Paul C. Light makes constructive suggestions for renewing interest in federal civil service careers [op-ed, Dec. 24]: efforts to recruit more talented young people, linking pay and performance, reducing the number of layers between the entry and top jobs. Good but not sufficient.

A sense of mission--that the federal government is doing essential work for the nation--will draw able people into federal service. Lord Bryce noted that sense of mission in the "high-minded and efficient set of public servants" working under Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot for the conservation of the country's forests and natural resources.

Many joined Franklin Roosevelt in trying to get the unemployed back to work, save the farmers and homeowners threatened with foreclosure, and institute Social Security and fair labor practices. John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps; Lyndon Johnson's economic opportunity, civil rights and voting rights laws--these were causes to see the worthiness of public service.

Who will find fulfillment in federal employ when a president says government is the problem, not the solution? When a president hollows out his departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, energy, and Housing and Urban Development and delegates to private contractors responsibilities for seeing that federally collected tax dollars are properly spent and calls it "reinventing government"?

Only the federal government can maintain a stable and growing economy, preserve the environment and prevent pollution that overlaps state boundaries, ensure safety in the skies, open opportunities for the disadvantaged and the immigrants and protect the civil rights of all groups. When the nation's political leaders reassert responsibility for these functions, and command moral authority, high-minded young people will seek and find fulfilling careers in federal service.