Dwight Ink at a National Academy of Public Administration event in 2012.

Dwight Ink at a National Academy of Public Administration event in 2012.

The Man Who Showed How to Make Government Work

Dwight Ink honored for decades of service in federal agencies.

Few Americans would recognize Dwight Ink on sight. But millions of them have benefited from the work he did over decades of service as a career federal executive in a host of agencies.

On Thursday, the National Academy of Public Administration honored Ink’s exemplary record of accomplishment by naming the Dwight Ink Fellows’ Hall at the academy’s headquarters in Washington in his honor.

In 2011, Government Executive listed Ink among “20 of the All-Time Greatest Feds” in our special “Excellence in Government” issue. “Known as ‘Mr. Implementation,’ Ink held positions in every administration from Eisenhower to Reagan,” Charlie Clark wrote at the time.

That service included stints at the Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Administration, the Housing and Urban Development Department, the Atomic Energy Commission, and as a founder of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Dwight’s work … stands as an example of the substantial contributions career executive leaders can make in service to the American people,” said Dan G. Blair, president and CEO of NAPA. “We are proud to honor these unsung heroes in honoring Dwight and hope that Dwight’s example of commitment to public service inspires a new generation of government leaders.”

Ink said he was “overwhelmed” by the honor. “It has been a privilege to devote a career to the public service. Contrary to the negative image of a government ‘bureaucrat,’ I have found work in government at all levels to be the most challenging, exciting and fulfilling of any field I can imagine.”

In their book If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government (Harvard Business Press, 2009), William D. Eggers, global director of Deloitte's public sector research program, and John O'Leary, a research fellow at the Ash Center of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, sang Ink’s praises:

History tends to adore the person at the helm, the president who calls the shots from the Oval Office. Overlooked are the bureaucrats who actually carry out the commands. Out of the limelight, Ink served seven consecutive presidents. ... Now retired, this unassuming bureaucrat was often the one doing the heavy lifting. ...

To reclaim a reputation for competency, government will need more Dwight Inks. It requires a political culture that values and honors capable managers, as well as public servants with the courage to tell the unpleasant truths to their political masters.

For Ink, such truth-telling included urging leaders to take responsibility for effectively managing government. "We lean too much on legislation as a crutch for solving what the executive branch already has in its capacity to do," he said at a panel discussion in 2002. "I think when we find the enemy, we'll find it's us."