By: Stuart Gilman
Who or what inspired you to work in public service?
I was 13 when I heard John Kennedy’s inaugural address. What resonated with me was “do not ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I have been lucky enough to be a university professor teaching budding public administrators. I joined the federal government to set up a program with the idea that I would work for a year and return to university teaching. It turned out to be a seventeen-year commitment. Since leaving federal service, I have headed a non-profit and was an international civil servant with the United Nations, all with the responsibility and satisfaction of working to better people’s lives.
What is something you are excited about right now?
My four grandchildren. Ranging from 11 to 2 years of age, they have completely different personalities and interests. They remind me that all of us, especially those in public administration, have a profound obligation to future generations.
What is your favorite class you have ever taught or took and why?
I loved teaching policy analysis in Georgetown University’s master’s in public policy program. The analytical nature of the subject excited me. However, most important were the students: Bright, articulate and engaged. They pushed me to re-think concepts and provided incredible insights into the subject. I should emphasize that in 13 years of university teaching, it was always the students that made it worthwhile.
What inspires you during these challenging times?
With the bizarre, contentious and dangerous actions by many executives and legislators, I am reminded that the US has been through this before. We had insurrections, even before the civil war. We had a Vice-President presiding over the senate while being indicted for murder and dueling in two states. The same Vice-President formed an army to separate the western territories from the rest of the country. We had a United States senator beating another senator with a cane almost killing him.
With all of this democracy and rule of law ultimately triumphed. America as a democracy has been constantly tested but each challenge has made us stronger.
What advice can you give to folks beginning careers in public service?
Come to your first job, no matter your past experience, with an open mind. Bureaucracy can seem clumsy, slow and ineffective. Remember that the public administration reflecting the spirit of those who wrote the Constitutional was designed to slow down decisions. No matter the level of government you will find that political leadership and the public often have differing views than you have. The art of administration is working through to a common ground. There is nothing more satisfying.
Recommendation: Keep an annotated copy of The Federalist Papers on your desk. As I have told my classes, many countries have constitutions but the US is the only one with a user’s manual.
What is your favorite midnight snack?
Popcorn. Buttery popcorn if I can get away with it.
Do you have any pets at home?
My wife and I brought home a Cockapoo puppy two months before the Covid lock down. Honey is rambunctious and was a joy to focus on during all of the isolation.
If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see?
I would have liked to see Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address. Reading it multiple times, it still brings me to tears. The concluding line sums up the obligations of those in public administration in the United States: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Do you have a favorite podcast, journal, newspaper, or other kind of media?
Because of my US and international work, there is no single magazine better than The Economist.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Listen intently and talk sparingly.