Looking to the Future

The profound price we pay for shutdowns and other dysfunction in government might be the young professionals who opt to go elsewhere.

I know that, as a member of the Maxwell community, you value the roles played by public-minded individuals in effective democracy — whether from inside or outside the halls of government. At the School, we work hard to assure that capable, aspiring professionals are motivated and prepared for careers in public service, across all sectors.

The devaluation of public-service careers has been ongoing, but the current discourse seems more threatening.
David Van Slyke

In January, during the longest federal-government shutdown in U.S. history, I wrote an essay for The Hill, arguing that politicians failed to see the shutdown’s long-term fallout: brain drain. “While today’s public servants are victims in this political ‘knife fight’ over the proposed border wall,” I wrote, “talented and public-service motivated individuals may logically choose to bypass the federal government as an employer in the future.”

Let’s hope government shutdowns remain rare. But we live in an era when government careers are uncelebrated and even denigrated. The devaluation of public-service careers has been ongoing, but the current discourse seems more threatening — cynical, suspicious, even dismissive. What is the accruing effect of this on public service?

In this Maxwell Perspective, you’ll find examples of complex policy issues that demand actors who are educated to work across levels of government and across sectors, while bridging conventional discipline boundaries. Syracuse University’s new Autonomous Systems Policy Institute will help address the policy questions arising as unmanned aircraft, driverless vehicles, and other emergent technologies become more common. This very interdisciplinary institute will help faculty, students, and practitioners focus on a range of questions. Is a delivery drone allowed to fly over your back yard? Who is responsible for the damages and injuries caused when a driverless car crashes? Collaborative engagement across the sectors will be critical to government setting standards and rules.

A broader example is the role governments play in helping to protect our environment and natural resources, especially given the urgent, global challenges of climate change. Our cover story describes the multi-faceted ways that SU and Maxwell contribute to this effort. There might be no more important example of a challenge that requires the very brightest and committed individuals, working together, across all sectors and especially within government. Through its teaching and research — including an innovative, interdisciplinary major in environment and sustainability policy — Maxwell is preparing the sort of smart and hardworking people, committed to public service and effective governance, that it will take to address these challenges.

That’s what we’re doing. Now I’d ask you to do your part, as well. The next time you hear someone claiming that government doesn’t matter or only does harm, tell them otherwise. Be clear that you believe government makes citizens’ lives better and that a commitment to public service is important and valued. Moreover, tell them you know this because you’re personally invested in the Maxwell School.

David M. Van Slyke

Dean, Maxwell School

Louis A. Bantle Chair in Business and Government Policy

This article appeared in the spring 2019 print edition of Maxwell Perspective © Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail dlcooke@maxwell.syr.edu.