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Public Understanding: Whose Job Is It?

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

By Marvin N. Pichla
May 23, 2022

One of the most enlightening and meaningful teaching activities in my American Government & Politics classes are the: Whose Job Is It? contests. Simply described, a list of governmental responsibilities is written on the classroom white-board along with the terms: State Government, County Government and Township Government. Then students are questioned about which governmental unit (State/County/Township) is most responsible for facilitating each of the responsibilities listed. It is understood that the majority of the identified governmental activities will over time include some form of intergovernmental interaction, however the goal is to select which level of government is “most responsible” for initiating action.

The “Whose Job Is It?” lists may include:

  • Trash Collection & Recycling
  • Veterans Services
  • Citizen Benefit Programs & Distribution
  • Property Assessments
  • Zoos & Cultural Activities
  • Maintaining a Justice System

The outcome of this course learning activity is instructionally very beneficial due to its ability to reveal gaps in knowledge attained during class instruction. However, the questions and intense class participation in the “Whose Job Is It?” segment also displays a high level of misassumption that exists within the voting (and soon to be voting) citizens on basic governmental responsibilities!

As a career-long participant and leader in the field of public administration, the results of the “Whose Job Is It?” activities are troublesome, but not surprising. First, just consider the steady growth of the public and private non-profit sectors—the creation of special purpose county governmental units, commissions, policy groups, governmental corporations, elected committees and on and on. The diversity, decentralization and complexity of government at all levels has significantly contributed to the confusion surrounding identification of correct “Whose Job Is It?” responsibility answers.

The challenge of improving each voting citizens’ awareness of government responsibilities at every level is an overwhelming task. Not only is each State different in its delegation of public administration business but likewise, each service area, from the federal level to the small USA village, all have their “own way of doing business”! Textbook information used in classrooms across our country does not easily line-up with today’s multi-component governmental structures. As a result, the opportunity for inaccurate information sharing increases and may lead to greater non-participation of citizens in our governmental system.

Now some may argue that one could just “google” the answers to”Whose Job Is It?” questions. Understandably this may work well in some instances, but again I will refer back to my statement that all State/County/Township/metropolitan entities “are NOT created equal”!  As a result, those seeking special governmental responsibility answers may become even more lost.

Whose Job Is It?

In an attempt to simplify the complexity of government, we need to first go to the beginnings of learning on questions regarding government service responsibilities.  Consider the direct changes that could be made in textbooks and online information sites if answering the “Whose Job Is It?” governmental questions were contained early and regularly within every document. It sounds almost too simple but do people know “Whose Job Is It?” to: (1) set a dog license fee in their home area, (2) approve a home building permit, (3) to start a hardware store or (4) get a license to open a day care center? How timely and appropriate it would be to construct a process/structure/document that would allow voting citizens to easily gain access to this information.

Additionally, the value of prioritizing the “Whose Job Is It?” information could progressively impact the candidate selection process at the time of voting. Regardless of the State, County, Township or even National level, the greater the voter’s comprehension of the governmental responsibilities of electable candidates, the better chance a more qualified candidate has to win. The “Whose Job Is It?” awareness process may also increase an understanding of when public administrators must, by law, work together. Shared decision-making is a large component of every governmental action and creating multiple methods to better educate everyone on roles and responsibilities is more necessary today than ever before!

Finally, to effectively improve citizens’ responses to “Whose Job Is It?” government responsibility questions, it is critical to remove politics from any answer. Too often individuals are led to believe that certain public elected officials are more responsible for governmental programs and services than they really are. While these officials may play an important role in discussion, debate and approval…they are not directly responsible for implementation of specific programs or projects.

Whose Job Is It?

Supplying exact answers to specific governmental responsibility questions is never going to be easy. However, somehow it seems appropriate that improving the methodologies for gaining quick, easy, simple “Whose Job Is It?” answers falls mostly at the feet of our public administration system. Truly it is OUR JOB to help citizens better understand today’s separate governmental service responsibilities. People need to better understand what their taxes pay for in their neighborhoods, their State and the Country. Perfection is not the goal—nor is it even possible. Instead, an improved awareness and confidence in government as a whole, can be our logical progress target.

Author: Marvin N. Pichla, Ph.D., is the owner and creative adviser of Inspiring Innovations, Inc. Sharing his unique entrepreneurship and innovation in public service experience, Marv consults with public and private business, education and community organizations to develop new and different problem-solving methods through real-life, example-based learning.

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