of the AF Academy by evangelical Christians) doesn't come true, I just don't see how anything good comes out of this. It's just another incarnation of the absurd idea that the general skills of management are not only more important than the subject-matter skills, but are so much more important that you don't need the subject-matter skills. That's the idea that nearly destroyed American business in the 70s and 80s, and it's part of the cause of the Vietnam-era technocratic culture that nearly destroyed our military.

I've said it already and I'll repeat it at every opportunity: A national public service academy is a terrible, terrible, terrible idea. And it's sufficient reason to oppose the election of Hilary Clinton to the Presidency.
posted by lodurr at 1:01 PM on November 25, 2007


It is very meaningful that this proposed academy has "public service" in its name, not "civil service."

Yes, it is meaningful, but they clearly want to change the way that phrase is used, not to sneak a politics school in under the radar.

What kinds of jobs would Academy graduates do during their five-year service requirement?
Academy graduates will spend five years serving their nation by working as teachers, park rangers, police officers, border agents, and other critical public service jobs at the local, state, national and even international levels.


This is not Monica Goodling we're talking about here.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:04 PM on November 25, 2007


If these are the jobs people will have when they're fulfilling their 5 year service requirement, then why the hell are we even considering the establishment of a special school? The skillsets are so wildly diverse that the end would be far, far better served by making grants that require service, or loans that can be canceled by service.
posted by lodurr at 1:21 PM on November 25, 2007


But the same is true of "military officer." It's not like officers office. While the model is that NCOs are specialists and officers are generalists, officers do wildly different things requiring wildly different skills depending on their service and specialties.

That said, it's kind of a goofy list. "Teachers" is downright stupid, since the federal government is largely uninvolved with K12 education. Ditto "police officers," unless they mean federal marshals and FBI agents, which they don't.

The right list is just "analyst," which is both broad and narrow in the same sense that "officer" is.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:53 PM on November 25, 2007


And it's sufficient reason to oppose the election of Hilary Clinton to the Presidency.

I think that proposing bad ideas that sound good but thankfully will never pass is standard DC fare.

Engage everyone, and be impartial about it. No breaks for the spawn of senior politicians or bureaucrats.

When you look at how long it takes to get going in many fields it makes plenty of sense to not require everyone to go. For example, if one wants to become a radiologist you're not finished with training until about age 33. A physics PhD might take 7-9 years after undergrad. Add on a post-doc, and you're already in your mid thirties before being independent. But I don't want to say that those fields are special. Say an engineer goes straight into profitable work rather than doing road crew for a year and socks away 10k. By the time she retires that's worth 130k in constant dollars. Delayed entry into the workforce has consequences.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:04 PM on November 25, 2007


Sure, delayed entry has its price. That's why we should make them serve for one year as soon as they turn 18. Anyone who truly cannot spare one year from their precious career is probably dying of cancer. Anyway, if everyone had to do it, the system would adjust, and the delayed entry penalty would not apply.

I fear this idea has an excellent chance of passage. It's the kind of bipartisan feelgood bullshit that everyone can see their angle into. I suppose that should give me comfort, but I've seen the massive influx of Regents and Liberty grads into government, and I fear this would be no different.

As for "officers officering" -- give me a break. We all know and it has been well established that the service academies don't teach "officering." That's a silly comeback. The service academies provide a military-focused version of a liberal arts and sciences degree, with a hefty mandatory helping of Duty and Honor in the mix, and the codes that define "duty" and "honor" are pretty fucking clear-cut. Start with the Constitution; heat and stir in the Uniform Code; and move on from there. They have a coherent ethos that's clear and could be elucidated for you by every graduate. Experience suggests that most of those graduates have internalized that ethos -- they're not just reciting it -- and that it guides their actions.

(In any case, attaining flag rank outside of a combat command has at least as much to do with the advanced degrees you obtain after you graduate from the service academy as it does with knocking the Academy ring.)

Here's the elephant in the room: We can all imagine such an ethos with regard to military service, that is more or less acceptable to all of us on a consensus basis. But I submit to you that we would not be able to agree on a sufficient ethos that we could agree on with regard to public service. In the end, it would be the people who felt most strongly about their vision of public service (which is liable to be some variant of "make the public see things my way") who would define the ethos of the Academy.
posted by lodurr at 2:40 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


(which doesn't seem that improbable, given the recent politicization of Justice and the conquest of the AF Academy by evangelical Christians

My kid's there, he's a born again Christian, and he would tell you that the above is not true.

What you have to remember is that USAFA changes their top leadership every several years or so, and the place definitely reflects which general happens to be in charge.
posted by konolia at 3:11 PM on November 25, 2007


My kid's there, he's a born again Christian, and he would tell you that the above is not true.

I think you might want to make a different argument.
posted by lodurr at 3:49 PM on November 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


When the education focuses on Aristotle and Herodotus, it's hard for interest groups to easily influence educational outcomes in an ideological fashion.

Sorry, minor point, but... what? How are Aristotle and Herodotus not subject to ideological manipulation?
posted by papakwanz at 3:58 PM on November 25, 2007


As for "officers officering" -- give me a break. We all know and it has been well established that the service academies don't teach "officering." That's a silly comeback.

You said that we cannot have a civil-service academy because the jobs they face are too different from each other. But this is also true of jobs as military officers, so that argument doesn't make sense. Or at least, it also doesn't make any sense to have military academies.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:58 PM on November 25, 2007


jayder: There's your fast track to public service leadership. Do we really want to create an academy that would churn out more of these people?

Those people are not civil servants, they're ladder climbers. Their goal was to jump in at the start of the Administration climb as high as possible, and jump out through the revolving door with a nice shiny new line on their resumé. Why do you think these same people keep showing up year after year, slowing climbing higher and higher each new term? (You can play this game with 90% of the current Administration, but for the easy example, go look at where Cheney and Rumsfeld were during the Ford Presidency.)

The next round (a few elections from now) will be the same faces that you see in the background of the White House photographs today -- the Dan Bartlets and Monica Goodlings. It's a game to them. They flip-flop from private sector to public sector and back, because it's easier to claw your way over the career civil servants who actually care about their jobs.

One of the greatest unrecognized tragedies of the Bush Administration is just how many people they've driven out of the government who actually cared about the government, not what party was in charge at the time. Why do you think the DC Justice Department is empty nowadays?

And I'm not just talking about the Richard Clarkes that we lost. To get some impression of what's happened below the upper echelons, to the people who are the heart and soul of the civil service that runs this country, read this interview with Daniel Metcalfe, a career working in the DoJ civil rights group who finally just couldn't take Gonzales anymore. Losing people like him will end up costing us more in the long run than we'll ever know.
posted by spiderwire at 5:30 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I could really quote that entire interview, but this is the heart of it, to me:
[Under Gonzales], the [DoJ] culture markedly shifted to one in which avoiding any possibility of disagreement anywhere was the overriding concern, as if "consensus" were an end unto itself. Undergirding this, what's more, was the sad fact that so many political appointees in 2005 and 2006 were so obviously thinking not much further than their next (i.e., higher-level) position, in some place where they could "max out" by the end of Bush's second term.

...

Q: Are there any possible benefits to this "decision-making by consensus" approach?

A: Yes, but they accrue only to the participants in the process. Indeed, by operating in this way, they manage to avoid any singular responsibility for the result, or any part of it, which is another way of saying that they see themselves as running no risk of blame if anyone beyond the group has any problem with what they've done at any point.

After all, it was "the group" that did it (whatever that might be), and they achieved presumptively benign "consensus" (at all costs) before moving forward. You can imagine how important this is to someone whose primary interest in most any government action is to make sure that it doesn't somehow get in the way of securing that next (but not necessarily last) position before the end of a presidential administration. And remember that there's little downside to operating in this way if your basic view of government (in line with your inexperience) holds little respect for it in the first place. In other words, if it doesn't really matter so much to you how well or efficiently a government activity is handled, just so long as it eventually is handled, then the thinking is: Why not handle it in the way that most effectively minimizes personal risk? What this breeds, of course, is an utter lack of individual responsibility -- the very antithesis of good government.
This problem isn't just a time bomb, it's already hurt us incalculably -- one really needs look no further than the Young Republicans trying to run the Iraq CPA after the war to see what the policy of valuing loyalty and careerism over professionalism and competence has done to our country.
posted by spiderwire at 5:40 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


How are Aristotle and Herodotus not subject to ideological manipulation?

Take one of the major contemporary ideologies: free market liberarianism, Christian fundamentalism, neoconservative imperialism, left liberalism, marxism, third-way socialism, jingoism, etc. Now, try to teach Aristotle's Ethics in a way that furthers the goals of one of those, and see how far you get. Great Books programs have a very conservative bent, culturally, but I don't believe they lend themselves to contemporary politics very well. Is the average St. Johns grad a Republican or a Democrat? Will she be in favor or market solutions, statist solutions, or a mixture of the two? Is he a pacifist or an interventionist? How does she feel about infrastructure improvements: local or federally funded? How about the bond issue?

You know how a Liberty grad will answer those questions, but there's nothing definitive about a strong, cannonical liberal arts education, except critical thinking and a passion for the life of the mind.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:49 PM on November 25, 2007


Those people are not civil servants, they're ladder climbers. Their goal was to jump in at the start of the Administration climb as high as possible, and jump out through the revolving door with a nice shiny new line on their resumé.... They flip-flop from private sector to public sector and back, because it's easier to claw your way over the career civil servants who actually care about their jobs.

Spiderwire --- I agree with you. What indication do we have that this public service academy will produce people who actually care about government and will become career civil servants, rather than just become the new generation of cynical, ladder-climbing Sampsons, Brands, Pauloses and Goodlings?
posted by jayder at 5:55 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


You said that we cannot have a civil-service academy because the jobs they face are too different from each other. But this is also true of jobs as military officers, so that argument doesn't make sense. Or at least, it also doesn't make any sense to have military academies.

Man, you're on a tear with this straw man shit tonight, RUO.
posted by lodurr at 6:02 PM on November 25, 2007


Sorry; it must have been some other lodurr who wrote this:

If these are the jobs people will have when they're fulfilling their 5 year service requirement, then why the hell are we even considering the establishment of a special school? The skillsets are so wildly diverse that the end would be far, far better served by making grants that require service, or loans that can be canceled by service.
posted by lodurr at 4:21 PM on November 25 [+] [!]

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:05 PM on November 25, 2007


... which is not the same as: ... we cannot have a civil-service academy because the jobs they face are too different from each other.

It's not really even close. I'm not sure why someone who passes for intelligent on a regular basis around here would make the error of conflating "it's more cost effective to train people in specific skillsets" with "we cannot have a public service academy." Maybe it's just that you're hung up on the clearly erroneous idea that the military service academies are primarily about teaching skills -- an idea that I addressed a few posts later -- I know you read it, it's the one where I initially pointed out that "officers officering" was a silly rhetorical flourish instead of an actual response.

But thanks for trolling trying.
posted by lodurr at 3:22 AM on November 26, 2007


« Older The Radio Kitchen is an mp3 blog dedicated to the ...  |  MANTAGE. Brought to you by th... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments