Public Service Faces Staffing Crisis

At a Kennedy School of Government (KSG) panel which drew an audience of over 50 people, students, politicians and a professor discussed how to make government service more attractive to students.

According to Dean of KSG Joseph S. Nye, Jr. who opened the event, government officials are concerned that the best and brightest young people are no longer attracted to public service or government jobs.

The first speaker Sam Heyman, a 1963 Harvard Law School (HLS) graduate, painted a drastic picture of the situation, recalling that about a third of his class pursued government jobs, compared to only a handful of today’s HLS students.

Heyman spent the beginning of his career in the public sector before becoming the Chief Executive Officer of the GAF Corporation.

He pointed to the sense of excitement during the administation of President John F. Kennedy ’40, which inspired young academics to join a dynamic young leader.

“There was enormous excitement...it was the new frontier,” Heyman said.

The panel also included Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who has been instrumental on Capitol Hill in proposing legislation to address what experts call the “human capital crisis” in government.

Three Kennedy School students and a professor were the other panel participants.

Christopher DiMasse, an HLS and KSG student, expressed concerns over money and lifestyle.

The private sector is lucratively enticing, DiMasse said, because law firms and businesses offer higher salaries than government pay. Money is particularly a concern for students who accumulate debt from years studying, he said.

Moreover, DiMasse pointed to the “youthful atmosphere” that exists in the private sector as another reason students enter careers there.

KSG student Erica Swift focused on the positive aspects of government service for students working overseas.

“It’s an amazing responsibility when people of other countries see you as the President’s representative” Swift said.

Another Kennedy School student, Mike Jung raised concerns about job security versus risk-taking.

He questioned whether a position in public service could offer him the sense of job security he desired, and simultaneously give him the freedom to take risks.

Carol Chetkovich, assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School, provided the faculty perspective.

She said that her students are drawn to the private sector because it encourages professional development and hones professional skills.

The competitive nature of the public sector may be better suited to these needs, at least in the eyes of students, Chetkovich said.

Moreover, students often question how instrumental they will be as a public servant and see the private sector as providing more oppotunity for distinction.

“Students do not want to be one square on a huge grid,” Chetkovich said.