McCormack Speaks

Remember the Public Servants


by Professor Amy E. Smith
Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

city hallAs Dean Cash notes in an earlier blog post, Policy Matters, public policies touch all aspects of our lives–the food we eat, the highways on which we drive, the banks from which we borrow, the education we receive, to name a few. The importance of public policy is front and center as we are on the cusp of electing the 45th President of the United States. Whomever is elected come November will have an enormous impact on our policies.

Like policy, management matters too. We must remember this.

In watching some of the most vitriolic presidential campaigns in recent history, we must remember this. No matter who is elected, public managers and front-line workers operate in environments laden with competing priorities, scarce resources, perpetually changing political preferences, multiple masters, and intractable problems to solve. To compound these burdens, public servants are underappreciated and unendingly criticized as lazy, inefficient, and wasteful.

Yet, regardless of who is president or the perception of bureaucrats in the popular press, public servants somehow remain incredibly committed to their work, find creative ways to make good things happen, and sustain optimism even under the most dire circumstances. It is those doing the day-to-day work in public sector organizations that have revolutionized training for bomb detection experts, reduced medical errors and infection rates at hospitals, transformed energy efficiency efforts, developed affordable credit programs in urban and rural communities, charged into burning buildings, and secured clean drinking water for communities around the globe.

I see this passion for and commitment to public service first hand, every day, in the public administration graduate students at UMass Boston and other programs like ours. These are the people who believe in public values, ethical behavior, and the good of government. These are the people who run the state.

Policy matters, but so does management.  However this election turns out, we will always have the public servants. And, we should remember, that makes a difference too.

Amy E. SmithAmy E. Smith (PhD, University at Albany) is an associate professor and directs the public administration program at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.  Her current research focuses on gender diversity in leadership in public organizations, career paths in public service, and issues of work-life balance. Smith received the 2013 Best Article Award from the American Review of Public Administration and the 2014 Graduate Teaching Award from the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools.

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