Government Service Will Be Cool Again

By Joe Davidson
Thursday, November 13, 2008

Break out the Ray-Bans -- Barack Obama says he wants to "make government cool again."

But it's going to take more than shades to turn around an image of government framed by such memorable occasions as President Bush standing on an aircraft carrier before a "Mission Accomplished" banner while the war in Iraq roared on.

Or Bush proclaiming "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" about Michael D. Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during Hurricane Katrina's deadly assault on New Orleans.

Or the dreadful breakdown in leadership by the White House and Congress before they finally approved a financial rescue package.

"The image of government needs a tune-up, for sure," said Patricia McGinnis, president of the Council for Excellence in Government.

Speaking of leadership, that's the main thing Obama can provide to make government service more attractive. If he announces a call to action, people, particularly young people, will respond.

That's what President Kennedy did, and people like Carol Bonosaro stepped up.

She started as an intern in 1961, Kennedy's first year in the White House, at the Bureau of the Budget, which is now the Office of Management and Budget.

"The reason we all thought it was cool in the early '60s is because President Kennedy said it was cool," recalled Bonosaro, now president of the Senior Executive Association, which represents career federal executives.

That's leadership, or as Valerie Jarrett calls it "tone."

"Tone starts at the top," Jarrett, a co-chair of Obama's transition team, told a meeting of the Trotter Group, an organization of black columnists.

Obama wants to set a tone of public service in the true sense of the word, Jarrett added. "That will be a catalyst for drawing people into government and also for rejuvenating people who are there," she said.

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