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Climate-Proof Public Service: Vision, Truth and Legacy

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

By Lisa Saye
February 29, 2020

Climate-Proof-Proof ©, São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. Photo and Photo Title by Lisa Saye

Why Climate Is Meaningful

A nation’s temperature is taken by the degree to which its social, political and economic climate maintains some level of balance and progress. A stable climate provides a nation’s inhabitants with a clear indication of the fitness of its infrastructure, its people and its possibilities. Public servants do not have the luxury of choosing their ideal climate to work in. They do not await the verdict regarding the popularity of a policy or program. And, sometimes they do not even get to choose their leaders. Instead, public servants plough on, muddle through and navigate the environments of bureaucracies old and new. No matter the temperature, no matter the rhetoric, no matter the reason and no matter the cause, public servants get the job done because public servants are climate-proof.

We have an enormous amount of climate-proof public servant examples we could use as models of good public service. NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson is but one example that comes to mind for me. The world learned a serious lesson from Mrs. Johnson about being climate-proof in an era where African-Americans faced huge challenges regarding respect and equality due to segregation. Katherine Johnson was one of the African-American characters which the 2017 movie, Hidden Figures, portrayed as a vital part of the United States race to space. Among her many accomplishments, Mrs. Johnson calculated the 1961 Mercury Mission launch window and in 1962 Astronaut John Glenn insisted that she validate the calculation of his orbit around the earth. With Mrs. Johnson’s help, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. Despite the climate in the U.S. and in the world during that time, Katherine Johnson proved that she was not only accurate, but that she was unapologetically climate-proof. Mrs. Johnson passed away on February 24, 2020 at the age of 101. She leaves behind an envious legacy of public service.

A key element of public service is vision. How many times have you heard that you must visualize the world that you want to live in and then make it so? Imagine the vision your heroes and heroines had to possess in order to accomplish those achievements that you admire them for. Government employees use the same mental and moral metal as the people you have come to admire. They use pre-implementation strategies to form teams, build alliances, lessen or eliminate duplication of services and design timelines for program and policy execution. They monitor, supervise and revise public service programs and then evaluate the results to inform the planning process going forward. And, they do all of this in whatever social, political or economic climate they happen to inherit.

Truth is a vital element in any service or in any endeavor one chooses to embark upon. One must always confront the reality of the situation or the circumstance one comes upon or finds themselves wading through. Vision is nothing without truth. Truth cannot be an abstract notion, but it must be seeded and reseeded throughout the vision. Truth is not evil, it is compassionate, and yes, truth is climate-proof. If the budget is padded with lofty goals and ramblings, truth has been abandoned for foolishness. If hate is codified into legislation for revenge or amusement, truth becomes a sentiment for losers. But as William Cullen Bryant said in his poem, The Battlefield, and quoted in 1968 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a short speech entitled, We Shall Overcome, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” Truth is what a public servant holds on to in a climate of lies and deceptions because public servants know that truth always rises.

The historic residue of what we do for our citizens will outlive us. It will remain in buildings we construct, in art we commission, in taskforces we served on, in classrooms, in laboratories and within the many pieces of legislation we used to guide our time as administrators. So, it is in this sense that we have a moral obligation to do our best for our citizens and to get it right. And here, right means right. We cannot postpone doing what is right in order to wait for a more favorable climate to work in. We have to value clear and appropriate vision as we uphold truth. We must construct a favorable climate right where we are and in the current positions that we hold. As public servants, we are called to maintain the structure, the programs and the processes that make government different. Government is different because we provide public service to our legacy.

The copyrighted ‘Climate-Proof-Proof’ image was taken by Lisa Saye in São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.

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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