They are an inspirational daily presence in our lives as America deals with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. We see them in our communities, in news reports, and in television commercials intended to reassure and unite us.
Public service professionals touch our lives and are recognized for their contributions in ways we see most clearly only in times of need. And our need today is not isolated by region, nor is it temporary in its demand. It is present in the work of first responders, health care professionals, public employees who keep our community infrastructure functioning from transit to trash disposal, in the nonprofit professions working on issues of housing, food security and the services that come with unemployment and job displacement.
Graciously in this moment, Americans are profoundly grateful for the work of public servants. But it isn’t always this way. Often, we take this sector of professionals for granted, and tend to think someone else will take care of those jobs.
As a result, today just 6 percent of the federal workforce is under the age of 30, and more than one-third will be eligible to retire in the next five years. In high-demand public service occupations, the picture is even more bleak—3 percent of the federal information technology (IT) workforce is under the age of 30, with roughly five times as many IT workers over the age of 60.
How do we address this imbalance? In late March, as the coronavirus pandemic swept the country and communities began to live under the stress of “Stay at Home” orders, the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service issued its final report, Inspired to Serve. The report is the product of over two years of work in urban centers, small towns, military bases, government facilities, schools, universities, community centers, faith-based congregations, and many more places across the country, focused on an assignment to increase participation in military, national, and public service to address the needs of the Nation.
One of the institutions featured in the report is Arizona State University’s Public Service Academy - a model for attracting and developing future military and civilian national service leaders, side by side, armed with the skills, networks and experiences to take on the nation’s most complex challenges.
What ASU has created is uniquely interdisciplinary. Students in the certificate program come from more than 160 different degree programs throughout the university, including engineering, biology, education, and communications. The ASU Public Service Academy’s mission is for its students to serve not only when they graduate, but as they pursue their studies.
The Public Service Academy has grown to 600 students with the first graduating cohort of 100 students coming last May, in 2019. Two examples of the paths to service taken by its alumni are Sami Mooney, a current Teach For America AmeriCorps member in Colorado Springs, and Turner Hubby, a Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to Ukraine teaching English as a second language.
The Commission’s report makes the case for taking what ASU has done and putting that into practice on a national scale. Some recommendations include:
- Adjustments to the Pathways Programs, which offers federal internship and employment opportunities for students and graduates, to make it easier to hire proven candidates, as well as setting an annual hiring goal in statute to ensure agencies prioritize attracting talent through these programs.
- A centralized Fellowship and Scholarship Center, coalescing all the government-sponsored developmental programs in one place and providing agencies with an easy way to hire through these programs as well.
- Funding the creation of Public Service Corps across the country, creating a government analogue to how the military develops junior officers through the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Agencies would fund scholarships for students pursuing degrees in needed skill areas in return for a service commitment.
In total, the Commission’s recommendations represent a reset in our national mindset, offering a new and inclusive approach to service for Americans, beginning with comprehensive civic education and service learning starting in kindergarten, service-year opportunities so ubiquitous that service becomes a rite of passage for millions of young adults, and new and revitalized service options for adults of any age, background or experience.
As America moves through this current global crisis and seeks a return to normal, we know it must be a new normal. There are learning opportunities in what we are going through together. A crisis offers lessons in where there is need for improvement and renewed focus.
As we look for positive outcomes we can extract from this difficult period of history, remember to value public service professionals and acknowledge that such a career path is deeply meaningful and rewards both the servant and those who are served. Let us work together to make this important investment in our country, our communities and in Americans who are called to serve.
Dr. Joe HeckJoseph (Joe) John HeckNevada becomes early Senate battleground Democratic poll finds Cortez Masto leading Laxalt by 4 points in Nevada Senate race Infighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms MORE is chairman of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve and represented Nevada’s 3rd District in the House of Representatives from 2011-2017. Michael M. Crow is the president of Arizona State University and the Arizona State University Foundation Leadership Chair and Professor of Science and Technology Policy. He previously served as executive vice-provost and professor of science policy at Columbia University.