Picking Up the Pieces
ASPA’s 2021 Annual Conference convened online April 9-15 around its theme, "Picking Up the Pieces: Pandemics, Protests and the Future of Public Service." While all conference themes speak to a moment in time or a current need, this year's was sharply focused on the most important conversations our profession needs to have now—and will continue to have for years to come. No matter the topic on the agenda, discussions circled back to issues of equity (and inequity), the disparities that have become even more apparent in the past year and what we, as public servants, students and scholars, can do about them. Many sentiments reflected a united sense of inquiry around how we can "pick up the pieces," and move forward to serve the public, while acknowledging the many difficulties we all face.
"My badge of honor is I am a career public servant," stated Los Angeles County Director of Personnel Lisa Garrett during this year's opening plenary as she discussed the challenges her county has faced. "Our work matters," she declared at the beginning of her remarks. She went on to describe the magnitude of effort her team of more than 100,000 employees has gone through since February 2020, observing, "Our greatest asset is our people, and it is imperative that we support them."
The value of public service—and public servants—was foundational for former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who provided the Nesta M. Gallas lecture. "We have a responsibility to provide help to the most vulnerable in our society," he stated at the outset, as he reflected on the variety of challenges our country has faced in recent months and years. "You could apply 'silent warriors' to all public servants who have dedicated their lives to the job they do," he noted as he engaged in a thoughtful interview with GovExec Media Group Journalist Tim Clark. "If you are a leader, you have to take risks," he observed when thinking about the current political landscape. "Without leadership, you govern by crisis, which we have done too often in the past few years. Then you lose the trust of the American people."
The concept of trust laid heavily on conference attendees' and speakers' minds as they reflected on equity, government programming, public service and more. "Trust is a verb," observed Ramsey County, Minnesota, Board of Commissioners Chair Toni Carter, as she discussed the work of building local communities and developing programming that works for citizens. "We need to make sure someone is better off [from our work]. We need to go from reflecting what we do to making sure we are addressing a need."
Addressing needs also was the focus of the Donald C. Stone lecture, as Georgetown's Don Moynihan discussed administrative burdens. "Recognize that burdens are actively constructed—the result of political and administrative choices, or choices we don't make,” he commented, going on to discuss the ways in which government programs work for or against their citizens. "Social security was designed to be easy and accessible," he described. "When government wants to, it can do hard things for its people while not making it hard on the people." He encouraged attendees to think through how bureaucracy can be used to discriminate and the ways in which bias produces inequities throughout programs.
Those inequities, and racism specifically, were prominent topics in both the antiracism plenary, featuring Ibram Kendi, and the Gloria Hobson Nordin Social Equity Lecture, featuring Terryl Ross.
During the antiracism plenary, Kendi was interviewed by Virginia Commonwealth University's L. Douglas Wilder School Dean Susan Gooden and his observations went straight to the point: "The only measure of success [against racism] is if there is a generation of Americans who can say they were born in a nation with slavery and they died in a nation that did not have slavery."
Discussants Brandi Blessett (University of Cincinnati) and David Van Slyke (Syracuse University) each were asked to discuss a question central to Kendi's work: What confessions do you think our field needs to make regarding racism? "History and context matter," Blessett answered. "It's a privilege not to see race. We need historical context to see how inequities evolve and persist across generations."
"We have to go back and examine the politics/administration dichotomy," Van Slyke observed. "That notion that bureaucrats only 'execute' policymakers' will."
Ross, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Washington, provided the Gloria Hobson Nordin Social Equity lecture and added perspective around diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives: "There is a distinction between equity and equality," he observed. "Inclusion means not just having people in the room, but having them run the conversation." He continued, "Diversity means calling in all people and making space."
Mariko Silver, this year's Elliot Richardson lecturer and CEO at the Henry Luce Foundation, introduced the term "forever projects" during her interview with Kettering Foundation Director of Exploratory Research Valerie Lemmie. "Navigating racism is a forever project. Every time I think I'm done worrying about it, it bites me." She went on to say, "Trust-building is a forever process. It's a way of being." Discussing mentorship, being a "she-ro," teaching young people to become citizens, and more, Silver's remarks centered around the importance of knowing yourself and building a network of supportive people around you as the cornerstone of growth. "I think about it as a web of influence—people who may not even know they are part of your world. The key is trust... and remember to listen."
The nature of interconnectedness was a theme during the global plenary, as well, as New York Times columnist and author Jason DeParle discussed migration and immigration through the lens of 30 years he spent with a Filipino family both in the Philippines and the United States. "Migration is a vehicle of salvation," DeParle observed. "It’s good to be the place where people go to make their dreams come true."
Of course, discussions went far beyond this year’s plenaries. Seven presidential panels and more than 160 sessions—as well as six symposia and numerous business meetings—provided plenty of space for discussions on these and additional topics. Awards ceremonies conducted throughout the event offered opportunities to recognize more than 40 people and organizations for the work they are doing to advance excellence in public service (click here to see our list of honorees) and the online event provided space to show acceptance videos from those being recognized. However, from beginning to end, session and paper titles conveyed the important topics on everyone’s minds: COVID responses, equity, racism, public service ideals and the wicked problems that face us all.
"Picking up the pieces," came to the foreground again and again. After 13 months (and more) of struggling against big challenges, despite working toward our "noble calling," the sense of "forever projects" loomed. While all attendees were excited to be together, even if online, they also ended the live events with a sense that there is tremendous work to do if we want pieces to be picked up—and hopefully reassembled to tell a better story.
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Annual Conference Continues Online
If the above (brief) recap of this year's conference has left you with regret that you were not part of these conversations, it is not too late! Live events concluded on April 15 but all of our concurrent sessions, plenaries and presidential panels are online through June 30 for viewing any time. Current registrants can use their conference login details to access anything they missed or re-watch content they found particularly engaging. Those who did not register may do so now (registration rates remain the same!) and benefit from the discussions and chat streams still available on the conference website.
Additionally, registration provides students and new professionals with access to our upcoming Students and New Professionals Summit, sponsored by the University of Delaware. See more details below about this day-long event and plan now to join us (via Zoom) for even more professional development.
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E-Learning at Your Fingertips
ASPA staff work tirelessly to keep your skills up to date and the information flowing all year long through our e-learning program. Visit our website to see more details about upcoming KeepingCurrent, BookTalk and Students and New Professionals series programming. Members, visit our webinar archives to catch up on what you have missed!
KeepingCurrent: Legal Cannabis: The Nexus of Public Policy and Local Community Impact
In partnership with Excelsior College
April 29 | 1 p.m. ET
Paul Coble, CEO, Thalo Technologies
Amanda Ostrowitz, Senior Vice President and Founder, CannaRegs
Gretchen Schmidt, Faculty Program Director for Criminal Justice Programs and Cannabis Control, Excelsior College
Jessica Velazquez, Managing Partner, Indiva Advisors, LLP
Cannabis legalization has occupied a central place in public policy debates for years. Now, against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has blown billion-dollar holes in state budgets, cannabis increasingly is seen as a solution for governments that need revenue quickly and legalization has increased as more states around the nation vote to allow and regulate its use. How can community leaders better understand the plant and industry? How can they navigate with evolving regulations that keep the public safe? How can they operate safely within the market? Join us for this conversation that will tackle these dynamics.
BookTalk: Democracy and Public Policy in the Post-COVID-19 World: Choices and Outcome
In partnership with ASPA's South Asian Section for Public Administration
May 12 | 10 a.m. ET
Rumki Basu, Professor, Jamilla Milia University, India
Alasdair Roberts, Discussant, Professor, University of Massachusetts—Amherst
Meghna Sabharwal, Moderator, Professor, University of Texas at Dallas
Dipankar Sinha, Professor of Political Science and Director, Centre for Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Calcutta
V. Srinivas, IAS Officer, Additional Secretary, Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG), Government of India
Democracy and Public Policy in the Post-COVID-19 World: Choices and Outcomes, edited by Rumki Basu (Jamia Millia University, India) is the first in Routledge's series on the Humanities and the Social Sciences in a Post COVID-19 World. Planned and written in 2020 against the backdrop of the pandemic, the book highlights policymaking and implementation sectors in India. Its 14 chapters re-examine the normative and the empirical world of policymaking in one of the world's largest and most complex democracies.
From the Webinar Archives
The municipal government of the District of Columbia is a recognized leader in asset management and infrastructure renewal planning. Those who attended our webinar this fall, "How the District of Columbia Has Become a Leader in Asset Management," learned about the District's approach through the lens of the Government Finance Officers Association's Financial Foundations for Thriving Communities, showing leadership strategies and institutional designs needed for a strong financial foundation. This lens makes it easier for local governments to not just replicate the technical aspects of what the District has done but also invent approaches to asset management that best fit local conditions.
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Student and New Professional Summit: May 18
Students and new professionals, make plans now to join us for an all-day professional development program built just for your needs. If you registered for the 2021 Annual Conference, this event is included in your registration. If not, do so now and join us on May 18 for this important—and helpful!—event, sponsored by the University of Delaware.
This annual event focuses on career topics you need to move forward in determining a career path, landing a job and finding success in public service, whatever that means to you. Next month's agenda includes:
Our expert panelists will cover both the academic and practitioner side of these discussions, helping you answer your most important questions, learn how to put your best foot forward at every stage and feel confident in your career choices. Lunch-time discussions will supplement what you hear during the presentations and we will end the day with a short awards ceremony to celebrate ASPA's 2021 scholarship winners and Founders' Fellows, sponsored by the University of Central Florida.
- Choosing Your Career Path: Considerations and Opportunities
- Marketing Yourself on the Page
- The Art of the Cover Letter
- Searching for the Jobs, Perfecting the Interviews
- Paths to Success, Lessons Learned
Save the date now, learn more online and contact us to sign up!
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Public Service Recognition Week 2021
It's time to celebrate Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW), taking place next week, May 2-8! ASPA Chapters and other members use this week every year to host events, awards programs and other celebrations and we hope that while many of these will once again take place online, you still are planning to celebrate your community's public servants. This year's theme (used across government and good governance groups like ASPA) is #GovPossible, which we encourage you to use during your events and celebrations!
This week-long celebration honors the individuals who serve our nation as federal, state, county and local government employees. Make sure that while you engage in local Chapter activities (as available), you also think of PSRW efforts you can enjoy individually, especially in communities still drastically affected by COVID-19. PSRW offers great opportunities for parents to involve their kids; groups of friends to collaborate; church communities to speak out; and more!
Here are some great ways you can show your support for your favorite public servants this year:
This is your chance to get creative! The most important thing you can do to celebrate PSRW is to honor a public servant—in whatever form it takes. We look forward to seeing more about the efforts ASPA puts into honoring its own!
- Host Zoom events for online awards ceremonies
- Write opinion pieces for your local paper in support of your community service members
- Post thank-you messages on social media channels, including photos, drawings, videos and other words of support (tag @ASPANational and we’ll be thrilled to share!)
- Donate to your favorite community nonprofit in honor of public sector workers
- Snail-mail still works! Write a letter to your local city hall, mayor's office, fire department, EMS or others to tell them how much you appreciate them, especially right now as resources remain depleted
Contact ASPA's Karen Garrett with your Chapter's program information or with any questions.
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Chapter/Section Leadership Networking Call Next Week
Chapter and Section leaders: Looking to connect with each other? Your next opportunity to do so is next Thursday, May 6.
This networking-based conference call program brings together Chapter and Section leaders to learn from each other, ask questions of ASPA staff and share successes and lessons learned. Calls generally take place on the first Thursday of each month, at 11 a.m. ET. May's call will provide an excellent opportunity for new Section leaders to join these discussions, and for Chapter leaders to share details about their upcoming Public Service Recognition Week activities.
Join us next Thursday to ask your questions, get helpful feedback from your fellow leaders and listen in on the conversation! (And, of course, we will provide a handful of national office updates for your convenience!)
Register now via the link below and we will look forward to seeing you on May 6.
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NAPA's Elliot L. Richardson Prize Call for Nominations Closes Friday
The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) is accepting nominations for the 2021 Elliot L. Richardson Prize. This award recognizes one or more individuals for extraordinary public service in the tradition of Elliot Richardson, who served as a beacon of integrity and commitment to the public service. Richardson was a NAPA fellow and served in four Cabinet-level positions in the U.S. government, including Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General and Secretary of Commerce. Shortly after his death on December 31, 1999, several friends and admirers decided to establish a prize in his honor. The bylaws of the Prize specify that it is to be awarded to individuals "possessing the public service virtues exemplified by Elliot L. Richardson"; that such individuals "shall have demonstrated achievement, be significantly advancing the public good, and long-term dedication to public service, by serving the public interest in a public service capacity"; and that individuals selected to receive the Prize "shall have demonstrated generosity of spirit, thoughtfulness in the pursuit of excellence in government, courage and integrity." The deadline for nominations is this Friday, April 30, 2021. Click here for more information.
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Public Integrity Call for Papers
Is Hindsight 20/20? Ethical Decision Making and Leadership During Compounding Disasters
Claire Connolly Knox, University of Central Florida
Amanda Olejarski, West Chester University
Unethical decisionmaking and leadership plagues disasters. It was brought to the forefront during the response efforts for Hurricane Katrina and scholars spent more than a decade analyzing these failures from multiple disciplines. Since then, the United States has experienced an increase in "natural" disasters with 2020 breaking the record with $22 billion disasters. In addition to these disasters, 2020 brought with it a global pandemic, police shootings, social unrest and a contested national presidential election.
Regardless of the size of the disaster or crisis, they remain dynamic and complex, and thereby challenge leaders at every level of government and in every sector—even the most ethical ones. In the emergency and crisis management profession, the path forward needs to be created with lessons learned. Yet, ethical leadership scholarship tends to focus one emergency, disaster, or crisis—not multiple ones at the same time. 2020 has produced multiple compound disasters which tested individuals, communities, logistics systems and political institutions.
This special symposium invites empirical and theoretical explorations of various aspects of ethical decisionmaking and leadership during a recent human-induced or "natural" disaster or crisis. We welcome broad contributions from myriad angles and disciplines. Please submit your manuscript to Public Integrity’s online portal by May 28, 2021.
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New from Public Administration Review
The most recent edition of Public Administration Review (PAR) is online now! Find the full edition online here, including several articles for its Global Public Administration symposium. A few highlights include:
Target Interactions and Target Aspiration Level Adaptation: How Do Government Leaders Tackle the “Environment‐Economy” Nexus?
Workforce Capacity in Municipal Government
Agustin Leon‐Moreta and Vittoria R. Totaro
Elevating the Case for Leadership Development Programs: Return on Investment Evaluations
Gordon Abner, Bill Valdez and James L. Perry
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Tips and Resources
Here are a range of resources posted online recently that you should check out!
Billions of Cicadas May Be Coming Soon to Trees Near You
A big event in the insect world is approaching. Starting sometime in April or May, depending on latitude, one of the largest broods of 17-year cicadas will emerge from underground in a dozen states, from New York west to Illinois and south into northern Georgia.
You're Not Fully Vaccinated the Day of Your Last Dose
Immunity to the coronavirus doesn't magically manifest the day someone gets a shot. The CDC does not grant membership to the "fully vaccinated" club until at least two weeks after the final dose in a vaccine regimen—a time that roughly corresponds to when most people are thought to acquire enough immunity to defend against a symptomatic case of COVID-19. Only then, the agency announced last week, can vaccinees start to carefully change their behavior, mingling maskless in small groups indoors, visiting the unvaccinated on a limited basis and skipping postexposure quarantines.
When Will There Be Enough Herd Immunity to Return to the Workplace?
There has been a lot of talk about needing to achieve herd immunity. In epidemiology, that's the point at which enough people are immune to a disease that it can no longer easily spread, effectively protecting the whole population. If we can just hit that number, businesses, in fact the country at large, could know it's safe to reopen. The problem is, it isn't a magic number, and it isn't just one number at all.
The FCC Wants Your Feedback to Improve Broadband Access
The Federal Communications Commission wants to hear first-hand from consumers about the availability and quality of broadband in communities across the United States as part of an effort to improve internet access.
'Comfort Decorating' Is All About Making Your Home a Sanctuary
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, lots of people have been remaking their homes to become more cozy, more calming and more efficient. In other words, they're creating spaces where they really want to be.
Late Night Snacks Cost You the Next Day at Work
A new study shows that physical and emotional strains associated with unhealthy eating were related to changes in how people behaved at work throughout the day.
What Will Life Look Like after Most People Get the Vaccine?
Experts expect changes to health care systems, businesses and educational and cultural institutions.
Survey: 69 Percent of Women Under Age 30 Say COVID-19 Has Harmed Their Mental Health
Women are more likely to have experienced psychological consequences from the public health crisis. The health care system may not be equipped to respond.
We Have All Hit a Wall
Confronting late-stage pandemic burnout, with everything from edibles to Exodus.
What You Should (and Shouldn't) Do with Your Vaccination Card
In a post-pandemic world, these cards could eventually help fully vaccinated people more freely travel, shop and dine.
Declutter Your Life, But Don't Throw Away the Important Stuff
Don't shred important records you may need when it comes time to retire.
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Coronavirus in the News
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While you can find our usual assortment of news headlines from the past several weeks below, here are stories specific to the coronavirus that are noteworthy.
(Otherwise) in the News
Today's headlines contain plenty of news coverage of some of our nation's most pressing public administration challenges. ASPA has curated some of the most important stories from recent weeks. If you have not seen these yet, make sure you read them now!
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Members in the News
ASPA members are in the news regularly. If you have been featured, please send a link to the article to us and we will be happy to include it in a future newsletter.
Minnesota Is One of the Best Places to Live in America. Unless You’re Black.
This op-ed in the New York Times by University of Minnesota Professor Sam Myers explores the racial disparities in his state.
Biden Undoes Trump Memo Skeptical of Agency Performance Metrics
Including comments from Don Kettl and Chris Mihm, this article dives into the Biden administration's rescinding of an 11th-hour memo from former President Donald Trump, which had suspended requirements for agencies to set strategic planning goals as part of the annual budget process.
Utah's New Independent Redistricting Commission Expects Tight Timeline on Map-Making
The state of Utah is hiring an executive director for its new independent redistricting commission, chaired by ASPA National Council Representative Rex Facer.
An Essential Ingredient for Getting Infrastructure Done: Pork
It's been a decade since earmarks in congressional appropriations were mostly ended. According to University of Texas at Austin Professor Don Kettl, a little pork-barrel spending could get Congress' wheels turning again.
A Long-Serving and Steady Voice for Public Service and Performance Calls It a Day
John Kamensky has retired (though is still emeritus at the IBM Center for The Business of Government).
Opinion: This Planning Tool Could Help NJ Weather Looming Fiscal Storm
A big budget surplus masks potential problems; according to Rich Keevey, a current-services projection would help officials sort things out.
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