By: Terry Buss
In writing this introspective piece, I recalled that a successful career in the public service depends largely on the contributions of others: mentors, role models, enablers, supporters, protectors and cheerleaders.
My inspiration for public service began with my father, John F. Buss. He volunteered to serve in World War II, then again in the Korean War, and finally became a career officer. Watching him in action was like getting a PhD in leadership.
Everyone my age says that President John Kennedy influenced their life. In my case, he actually did so. While in high school in Germany, my father took me to see Kennedy deliver his famous 1963 speech at Fliegerhorst Kaserne. Between my father and President Kennedy, I was hooked on public service.
When I volunteered for the Army, I occasionally ran in to soldiers who had served with my father; to them he was a god, as he was to me. In retirement, he spent much of his time volunteering in community organizations and raising funding for Shriners’ hospitals.
While at Ohio State University, I intended to become a physician. I took the required sophomore political science courses, at the time, offered by Professor Phil Burgess. He was probably the best and most influential instructor I’ve ever known. I dropped out of pre-med and became a political science major, largely because of Phil’s influence.
Thirty-five years later, when Phil was appointed Academy president, I wrote to congratulate him, whereupon he invited me to DC to catch up. He inspired me yet again: I took a study director position at the Academy. Phil is a great ambassador for public service.
I had the privilege of working as a two-time Fulbright Scholar, first, after Hungary became free, and then in Russia after its revolution. Bob McCarthy, our embassy’s public affairs officer in Hungary then Russia, enlisted me to conduct country “needs assessments” of what the US could do to assist the new leaders. Bob then invited me to help implement my assessment.
I mention Bob because he was widely considered “the” consummate foreign service officer. He shared his insights in how to work with foreign leaders, and with the State Department, USAID, US Information Agency and Congress for which he had no equal. I am proud to say that I was awarded “Most Honored Professor of the Russian Federation” medal, given to only a handful of westerners.
I learned to perform public service in the political arena. While at the Council of Governors Policy Advisors (CGPA), an NGA affiliate, I directed a policy development project on education, welfare and economic development in Arkansas. I got to see how young Governor Bill Clinton worked his “magic”—boundless charm and a vast knowledge of public policy—in getting things done. I received the Jack Brizius Award for contributions to the governor’s offices in 20 states where I had directed projects.
I also worked in Miami which required a different perspective. Miami has been dubbed the Latin American gateway to the US. Two Cuban exiles, one a lawyer, Jose Marquez, the other Raul Moncarz, adopted me and showed me the ins and outs of Miami’s political and social culture. Both were among the most respected and influential people in South Florida. As the director of the FIU School of Public Policy and Management their support afforded me credibility in the Cubano community: I gave a convention keynote address on Jose Marti Memorial Day, for example. Together we grew the School to 1,700 students. I got the most unusual award: The City of Miami Beach declared “Terry Buss Day on the Beach.”
The best boss I ever had was Academy Fellow Bill Gadsby. The Academy can be a challenging environment in which to undertake studies. Bill was an excellent role model: he set the direction for a study, but allowed study directors flexibility; immediately addressed problems and issues; always gave credit to staff for work done; and insulated staff from politics in emanating from Congress and the administration.
Academy Fellow Morgan Kinghorn was a great supporter of innovation and entrepreneurship. I presented a proposal to have the Academy support a series of edited books on Transformational Trends in Governance and Democracy. The idea was to raise awareness of the Academy in academe. Rather than laughing me out of his office, he embraced the idea and even co-edited one of the volumes on Leadership.
The most influential volume—Transforming American Governance—was edited by Academy Fellows Alan Balutis and Dwight Ink. Academy Fellow George Frederickson spent countless hours reviewing manuscripts. We ended up publishing 15 books, containing 300 chapters, most written by Fellows. Academy Fellow Steve Redburn contributed much to the series, writing articles and editing volumes.
Academy Fellow Phil Rutledge was the most inspirational person I’ve ever worked with, and a great friend. Phil, my Ohio colleague Sy Murray, and a host of Fellows launched the Academy Africa Study Group (ASG). We undertook some major projects, including an international conference on HIV/AIDs Impacts on the African Civil Service, funded by USAID and supported by UNDP, World Bank, WHO and many African countries.
We also held a conference in Ghana, supported by Ghanaian government ministries. I’ll never forget how Academy Fellow Norm Johnson stole the show with a plenary speech delivered in the style of a Black minister preaching from the pulpit. Working in the public service holds many surprises.
As part of the Ghanaian conference, we visited the Cape Coast Castle, a “slave castle,” where African slaves were transported to the US. I think this had to be one of the most moving experiences among the Fellows; I know it was for me. If you want to experience the Black experience, visit that castle.
Academy Fellow Charles Washington taught me a valuable lesson: always speak last at meetings and assume the role of rapporteur. That way you control the proceedings.
Academy Fellows Myra Shiplett and Hannah Sistare together changed my research focus, for the better. In the past, I thought “personnel management” was unimportant. Their work in our edited book, Innovations in Human Resource Management, and the Volcker Commission on the Public Service convinced me that “human capital management” was not only important, but perhaps was the most important aspect of public service. As a reward, I sent Myra off to Iraq to put into practice our collective wisdom.
A project of which I am most proud is our assessment of foreign assistance to Haiti and how to improve it. Academy Fellow Ed Perkins, once ambassador to South Africa and Director General of the Foreign Service, helped our study team take into account the inner workings of US embassies and international organizations, captured in our book, Haiti in the Balance. In working with Ed, I came to wish I had become a foreign service officer.
What might be my denouement project is recent work at the new the newly-inaugurated Fulbright University in Vietnam and two decades-old School of Public Policy and Management in Ho Chi Minh City. FSPPM decided to pursue NASPPA accreditation. After a year of self-study, strategic planning, and reform, NASPPA granted FSPPM the much coveted distinction. President Dam Bich Thuy is credited with giving her full support for the initiative and FSPPM’s Dean Vu Thanh Tu Anh, faculty, students and alumni worked tirelessly to achieve the accreditation—on the first try!
I’d like to conclude by heaping as much praise as possible on Academy Fellows Arnie Fields, Ed DeSeve, and Jonathan Breul who are role models of public service. They helped me immensely in promoting Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide, Australia, of which I was director, by meeting with embassy officials, government leaders, and students; appearing on television and in print; teaching classes; and making numerous presentations. I wish it were possible to bottle their essence and inject it into the arms of anyone who wants to do good in the world.