Effort to promote public service to be launched next month

A nonprofit research, education, and lobbying organization dedicated to recruiting a new generation of public servants was supposed to have been launched two weeks ago. The terrorist attacks of September 11 intervened, and the follow-up roles played by government investigators, intelligence-gatherers, disaster-management officials, and security personnel after the attacks have underscored the importance of the new group's mission, organizers say.

The Partnership for Public Service--now slated to launch on October 23--has significant financial resources. Samuel J. Heyman, a Connecticut businessman who worked in the Justice Department under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, is bankrolling the group to the tune of $25 million over five years. The initiative also has the support of high-profile figures from government, business, and academia.

The partnership's board includes the chairmen and ranking members of both the House Government Reform Committee and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee--Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Sen. Fred D. Thompson, R-Tenn. Other board members are: Sens. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio; former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J.; former Secretary of State James A. Baker III; former Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole; former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; Lockheed Martin Corp. Executive Committee Chairman Norman Augustine; Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner; and Yale University President Richard C. Levin.

Partnership officials point out with alarm that nearly 20 percent of federal civilian employees are expected to retire over the next five years, including 45 percent of the federal government's senior executives. Yet just 10 percent of recent Phi Beta Kappa graduates from American universities rate the government as a first choice for employment, the group says.

"The bottom line is that the federal government is facing a crunch that's quite dramatic," said Max Stier, the new group's president and CEO. The existing government workforce is aging, he said, but the government "is no longer being viewed as an attractive employer by talented people just out of college and graduate school."

The partnership has five goals. The first is to mount a public relations campaign highlighting the positive actions of government--an effort aided, tragically, by the terrorist attacks. Other goals are to: advise government agencies on how best to recruit young, talented people; work with agencies to allow employees more flexibility and creativity in their jobs; and conduct research on human resources issues in government. The partnership has also hired pollsters Peter Hart and Robert Teeter to survey American attitudes on government.

The partnership's final goal is to encourage Congress to pass new legislation. The first proposed bill--The Human Resources Officer Act--would require agencies and departments to appoint a chief human resources officer who would "elevate human capital management" to positions of prominence within government on a par with financial and information-technology issues.

The partnership's second legislative proposal is to encourage student loan forgiveness for graduates who enter government service. Currently, student-loan debts that are forgiven by universities are not treated as taxable income, but student-loan debts forgiven by the government are. The proposed bill would eliminate this difference, which the partnership says is arbitrary and counterproductive.

Stier said that he and other organizers hope that having key legislators on the partnership board will improve the chances of passing this agenda.

Stier, 35, was an aide to Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, and clerked for Supreme Court Justice David Souter. He also worked for the Justice Department and the Housing and Urban Development Department. His most recent position was as HUD's deputy general counsel for litigation in the Clinton administration.

Other government employment specialists are welcoming the launching of the partnership. "We see it as a very nice fit," said Myra Howze Shiplett, director of the Center for Human Resources Management at the National Academy of Public Administration. "We have a shared set of values and will be able to complement each other."

Those sentiments were echoed by Patricia McGinnis, president and CEO of the Council for Excellence in Government. McGinnis, who is also a member of the partnership's board, said the "effort will have to go beyond the insiders. It's got to be a public issue. I would hope that they invest their time in broader public communications efforts."

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