The Quiet and Quintessential Public Servant: Dwight Ink, 1922-2021

“Mr. Implementation” has passed away.

Dwight Ink, whose lengthy career and prominent role in several federal agencies earned him a reputation as the consummate public servant, has died at the age of 99, the National Academy of Public Administration announced Monday.

Ink’s illustrious career in government service spanned more than four decades. He held positions in every presidential administration from Eisenhower to Reagan.

Known as "Mr. Implementation," Ink helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency and the Housing and Urban Development Department, and was instrumental in launching the war on poverty in the 1960s. He served as acting director of the General Services Administration under President Ford and helped design and implement the landmark 1978 Civil Service Reform Act during the Carter administration.

Ink was named a NAPA fellow in 1969. In 2016, the academy honored his exemplary record of accomplishment by naming the Fellow’s Hall at its headquarters in Washington in his honor.

“It has been a privilege to devote a career to the public service,” Ink said at the naming ceremony. “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.”

Early in his career, Ink earned the respect and admiration of federal officials—if not public accolades—for his work in managing the response to the massive Alaskan earthquake of 1964.

In 2011, Government Executive magazine listed Ink among 20 of the All-Time Greatest Feds. Eight years later, GovExec named Ink to the inaugural class of the Government Hall of Fame. He was the star of the gala induction ceremonies held at the Washington National Cathedral, holding his trophy aloft with a huge grin, even though he was confined to a wheelchair.

Ink “combined deep knowledge and experience with a bias toward action,” wrote Donald Moynihan, then a professor at the University of Wisconsin and now at Georgetown University, in a preface to Getting Things Done With Courage and Conviction, a book written by Ink and Kurt Thurmaier. “His ‘get it done’ approach was embedded in a framework of ethical public service.”

In their 2009 book If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government, 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, wrote of Ink:

“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, ... 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.”