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Modernize and Reinvigorate the Public Service

Public agencies and administrators have an important role to play in addressing the full suite of government’s human capital challenges

Federal, state, and local governments deliver vitally important services to the American people each and every day.  If it is an important need, public agencies at one or more levels of government are likely to have an important role in meeting it, including but not limited to:

  • Defense and international relations;
  • Police and fire protection;
  • Public education;
  • Public health and housing;
  • Transportation and other infrastructure;
  • Mail delivery;
  • Economic development and market regulation; and
  • Natural resources, environmental protection, and public lands. 

As governments are increasingly called upon to address complex and interconnected “wicked problems,” their need for leaders, managers, technical experts, and front-line workers in the right jobs with the right skills at the right time has never been greater.  Yet federal, state, and local governments all struggle to build a public service workforce that can meet the unique demands of our time due to laborious and time-consuming hiring practices, limited salary flexibilities, and promotion rules that value longevity over expertise and performance.  Public managers and employees are also struggling to adapt to the rapidly changing nature of work.  For all these reasons, we face a significant risk that many public organizations will not have the workforce capacity necessary to achieve their critical missions and provide services to the public. 

Many public employees are of retirement age.  As they leave the workforce, the result can be a major brain drain given that government struggles to quickly bring new talent onboard.  We are at risk of losing a generation of younger workers because of inadequate hiring systems and practices.  Similarly, the needs of governments over the next 5 to 10 years will be different than that of today, but the public sector does a poor job of continually training and developing its workforce.  It also is too resistant to bringing in outside talent, especially at senior levels.  That said, the unique combination of public-spirited younger generations and a wave of retirements could provide governments at all levels with an opportunity to restructure their workforce to meet modern-day needs.  

Over the last few decades, how the public’s business is done by government has evolved and will continue to do so.  Increasingly, complex public programs are managed by a multisector workforce of employees from multiple levels of government and contractors from public and nonprofit organizations.  These employees often have unclear boundaries and intertwined responsibilities.  Not only is it important to build an integrated system that seamlessly pursues and achieves the public interest, but it is also necessary to train public leaders who can manage amidst this ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty. 

Public agencies and administrators have an important role to play in addressing the full suite of government’s human capital challenges, including:

  • Recruiting, developing, and retaining top talent;
  • Holding administrators and employees accountable for results;
  • Striking the right balance between civil servants, contractors, non-profits, and other third-party service providers;
  • Managing multiple generations in the workforce;
  • Restructuring jobs in a world of AI and Robotic Process Automation; and
  • Modernizing systems and processes based on changing career patterns.

As part of the Grand Challenge to “Modernize and Reinvigorate the Public Service,” the Academy will work with stakeholders to determine how to:

  • Build a highly skilled, agile, and responsive public sector workforce with appropriate roles for civil servants, contractors, and other service providers;
  • Develop strategic foresight mechanisms to anticipate and address changing workforce requirements;
  • Ensure long-term institutional knowledge capacity amidst the retirement wave;
  • Design new human capital systems consistent with merit-system principles (including modernizing policies and practices for recruitment, retention, training, and development); and
  • Adapt the MPA curriculum to meet future workforce needs.

This is an illustrative list of topics.  As the Grand Challenges campaign kicks off and progresses, other issues can and will be addressed based on stakeholder feedback about critical needs and opportunities.

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