Not Asked What They Can Do for Their Country

By Stephen Barr
Monday, May 5, 2008

Asking makes a difference.

Roughly a third of young Americans would give a "great deal of consideration" to entering government service if asked by their parents, a teacher or -- surprisingly -- the next president of the United States, according to a Gallup survey.

But, for the most part, no one is urging them to think about public service. Sixty percent of the survey respondents under age 30 said they had never been asked to consider working for Uncle Sam.

But 33 percent of them said they would give serious consideration if it came from their parents, 27 percent if it came from a teacher and 29 percent if it came from "the newly elected president."

The survey was conducted on behalf of the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government and is scheduled for release tomorrow as part of Public Service Recognition Week, a tribute to the contributions that public employees make to the nation.

The data suggest that 18-to-29-year-olds, known as millennials, are "more responsive to interactive communication and personal attention than people have realized," said Patricia McGinnis, president and chief executive of the council.

The survey, she said, also shows "the potential for the new president and administration, especially as we have the retirement wave getting under way, to ask people, not just millennials but older people as well, to serve. There's a sense that many would respond and step up, as they did when John F. Kennedy asked."

Over the next five years, about a third of the federal government's full-time employees will leave, mostly baby boomers who are retiring. A 2006 Gallup survey found that many young Americans do not see the government as innovative and creative, reinforcing long-standing concerns that federal agencies may find it difficult to compete with the private sector in hiring talented young people.

Anthony Martinez, 28, of Los Angeles, said he would pay attention to a presidential exhortation. A student who works part time, Martinez participated in the survey, described himself as "pro-government" and said federal employment appeals to him because it provides job security and good benefits. He was interested in joining the military but said a hearing impairment blocked his enlistment.

Still, Martinez added, no one has suggested he seek a civilian job in the federal government, and he said he's unsure about how to land such a job. "You have to know somebody to get in," he said.

More than half of the respondents signaled that they might be responsive to a presidential call to serve, including those older than 30.

For example, 30 percent of respondents over 30 said they would give such a request "a great deal of consideration," and 33 percent said "some consideration." Of those under 30, 29 percent said a "great deal" and 25 percent said "some consideration."

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