In Athenian Oath, EMPA grad hears ‘call to action for democracy’

Christopher CartwrightChristopher Cartwright ’90 takes to heart the Athenian Oath’s call to “leave things better than we find them.” Cartwright, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and journalism and has worked in federal financial management with the U.S. Department of Commerce for 30 years, led the recitation of the Oath at this spring’s graduate convocation hosted by the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs.

The words of the Oath of the Athenian City-State, inscribed in Maxwell’s foyer, highlight the school’s emphasis on democracy, public service, and citizenship. Reciting them provided “a nice connection to the school and a bit of a call to action for democracy,” said Cartwright, who returned to Maxwell in 2017 with the first Online EMPA cohort and completed the program in December 2019.

Cartwright, budget director and acting finance director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said the commerce department’s mission kept him there for three decades. “We’re serving the public, providing important environmental information to millions of people every day,” he said.

“Fisheries and oceans and coasts are critical to the nation’s environment, health and economy,” he added. “The weather sector is a big part of the economy and the information is critical to both life and property. The information NOAA is providing is in front of everybody every day.”

Cartwright had long envisioned adding executive leadership training to his resume, and the Maxwell program fit the bill. One highlight was interacting with students from different walks of life, including a fire chief and a city councilor as well as people working in the private sector, nonprofits, and others in the federal government. “It was a good mixture of people,” he said.

The EMPA program strengthened his appreciation for public policy and the connections between theory and practice. “I’m more conscious of the major trends in public administration, collaboration and the growing importance of leadership and action,” he said.

Especially helpful was greater insight into the dynamics between career and political staff in federal agencies.

The goal of career staff is to implement the administration’s priorities “as legally and efficiently and effectively as possible,” he said. “We’re there as objective people. We try to base things on science and scientific integrity to the maximum extent.”

Career federal workers typically have expertise and longevity in their jobs. “They know what’s worked and what hasn’t,” he said. “They have to find the appropriate balance, or at least provide the benefit of their knowledge for consideration to achieve the outcome that the leadership is trying to achieve.”

No matter who is president or what the administration’s priorities are, Cartwright’s goals remain the same: “We want to make sure the resources are being applied to the best outcomes.”