Uncle Sam wants you -- well, not all of you.

Andrew H. Card Jr. had some candid advice for 2,000 Washington interns who gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building on Monday evening to hear him speak at an event intended to recruit talented people into the federal civil service. Some of you should go corporate, the White House chief of staff told them.

"There are many programs for young people to have employment opportunities, but the greatest employment opportunities in our society come through the private sector," said Card, a former vice president of General Motors Corp. and ex-president of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. "And so I don't think that everyone who is looking for a job should expect or even want a job with the federal government or one of our agencies. In fact, our economy would not do very well if people just worked for the government."

Card, a former transportation secretary, was responding to a question from an intern about what federal officials are doing to set aside more money for summer job opportunities for young people in federal agencies. He had just given a 30-minute speech on the value of public service, most of which focused on his great admiration for President Bush and his performance in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The annual event, televised nationally on C-SPAN, was the third of its kind hosted by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group whose mission is to make the federal government "an employer of choice for talented, dedicated Americans."

It proved to be a big draw among budding bureaucrats, who filled the atrium at the Reagan Building and later networked at the recruiting booths of more than a dozen federal agencies.

Max Stier, president of the partnership, pronounced the gathering a success and said he was not bothered by Card's call to corporate service.

"Taken in isolation you would say, 'Well, why would he say that?' " Stier said, adding that the comment has to be taken in a broader context. "He's saying that the private sector is the largest component of our economy and, therefore, most jobs are going to be there."

For a while, Card seemed to be on board with the program. He opened his speech by saying, "I hope some of you will decide to become career employees in the federal government, and I encourage you to visit the job fair right after I finish my remarks." And he tried to provide the audience a window into what it is like to serve as the ultimate staffer to the nation's chief executive.

Then came the intern's query.

-- Christopher Lee

"Our economy would not do very well if people just worked for the government," Andrew H. Card Jr. told 2,000 Washington interns.