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I Have Seen the Future of Public Service

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

By Robert Brescia 
July 14

George Washington, as a boy, was ignorant of the commonest accomplishments of youth. He could not even lie.                                            —Mark Twain

Look closely at this picture. According to the data from several different sources that I’ve researched, and then applying just a bit of “Texas windage,” five of these young people will be or are now federal government employees. Three of them are now or will be state or local government employees. One will be an elected official. The remainder are either for-profit or nonprofit employees. I recently served as a judge to select the Odessa Under 40 cohort for 2019. I really enjoy doing this every year because these folks are among some of the best and brightest Texans and Americans out there. They are growing, taking on great responsibility, helping others, and making a huge difference in our community. As I watched them receive their distinctions at the annual Odessa Under 40 awards banquet, I thought that it would be good to examine how today’s youthful generations gain an appreciation of public service and leadership prowess. I am hopeful that joining the public sector is still highly attractive in their eyes.

It seems that in our times, and especially during the election cycles, we present to youth a media parade of horrible exemplars who do not represent the average honest and ethical public servant. These are usually elected officials on both sides that claim a stranglehold on the truth. Their aberrant behavior is somehow passed off as normal or sometimes even desirable. Some young folks have come to believe that the extremes are filled with purists who should be commended for their non-compromising views. That is just not true. The better politicians among us are those who can negotiate through the morass, achieve consensus and get things done. Their own personal beliefs or agendas don’t always prevail, and they know that very well. I recently visited with my Congressman, Mike Conaway, and we briefly discussed this topic. He is an elected representative who, in my opinion, serves as a great exemplar of how to negotiate and achieve legislation that we all can live with. He and I, along with many others, support teaching leadership to our youth so that they can understand how real progress is made, especially in public sector roles.

Learning Public Leadership

Although leadership, civics and public service are all national imperatives, these important national characteristics and values are taught at local community levels. That’s where they have the best and most sustained impact. To satisfy those responsibilities, communities are building on and strengthening organizations or institutions that permit young people to come together, learn from each other and be better, more public-minded citizens. For example, there are now many more “[insert-your-city’s- name-here] Under 40” organizations whose stated missions are to encourage their membership to involve themselves in community and render help where it is most needed. Another example comes to us from the many fine Chambers of Commerce. These chambers typically host and run programs called “Leadership [insert-your-city’s-name-here],” and operate Junior Leadership programs for high school juniors. Another Chamber program is the, “Young Professionals of [insert-your-city’s-name-here].” The stated mission for our YPO here in Odessa is, “To create business opportunities, support community involvement, provide leadership education and promote an overall investment in Odessa’s future for adults age 21-40.”

The Truth About Youth

Worried about millennials in the government workplace? Don’t be—they have about 5 percent less turnover rates than Generation X. Dedicated and hard-working, these young people predominantly want a good work/life balance (62 percent) and job security (57 percent). They want to be dedicated to a cause or serving a greater good (49 percent), hope to be competitively or intellectually challenged (34%) and also be a leader or manager of people (26 percent). This is from a recent national survey of 65,000 college students. Students in the same survey identified federal agencies as their most preferred employers, such as the FBI, NIH, NASA, State Department, and the Peace Corps. I’m confident that these students believe that such agencies offer the best chance of securing the previously cited goals they have. After all, the private sector can be volatile in its quest to be profitable. There are plenty of mergers, downsizing, layoffs and bankruptcies to go around.


Today’s youth operate in an incredibly complex world where the societal, “Clock speed,” is a heck of a lot faster than it was in the last century. The job of the preceding generations is to teach the youthful generations what is important and sustainable in life; how to make America’s governance greater than it is today and how to engage in true public service to others and one’s community.

We can see every day that the younger generations are up to the task. They talk about and practice Americanism, espousing our national values of unity, truth, passion, perseverance, benevolence, leadership, optimism, courage, spirituality, community, inclusion, love and civility. These values should be apolitical, shared by all citizens, and practiced daily. Working together with all the generations and with each other, our youth will ensure true and sustainable greatness in America.

Dr. Robert Brescia serves as Chairman of the Board at Basin PBS television and at the Permian Basin American Red Cross. His latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Please contact him at [email protected]  or Twitter: @Robert_Brescia.

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