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NEW @ THE ACADEMY

Meet our Fellows: John Kamensky (‘10)

John Kamensky is a senior fellow with the IBM Center for The Business of Government in Washington, DC, which sponsors research on management challenges facing government leaders.
During 24 years of public service, he had a significant role in helping pioneer the U.S. federal government's performance and results orientation. He is passionate about creating a government that is results-oriented, performance-based, customer-focused, and collaborative in nature. Prior to 2001, Mr. Kamensky served for eight years as deputy director of Vice President Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government and a special assistant to the Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget. Before that, he worked at the U.S. Government Accountability Office for 16 years where he played a role in the development and passage of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 and oversaw research and reviews of the intergovernmental system and state and local grant programs. During his nearly 20 years with the IBM Center, he has edited or co-authored eight books and writes and speaks extensively on leadership, performance management, strategic foresight, collaborative governance, and government reform.  Active on social media, he has authored more than 1,000 blog posts on these topics. He received a Masters in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and a Bachelors of Arts in Government at Angelo State University, in San Angelo, Texas.

Mr. Kamensky was elected as a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration in 2010 and currently serves as chair of the Standing Panel on Executive Organization and Management.  He has chaired or been a panel member for a number of other Academy studies. In addition, he is a past chair (and current board member) of the American Society for Public Administration’s Center for Accountability and Performance.  He is also former public member (and current senior fellow) with the Administrative Conference of the U.S., and is a current member of the National Science Foundation’s Business Operations Advisory Committee.

On the international front, he is currently a Senior Fellow for Evidence-Based Governance and Public Performance at Renmin University, China and an editorial board member of the Korean International Journal of Policy Studies.  In addition, He is a former editorial board member of PATimes, Public Administration Review and The Public Manager. In 2011, he received the Association of Government Accountants’ Cornelius Tierney/Ernst & Young Research Award. In 2018, he was selected as a LEAP Ambassador, promoting the use of performance management in the non-profit community. More recently, he received the Theodore Roosevelt Leadership in Government Award.

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Here is a recent interview with John:

  1. What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

Helping government executives discover solutions to their pressing management challenges by connecting them with each other, identifying promising practices and sharing them, and highlighting inspirational leaders among them.

  1. How did you get involved in public service and what motivates you to continue your work?

I grew up in a military family committed to public service and saw my future career through that lens. My first taste of government reform was working as an intern for the Texas Constitutional Convention in 1973, followed by an internship in a city manager’s office. As a result of these experiences, I became inspired to work at the Government Accountability Office on public management reform. My enthusiasm continues as I see positive changes happen, even amid seeming turmoil in government.Change is slow, but steady and encouraging.

  1. What advice would you give someone entering the Public Administration field?

I advise people joining public service to create their own personal mission statement and use that statement to guide their career decisions and how they choose to spend their time each day. I also encourage them to push the boundaries of whatever they are working on and be persistent in getting action on things they see as important to making government work better.

  1. Looking at the present and into the future, what do you think a public administration “Grand Challenge” is or might be?

The Grand Challenges we face are multi-faceted. I see the overarching challenges as developing responses to the climate crisis; to the trust and legitimacy crisis in government; and to the looming fiscal crisis.

  1. Reflecting on your career, is there a highlight, a greatest accomplishment or a funny story you’d like to share?

It was the evening of August 6, 1993. I was one of the leaders of Vice President Gore’s reinventing government task force who had just finished a meeting with him. He was going to brief the President the following morning for the first time on the top line findings and recommendations of our work and he wasn’t happy with the presentation slides we had put together.We had to go back to the office and re-work them to reflect his comments.He wanted them to be on his desk in the West Wing by the time he came into the office the next morning to prepare for his meeting with the President – no later than 6 a.m., he said.He then went off to cast his tie-breaking vote on the Senate floor to pass the Clinton economic plan.

The team worked late into the night to revise the materials and then . . . and then we had to figure out how to put them on his desk in the West Wing! None of us had a hard pass that would allow us into the White House, and especially not at 3 a.m.And there was no one to call to vouch for any of us, so my colleague, Bob Knisley, and I volunteered to take on the task of talking our way past many layers of suspicious Secret Service agents between our office and the Vice President’s. We succeeded, and we thought we were done.But the next morning, the phone at home rings while I’m in the shower. My wife shouts: “the White House is calling and the Vice President wants to talk to you!” Did we accidently leave something out? Dripping wet, I took the call and It turned out he just wanted to confirm a number in the briefing slides. His briefing went spectacularly later that morning.

  1. If you could make a soundtrack to your life what is one song that would need to be on your playlist?

“Tomorrow” from the musical Annie.

  1. What was your first job?

Selling shoes at JC Penney’s to help earn my way through college.

  1. What is your favorite time of the year and why?

Fall, because of the cooler temperatures, the color in the trees, and the feeling of a new year to come. One time, I got to go to Australia early in the year and it was Fall down there – so I got to experience Fall twice in one year!

  1. What is the best part about where you live?

In Washington, DC, I feel privileged to be a permanent tourist in a city of grand monuments and historical moments.The tempo of traffic jams caused by presidential motorcades or helicopter landings on the White House lawn is worth it!

  1. What is your pizza order?  

Thick or thin, with or without toppings – but steaming hot!

  1. If you could have a dinner party with anyone in history, who would you have dinner with and why?

It would be fun to have a dinner party with others passionate about evolution of thinking about the design of government over the years: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover (who chaired the Hoover Commission); and Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

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