Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Doing Meaningful Work

In 1961, President Kennedy urged Americans to commit themselves to achieving the goal of landing a person on the moon before the decade was out. It was one of the most ambitious goals a nation had ever undertaken. And it was the kind of goal that required such vast support, resources and coordination, that only the United States federal government could have achieved it.

Last July marked the 40th anniversary of Americans landing on the moon. This anniversary got a lot of media coverage and what struck me over and over was the way that everyone involved in the space program was proud to have played a part in achieving that monumental goal. They didn’t just help America gain bragging rights, they changed the course of human history. Their work had meaning.

Today, America faces issues that are vastly more complex and more urgent than taking a person to the moon. Climate change, the global recession, leading nations to ensure all people have access to basic human rights, these are all situations that cannot be solved by market forces or individual organizations. These problems need the size and the capacity that only the U.S. Federal Government can bring to bear. 

But the U.S. Federal Government faces another kind of challenge— recruiting talented, passionate young people who bring new ideas and the potential for leadership to federal service. It’s been estimated that one third of federal employees will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. This exodus of baby boomers is made worse by a federal recruiting and application system that is old, slow and difficult to navigate.

The Good News (Part 1)
Luckily the President’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget and Plan  established requirements for hiring reform. And congress is drafting legislation to overhaul the way that federal agencies attract and hire people. These efforts should hopefully make finding and landing a job with a federal agency simpler and faster. But it’s still not easy to wrap one’s mind around the huge number of federal agencies and how to get into them.

The Good News (Part 2)
Another bright spot is that the University of Washington was recently awarded one of five grants from the Partnership for Public Service to promote students exploring careers in the U.S. government. As a result of this grant, a diverse group of UW students, faculty and staff are working together to make sure that UW students and alumni have the tools and the knowledge needed to explore federal careers. This includes not only the blog  you’re reading, and links to helpful documents and websites, but also real human beings; UW students and alumni who have done or are doing work with federal agencies, as well as employers from federal agencies. Agencies that are doing meaningful work like mitigating global climate change (Environmental Protection Agency), recovering from the global recession (The Federal Reserve Bank), ensuring human rights (The Peace Corps), or even being part of a mission to put a person on Mars (NASA). To get involved and/or learn more, please attend the events promoted on this website and/or email uwmakingthedifference@gmail.com.