Why we need a Public Service Academy

Our collective myopia can make it difficult todiscern a serious threat to our long-term security: the lack of strongcivilian leadership. Our focus on the short term may also blind us to arealistic, long-term solution to the problem: a US Public ServiceAcademy.
From Sept. 11, 2001, to Hurricane Katrina toour struggle with international terrorism, the past five years havewitnessed both the remarkable resilience of our people and thefrustrating failures of too many of our public institutions. Many ofthose failures resulted from poor leadership within the publicsector—what one congressional report on the government’s response toKatrina called “fecklessness, flailing and organizational paralysis” atall levels of government.
The problem of weak public leadership onlypromises to get worse in the coming years as the baby boomers retireand we lose a massive chunk of our upper-level expertise. Yet, despitea critical and growing shortage of public servants, America does notoffer a national undergraduate institution to promote public service ordevelop a steady stream of well-trained, highly qualified civilianleaders. That soon may change as a groundswell of support builds forthe US Public Service Academy.
Modeled on the successful military serviceacademies, the Public Service Academy would promote public service anddevelop civilian leaders the way West Point and Annapolis promotenational defense and nurture military leaders. Its mission would be tobuild a corps of civilian leaders who have the moral character,academic training, and leadership experience necessary to serve theAmerican people honorably and who are committed to devoting their livesto public service.
As America’s first national civilianuniversity, the academy would recruit top students from across thecountry and offer them a rigorous undergraduate education focused onleadership development and public service. In return, academy graduateswould spend five years serving their nation by working as teachers, lawenforcement officers and emergency responders and in other criticalpublic service positions at the local, state and national levels inboth public institutions and non-profit charitable organizations.During their five-year commitment, academy graduates would be on thefast track to leadership, propelling them into a lifetime of publicservice.
Spots for incoming freshmen would be allocatedby state, following a congressional nomination process that wouldensure geographic diversity and generate an annual class of roughly1,300 students. These students would follow a structured, academicallyrigorous program that combines a traditional liberal arts curriculumwith stringent requirements for service learning, study abroad andsummer leadership development.
The academy would be unlike any civiliancollege in the country. No undergraduate institution offers a programas intense, practical or service-oriented as that which the academywould provide. Like the military academies, the academy’s intensiveprogram would foster a campus culture of service that would unifygraduates with a shared sense of mission. Four years at the academy,combined with the five-year post-graduation service requirement, notonly would give academy graduates an unmatched educational experiencebut it also would help our nation meet critical needs.
In less than a year, the grassroots movementto build the academy has assembled an impressive team of three dozenadvisors, including academics such as Charles Moskos, policy leaderssuch as Dennis Ross, non-profit heads such as Wendy Kopp and militaryleaders such as Lt. Gen. Dave Palmer, former superintendent of WestPoint. The academy movement has attracted congressional attention, aswell. This fall, the Public Service Academy Act of 2006 will beintroduced by members of both parties in Congress.
Many Americans, particularly in the militaryand homeland security arenas, grasp intuitively that the US PublicService Academy is an idea whose time has come. The academy has thepotential to become the defining institution of our generation, acollege that captures the patriotic spirit of our young people andchannels it into public service. It would be an inspiring symbol of thefederal government’s commitment to developing public leadership as along-term investment in homeland security. Simple enough to grasp in asentence, yet complex enough to address the long-term crisis incivilian leadership, the academy is a winning idea that can pullAmericans out of their myopia on homeland security. HST
Chris Myers Asch is the co-founder of the US Public Service Academy, the website of which is http://www.uspublicserviceacademy.org. He can be reached at asch@uspublicserviceacademy.org.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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