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Why ASPA Supports Establishment of a National Public Service Museum & Student Center

Richard Baum

In 2011, the ASPA Board endorsed the goal of establishing a National Public Service Museum & Student Center to serve as a place for American youth to learn about the current challenges and past accomplishments of public servants. The Museum, to be based in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, would present information about government policies and programs in a dynamic, interactive manner, taking a page from newer museums, such as the journalism focused Washington-based Newseum. It would serve as a place for youth, through class or family visits, to gain a better understanding of what government actually does and how and it does it. The Museum would also serve as a clearinghouse for information on public administration-related academic programs, Washington-based internships and federal, state and local public service employment opportunities.

The ASPA Museum Project Team decided to focus the Museum on serving youth because of the concern that today’s students–and tomorrows voters, tax payers and potential public servants–are not learning enough about their government.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress 2010 Civics report card, only 7 percent of 8th graders can accurately identify the three branches of our federal government. Social Studies teachers in our schools are doing their best to address such knowledge gaps, but they cannot do it alone. With all the academic demands on students today, plus time commitments for after school work and extra-curricular activities, there is little time left to teach about civics or government. Media coverage of government, which focuses on political conflict, debt and scandal, often does not impart much substantive information and, regardless, is not tailored to youth.

The new Museum will help to fill in these knowledge gaps. Youth need to learn about government’s contribution to many of our Nation’s greatest accomplishments–including eradication of deadly diseases, rebuilding Europe after World War II, constructing the national highway system, and developing the Internet. These achievements, and many others, could not have occurred without the dedicated work of thousands of public servants. The Museum will not only provide a user-friendly exposition of these and other past accomplishments, but it will also delve into the substantive public policy areas which government experts are grappling with today.

The Museum will also provide opportunities and forums for youth to participate in the national debate about government. The Museum will invite youth to provide their own ideas about what government agencies should be doing through computer kiosks integrated into exhibits at the Museum and via the Museum’s social media, blog and websites which will be accessible on site  and off site via computers and smart phones. It will sponsor essay contests and produce  e-newsletters and magazines with student written articles. The Museum will host lectures, panel discussions, and speeches and present documentary and educational films, and host special public events.

It is vital for the current generation of youth to gain accurate knowledge and informed interest in the work of government. These may be some tough times for public servants, but the need for quality public administration is not decreasing. In fact, with budgets under pressure, the need to attract the best and brightest to public service is stronger and ever. Organizations like ASPA, just like the United States Government, are here for the long term.

After all, whether or not our political leaders decide that government should get smaller, bigger, or stay the same size, government agencies will still have to continue to recruit high quality civil servants to effectively administer government programs. With baby boomer retirements–delayed perhaps, but still looming–many thousands of jobs, even in a shrinking overall government, will, sooner or later, have to be filled.

A new Public Service Museum will not only inform future voters about what government does, it may also provide the initial spark of interest in a career in public administration from a future public servant.

Over the past year the ASPA Museum Project Team has begun consultations with Congress. Draft legislation to establish the museum as a public/private partnership has been developed. The Project Team is now developing detailed concepts for museum exhibits within the following 10 policy sectors: Economy & Trade, Education, Energy, Environment, Health, International Affairs, Homeland Security, Housing & Urban Development, Justice and Transportation. There is much work to be done and many opportunities for ASPA Members to contribute to this important and ambitious endeavor.

The Museum Project Team is looking forward to consulting with ASPA experts in the various sector areas and hearing ideas for what will make the National Public Service Museum and Student Center an exciting, fun and educational place for youth to visit. The Project Team plans to participate in the 2012 ASPA annual conference in Las Vegas to receive feedback from ASPA Members about plans for The Museum.

Please do not hesitate to contribute your ideas–this is a project that could change the national conversation about public service for the better. We all have a stake in ensuring that today’s youth have a place of their own to learn about the important contributions of public servants to American society.

ASPA?member Richard Baum is Chair of the ASPA Museum Project Team. Email: [email protected]

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