All Together Now

The workplace lines have blurred for government, for-profits and nonprofits.

These days, you could walk into a U.S. government office, see 15 workers ensconced in their neighboring cubicles-and have no idea who they work for. Five of them might actually be on Uncle Sam's payroll, while three others work for a services contractor, two others for that contractor's subcontractor, three more for an entirely separate company and two for a nonprofit research outfit.

All of them would show up in the same office each morning, work on the same tasks, eat lunch together and go to the same meetings. They would have the same overarching mission, and day to day would seem interchangeable. The primary difference among them is their central motivation-the feds to uphold the Constitution, the contractors to make a profit and the nonprofit researchers to advance knowledge.

The reality of the blurred, or intermingled, federal workplace was underscored in April by an announcement in Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University's business school and school of government will launch what they bill as a "fully integrated joint program in business and government." It will be a three-year program in which students will earn degrees from both schools.

"Graduates of this new program will be able to address some of the world's most pressing issues-ones that call for collaboration between the public and private sectors and require leaders who can effectively operate in both areas," David Ellwood, dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, said recently.

The increasingly intersector federal workplace and the new Harvard degree program are indicative of fundamental shifts in society as the world becomes more and more networked. Think of the many challenges we face and how they must be solved.

The Sept. 11 terrorists attacked both public and private sector targets, using private sector assets (the airliners) to carry out their suicide mission. It virtually goes without saying that terrorism must be confronted through the combined forces of both sectors. Nation-building, or international development, is obviously a trisector undertaking involving government, private and nonprofit organizations. So are disaster management, infrastructure development, education, health care and energy. One of the primary trials for public administration today is figuring out how the three sectors can best work together.

The Harvard program seeks to help students prepare for that challenge. In the first two years, they will take the core curricula of the two schools. In their third year, they will take various electives and two courses developed especially for the joint degree program, one of which provides students with a real-world challenge to tackle. They'll also complete two summer internships, one in a public service or policy- based position and the other in a private-sector or nonprofit organization.

Harvard's leaders said they also expect the program will bring together faculty from both schools to research the "interface" between public and private sectors. The creation of the joint degree program is a sign that academia is waking up to the reality of the integrated world many federal workers see each morning when they walk into their offices.

Brian Friel covered management and human resources at Government Executive for six years and is now a National Journal staff correspondent.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
X CLOSE Don't show again

Like us on Facebook