New Leader, New Funding for Project to Rebuild Trust in Government
Volcker Alliance’s president lands $1.5 million Carnegie Corporation grant.
The Volcker Alliance, the New York nonprofit through which a top former government economist seeks to strengthen the call to public service, has a fresh infusion of financial support.
The group’s newly installed president, Thomas Ross, last week announced receipt of an unrestricted research grant of $1.5 million from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, to be used mostly to enhance the alliance’s efforts at professional education for government careers.
“It will go a long way in helping us to build programs to better prepare people for careers in public service and to send more of the best and the brightest into our nation’s service,” said Ross, who joined the group in May following a career in philanthropy and as president of the University of North Carolina system and, before that, Davidson College.
One of the grant’s first projects will be a study of the future of public service education, “intended to bring diverse stakeholder perspectives together in defining needs and practices to guide the next generation of public servants,” said a release. The urgency of recruiting and retaining well-prepared public officials, according to the alliance’s research, is demonstrated by 43 “government breakdowns” in the past 14 years—a 108 percent increase over the previous comparable period.
The alliance was founded in 2013 by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, with former White House budget office performance specialist Shelley Metzenbaum as president. Volcker said the grant fits well with his long-standing goal of building “partnerships with interested universities and governments to help educate a highly capable public service to meet today’s complex challenges.”
Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation, said, “Paul Volcker represents the spirit of public service, and in founding the Volcker Alliance, he is working to address one of the most vexing challenges of our time: how to staff a government that is sufficiently competent, versatile, and technical, as well as forward-thinking, for America to operate effectively in the 21st century. This is a tall order and, at a time when Wall Street and Silicon Valley are wooing many top graduates, the challenge is all the more difficult.”
Ross told Government Executive on Tuesday that a grant from the Carnegie Corporation is like the “Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”
The alliance is currently undergoing a “reset,” stepping back “to get a better understanding of the points where we can have an impact,” he said. With the country likely to emerge from the November elections more divided, “there will be a need to work with other groups to see how [we] can help people recognize that government plays a valuable role in their lives every day,” he said.
The alliance has been working with universities and state governments to research budget threats as well as federal financial regulation and procurement, Ross noted. But the Carnegie money will be especially useful for research into the “future workforce needs of government, the talent pipeline,” he said, noting that the baby boomer retirement wave is affecting both state and federal government.
That can mean helping today’s graduating students “think through what they need to know and encourage and support them in their effort to find their way into government,” Ross added. “We don’t have a have a high percentage of public management program graduates going into government. They oftentimes have the desire, but it’s not easy to find their way through the bureaucratic morass.”
At job fairs on campus, Ross observed, “there often will be six consulting groups or other employers going after their skill sets, while there won’t be anyone from government.”
Volcker himself, at age 89, continues to come into the alliance office every day for six or so hours, though he has other commitments in public speaking and business, Ross said.
Metzenbaum is now advising the alliance as a nonresident fellow, and is co-author of a coming white paper on how the next presidential administration can measure program performance accountability.