Loving and Leaving Washington: Reflections on Public Service

Loving and Leaving Washington: Reflections on Public Service

Loving and Leaving Washington: Reflections on Public Service

Loving and Leaving Washington: Reflections on Public Service

Synopsis

John Yochelson was seventeen when he first heard President Kennedy's call, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Responding to the call to public service, he had a front-row seat from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, when the power game in Washington was played across party lines. Loving and Leaving Washington is his inside account of the lives of public servants from the perspective of a lifelong moderate.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies brought Yochelson into close contact with such heavyweights as Henry Kissinger and Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker; work with the Council on Competitiveness kept him at the center of action. But the rise of bare-knuckled partisanship soured him on DC. In 2001 he left power politics to fight for a cause that he believed in, launching a San Diego-based nonprofit to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in science and engineering. Funding realities and family ties, however, drew him back to the Beltway.

The bittersweet experience of disengaging from and returning to Washington prompted Yochelson's candid look at the loss of middle ground in U.S. politics and the decline of public trust in government. In this illuminating memoir, he reflects on the current generation's dedication to their country and considers the rewards, limitations, and uncertain future of public service.


Excerpt

This reflection on public service in Washington began as I walked the beach in San Diego. Two goals moved me.

First, I wanted to see if I could tell a story. Writing had always played a big part in my life. the skills that I developed, however, had nothing to do with building a narrative. My strength lay in compression, not elaboration. I knew how to distill for a demanding audience. Perhaps digging into my own past would finally allow words to flow.

Second, I was eager to provide a resource for men and women who are thinking about a future in public service. I stumbled into my career without much guidance. the lack of a doctorate cost me the standing of an expert. But as it turned out, being a generalist had its advantages. I changed fields and worked with some amazing people, instead of sticking to a single area. My experience was worth sharing with others.

I feel a sense of urgency because so many Americans are disillusioned with Washington. Count me among them. the rise of partisan warfare in the 1990s didn’t just turn me off; it pushed me to look for an exit strategy. the one that turned up led me to leave a rewarding nonprofit job in dc for the West Coast. With federal support I traded the world of policy for a grassroots cause. the new opportunity tested me personally and professionally. To stay the course, I found that I had to work the Washington bureaucracy all over again.

My concern is that the beleaguered public sector won’t attract its fair share of talent. the generation that is coming of age has more options than I could have fathomed a half century ago. Their choices will be fateful. With luck my journey will nudge some to step up to today’s most pressing challenge of public service—restoring faith in government.

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