Federal Education

Timothy B. Clark

Are subsidies really required to get the workforce we need?

For years, the tag line on our front cover has characterized Government Executive as "Government's Business Magazine." It telegraphs our mission: to address the many activities of federal government and the people and systems that make them work.

Gradually, the phrase has gained currency. IBM's Center for the Business of Government, for example, started up in 1998. And now, a new educational institution is characterizing itself as "the only college dedicated to the business of government."

The key entrepreneur in the nascent College for Public Leadership is Tom Dungan, the forward-thinking president of Management Concepts of Vienna, Va. His firm has built a good business delivering practical training and education in common administrative functions of government. Many courses carry educational certification, but Dungan had a larger vision-providing a full spectrum of education up to the level of undergraduate and master's degrees. So he approached a well-regarded Jesuit institution, Regis University, and formed a partnership to give public servants opportunities to deepen their learning.

Top-ranking feds aspire to programs offered by the likes of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government or the Federal Executive Institute. The new college is aimed at lower ranks, says president and academic dean Terry Rawls, some of whom might need a few credits to complete college. The CFPL will offer undergraduate and master's degrees in business administration (business of government) and also a master's degree in organization leadership (federal leadership). CFPL can tailor its offerings to match the needs of individual agencies, says Rawls. Much of the instruction will be asynchronous-that is, online and available whenever convenient for the student.

The CFPL initiative strikes me as offering practical and affordable opportunities for workers and agencies to build knowledge and skills. These qualities also are characteristic of the Graduate School, USDA, which has an 85-year track record of serving the federal community. It, too, has a wide range of accredited courses and partnerships with degree-granting universities such as Georgetown, Rutgers and the University of the District of Columbia.

Such offerings seem more focused and affordable than larger schemes like the proposed public service academy. The academy would grant full West-Point-style scholarships to 5,000 undergraduates. They would wear uniforms and pledge to spend five years in public service. Debt forgiveness schemes (like one just enacted) also seem less than essential. Federal jobs are in demand; it's hard to get one. The average age of the new federal hire is 33. The pay is decent and the benefits first class. Today's young adults are inclined toward public service. Why, then, all the clamor for subsidies? Why not hew to market signals? If in specific occupations, agencies can't attract the right talent, let's increase pay for these hard-to-fill spots. Otherwise, programs offered by existing and new institutions like the CFPL should fit the bill.

Tim Signature

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