Advocates sketch plan for public service academy

The creation of a U.S. Public Service Academy would provide opportunities different from those available through existing public administration programs at universities across the country, according to a draft blueprint created by academy lobbyists.

The blueprint, released Friday, aims to highlight the unique mission of the academy compared to other universities. The academy would feature an intense program and a variety of learning experiences -- classroom work, community service, study abroad and public service internships -- to reinforce the overarching goal of leadership, the draft stated.

Legislation to establish the academy was introduced in both chambers of Congress in March but has not made it out of committee. The measures would provide students with a free education in exchange for spending at least five years working for the government at the local, state or federal level.

Students would follow a structured day of classes, with uniforms and class attendance mandatory. "Life as a student will be designed to be an intensive, all-consuming experience in which students will have to sacrifice many personal freedoms enjoyed by peers in other universities," the blueprint stated.

The proposal seeks to counteract recent criticism from an education association and government officials. Many argue that the nation already has universities with excellent programs for students interested in public service.

Additionally, Office of Personnel Management Director Linda Springer said last month that the proposal may be counterproductive, offering a "favored class" job guarantees at the expense of other potential candidates.

But the blueprint stated that the institution would employ a more intensive academic program with a larger base of core courses than typical liberal arts colleges, grooming students with civic education, foreign language skills, cultural adaptability and the ability to communicate and evaluate performance effectively.

Additionally, the proposal highlighted the three interrelated factors that affect student enrollments: desire to enroll, qualifications and affordability. Because the academy would not charge tuition, the size of the applicant pool would be significantly higher than that for other universities, supporters stated.

Admissions would follow a congressional nomination process similar to that used for the military academies, with spots allocated by state. A percentage of openings also would be available to international students and presidential nominees, yielding a freshman class of roughly 1,275 students and a four-year population of about 5,100.

Additionally, the proposal would follow the lead of the military academies by subsidizing graduate education at a public institution in return for an extended service commitment. For every year of subsidized graduate education, students would have to add two years to their base service commitment, the blueprint said.

The proposal would require students to wear uniforms during class and official events, largely, the blueprint stated, because many public servants are required to wear a uniform or follow some type of dress code. "The requirement of a uniform emphasizes students' new identities as members of a group united by a sense of mission and purpose that is larger than individual ambitions," the plan stated.

Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said the blueprint marks a big step in highlighting the importance of public service and is one of many solutions to offsetting a potential retirement wave across government over the next decade.

"I think this concept paper represents a lot of serious work in trying to make the public service academy a reality," Stier said. "We're going to need to seek continued work focused on ensuring that our existing institutions are encouraging top talent to come into government as well."

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