Public Service: Callings, Commitments, and Constraints

Public Service: Callings, Commitments, and Constraints

Public Service: Callings, Commitments, and Constraints

Public Service: Callings, Commitments, and Constraints


This volume includes perspectives on public service selected from six decades of major public administration journals. Recurring themes include: motivations to enter the public service, positive and negative images of public servants and of government, conflicts between loyalty to the organization and loyalty to the public, morale, burnout, and turnover. The volume also includes cross-national analyses of the public service in other systems, proposals for rethinking public service systems, and questions as to the future of the public service. It recaptures a long, continuing debate as to the health of the public service, and in so doing suggests agendas for university research and administrative action.


If "public service" is a time honored concept, is it also time worn? Is it still a "high calling" or a pejorative label? Is a career devoted to public service for the best and brightest, or only for the mediocre and myopic?

The selections in this volume are meant to address that debate in a systematic manner. First, from personal perspectives, who are the basic resources of government? How do some of our most successful public servants honestly view their careers or those of their colleagues? Can the definition of "public servant" be broadened, and might that change the terms of the debate?

Second, are we educating for the public service? Are our programs in public administration and related public affairs or policy effective advocates for public service? Or is higher education a pathway to the private sector?

Third, what motivates people to enter the public service? the debate here is about more than pay. Intangibles still seem to be important. the ability to offer meaningful work may be an advantage that the public sector will hold over its private sector counterparts.

Fourth, are public employees satisfied with their jobs? Although the evidence is mixed, the empirical data offer some cause for optimism -- that acting in the public interest is still a motivator, especially if one is recognized for doing so.

Fifth, are public servants staying or fleeing? There is strong cause for concern that the most accomplished are leaving, especially at the state and local levels.

Finally, what can we do to address the problems of public service? How can we realistically strengthen the human resource capacities of the public organizations that are charged with implementing important public policies? Many proposals have been offered over the last six decades. Few, however, have been implemented. Does this suggest that as a society we lack the will to invest in and improve the public service? Or does this suggest a series of as yet unrealized opportunities to do so if we can only develop a focused strategy at both the professional and political levels?

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