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Posterity is Centuries Old—So is Public Service

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
October 3, 2020

Commercial Painting, No Artist, Photo by Lisa Saye, 2020

Posterity is centuries old. We often speak or write about it as if it were something in the future. More accurately, posterity is a record of yesterday’s and today’s triumphs, grievances, wars, peace and societal advancements that are often more appreciated in the future. Posterity detaches rituals from record. Posterity is then and now.

Public service is also centuries old. The world caught on to its benefits long ago. As public administrators, our role in this drama is continuous, challenging and often thankless. But no one should enter into government service for applause or accolades. Public service is the primary test of government and the delivery of public goods represents the endless test of the successful structure of government.

Government is where civilization, empathy and duty meet. When we fail to apply the broader meaning of this combination, a mirror can be the worst invention ever created. Posterity’s mirror has shown us that government is not a combat sport. Government, for all its starts and stops, is instead a full-time Service Industry.

Public service is not vertical. It is a direct investment in one’s community. Public service is a chance to unify the goals of government with the needs of the citizenry. COVID-19 has thrust the world’s governments into forced and unforced crises. Some crises have laid bare issues related to the improper handling of power. Populations have become fearful of next week, next month or next year. Public administrators know that fear produces unstable governments and unreliable public service. The examples of how we have gained the means to lessen the unknowns during this pandemic are too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that although we have been stunned, we have not been defeated.

Our citizens are simply in search of a welcome and acceptance when their structures and lives have been damaged or destroyed. They need action from the promises of tax collection and redistribution. They do not need judgment and ridicule. They most certainly do not need delay and lies or to see someone casually whistling past a cemetery. Government is designed to manage public goods and public service is the immediate vehicle towards that maintenance. Government is compassion when necessary, it is comfort when necessary and it is necessary when necessary. We must help our citizens to heal when they are hurting because forgetting takes too long.

We know that most of the people we serve live in a system of non-justice and exclusion. We must work against the deception of mal-intended processes, policies and procedures by working against the failures that are embedded as normality in our public institutions. We recognize that our most prominent function as administrators is to reorganize abnormal lines of recruitment and management. As such, our current and future academics will have to be different to capture new ideas and interests. COVID-19 is writing the chapters, outlining the theories and producing scenarios and case studies to test and measure how effective we need to be the next time.

I believe that posterity is a partner of government. When read and watched by tomorrow’s children, posterity’s stories will present a clear and unaltered picture-narrative of how we steadied the ship of government when it mattered most. COVID-19 is forcing us to transform some government functions from physical to virtual. Local, state and national government schedules may never return to pre-pandemic hours or manpower. As such, current traditions are being written with a pencil and a good eraser. Public administrators are uniquely trained for such an environment as this one.

Valor is defined as someone having great courage in the face of danger. One can see valor manifested in the job that local hospitals and disease centers have performed for the neediest of citizens this past year. Thomas Paine’s remark about how times try men’s souls is so appropriate at the moment. Every day before today and every day after today is an opportunity to meet any crisis as a unit of humanity.

On a level playing field, one has the right to succeed or fail. This is a statement that I have used and shared with others as long as I can remember. I don’t recall my influences for the statement, but it has become a long-running mantra about choice when equality is finally available in all constructs of life. Public administrators provide services which will enable all citizens to meet life’s challenges whether that means getting a fishing license, a driver’s license or a marriage license. We are still here to help you and we will not fail to meet you where you are.

The painting is a commercial reproduction and did not include an artists’ name. Photo by Lisa Saye 2020.


Author: Lisa Saye teaches Applied Research Methods for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at DePaul University. Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. On July 9, 2019, Dr. Saye delivered the Pre-Departure Orientation Keynote Address at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois for Fulbrighters leaving for Sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Saye earned her Master’s in Human Resource Management at Troy University and her Doctorate in Public Administration at The University of Alabama. She can be reached by email at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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