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The Noble Harmony of Public Administration: Relief from the Unimaginable

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

By Lisa Saye
May 31, 2020

In a nervous couple of months filled with shutdowns and lockdowns, public administrators have demonstrated an inexhaustible spirit of dedication and service. Their compassion and availability allowed countless people to unburden themselves of worry and anxiety. Public administrators do not perform feats of magic nor are they prepared to compromise service with foolishness. We do our jobs with the knowledge that our citizens are counting on us. At times we may not be immediately appreciated, yet more often than not we are.

Public Administration is not a socially, politically or economically autonomous mode of governance. Decoupling public administration from citizen need and satisfaction would destabilize the service provided because both entities are essential for public service to be whole, successful and meaningful. Along those lines, public administration is not an ideology, but it covers all ideologies because it is the visible and actual part of any government for any citizen.

To be sure, this year we have faced and will continue to face a challenge like none other. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us what else we need to consider in our course of work. Even if science produces a fix for the pandemic, grave issues surrounding public health are functional considerations that we cannot ignore. We do not need a reactive protocol. We do not need answers that have no questions. We must plan, strategize and be ready to meet the challenges that we face and we must do so deliberately.

How will we categorize the new interpretations of what public administration means? Which new characteristics have we developed to capture government failure due to a global crisis? If history is written by the winners, who will the winners be at the end of this crisis and whose narrative will be borrowed to design tomorrow’s public policy? These questions make it obvious that we have not been having the right conversations. For public administrators not to expect that a crisis may cripple or may redefine government is foolish. We are trusted to find the answers and as such we must design the relief from the unimaginable.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us to pause—whether we wanted to or not. It has moved public administrators to define and clarify the academy, to assess more accurate job training elements and to redesign outdated and overused scenarios. Public administrators come to the job having years of work and practical experience that during this global health crisis has helped to add value to the lives of the world’s citizens.

Rootless trees will blow in any direction the wind commands. As such, government must lean toward calmness, serenity and normality. Government is still the place where citizens run first for help, for answers and for continuity. When government is good, citizens feel attached to its buildings, to its bureaucrats and even to its laws. We must remember that citizens are not watching from the sidelines, but rather they are participants at every level of interaction and at every level of our inaction.

The road to the road forward is rising to meet us. It is a useless endeavor to wallow in the folly of carnival noise. We have been provided a narrative with usable translations that students will want to learn, that citizens will want to experience and that the world will want to observe. We can translate crisis into university courses, into reformed departments and agencies and into timely solutions that make a real difference for the people we serve.

Public administrators are not naïve. We know that the world can be filled with ugly words and disturbing images. We know that some spaces represent little more than crowded emptiness and that many times we are working against a ruined landscape of indifference. These are the times that we should create something so profound that no one will want to forget it. We must remember that we are the subject-matter experts on how to bring harmony, justice and legacy to those elements in society that attempt to reinforce an illusion of order.

Harmony is difficult to hold. True public administration aspires toward an ideal environment that somehow balances fairness with righteousness. Public Administrators should continue to deliver a service to the world that is necessary for harmony to exist and to flourish. I do not know what the future holds. I am not confident in which objective will emerge as the next indication of our national direction. But, I do know that legacy is everlasting. I also know that history will continue to be written and receipts will continue to be produced. When our receipts are read and tallied, they should clearly show what we did, where we were and what we were really trying to accomplish. Our receipts must never work against the trust of history, but rather they must embrace it.

The copyrighted image, Still Standing in New Orleans, was taken and titled by Lisa Saye in August 2005.

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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