Periodically, it is necessary to reflect upon what public service is and what it should be. For me, my relationship with public service started with assisting the city manager of a small municipality. My duties included periodically riding on the back of a garbage truck and disposing of bags of trash throughout the small town. For the small wage I earned, I endured smelling the odor of rotten maggot-infested meat, picking up too-heavy bags at too-awkward angles, and the mystery liquids that poured out from crevices that I never felt like I could clean off. Eventually, I left that job and found an Air Force recruiter. It’s not that I was too good for the job. In fact, I was terrible at it. Even in an occupation that is often looked down on by others, I saw the differences in skill and finesse at the job in my colleague. Government workers are frequently dismissed as lazy employees earning too much. Still, I have met some of the finest and brightest people doing thankless work at a high and professional level. So why don’t they leave and go elsewhere? Government work appeals to people who value stability and avoid risk. There are few incentives to break wildly from conventions despite the talk and desire to have people who “think outside the box” and take risks. I have some thoughts on how this may be resolved systematically, but that may need to be discussed at another time.
A year ago, we saw an attack on our federal government. There may be some debate regarding the intent and planning of the event, but one thing is clear: many of the attackers wished to harm members of Congress and the Vice President. Their actions were meant to strike fear into our representatives selected to represent Us. While we may debate the effectiveness or intentions of the institutions we have created, we created them, and we should not tolerate the acts of terror from an extremist minority.
To these ends, public servants should remember that while they serve the chief executive, it’s for the people that we serve.