One of the recurrent issues in the presidential race is the question of who does and should make jobs. Mitt Romney has repeatedly said, "Government does not create jobs." I'm sorry, Mr. Romney. The government does create jobs. They are good ones, and our democracy would be stronger if everyone took a government job for a while.
I got a master's degree under the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program. Yes, that means that tax dollars paid for me to go to school. I await your angry comments. However, this was not an outright gift. I needed to do a 10 week internship with a government agency during my program then work for at least 6 months for every semester of school. For me that ended up being two years at the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
While I was still working on my degree, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill spoke at my school. He talked about being inspired as a kid hearing President Kennedy's call to service. You know the one: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." He credited that speech with inspiring him to do community service and eventually accept a job in government.
I felt no such calling. Both my parents had Federal jobs, but I still never really thought about working for the government myself. To me the Scholarship for Service program was just a way to go to school for free, but it became more than that. Working in government gave me a realistic understanding of how our country works that was lacking in my hazy memories of junior high civics class.
Here are some things my experience in government gave me
- An appreciation of all the different areas of our government and what they do. Sure I knew the three branches, but my first job involved an assessment of 23 Executive Branch agencies. I'm pretty sure that before doing that I even didn't know that there were 23 Executive Branch agencies much less be able to name them. (Fun fact: I literally had binders full of them. Binders are not just for filling with women.)
- A front row seat to bureaucracy. Bureaucracy sucks. It's frustrating. But until you really see it at work you cannot appreciate how difficult it is to get things done. This is important for those who become disillusioned when the government cannot solve things instantly.
- An understanding of how screwed up things are. Oh, things are screwed up. As an IT person I was particularly shocked at the outdated, mismanaged technology being used at the top levels of government for very important program. Persons with different expertise can detail other flaws. That doesn't mean we should get rid of government. It means we need to care more about what goes on there. And that caring should permeate throughout the nation all the time, not just every four years.
- A knowledge that "smaller government" usually means "bigger government contracting." Much of what the government does needs to be done. If it is not done by the government directly it needs to be done by someone else. Someone else usually costs more. A lot more. When the country is in debt where will that money come from?
- A realization that things can change. The joke about my old agency was that all our report titles followed this pattern: "progress has been made but challenges remain," but it's because that is the truth. There is progress being made, which is why I refuse to take the hyperbolic stance "government sucks." The challenges are what keep me caring about who will be in power.
- The fundamental belief that there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing PowerPoint. Okay, I'm kidding about that one. Sort of.
- The truth that the government (much like Soylent Green) is people, and the people who are a part of it make a big difference. There are many cogs in the machine we call government, and they all matter. None of those people are perfect, but the differences between them matter.
I've heard people suggest a system of required service, something like a civilian draft. That's highly impractical since, although there are Federal jobs available all over the country, the majority of civilian government jobs are in Washington, D.C., and not everyone is going to move to Washington, D.C. Still, I like the idea behind required service because I like the idea of an informed electorate. I wish everyone had a deep understanding of the role of government, the reach it has in their lives, and the impact of good and bad leaders at all levels. I wish everyone cared enough to make informed decisions about who will be given the reins to our future. I wish everyone remembered who has the power to make laws (Congress) and who doesn't (The President). I wish all U.S. citizens had the knowledge we require of prospective citizens. (Try a sample naturalization test here.)
No, not everyone is going to work for the government. I know that. I'd settle for everyone choosing to vote. That's not going to happen either. I know that too, and it makes me sad.
Oh, by the way, the government is hiring (and not just in D.C.). Browse job opportunities on the USAJobs.gov website.
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