By: Joseph Mitchell
What is your role and primary responsibilities at the Academy?
I lead strategic initiatives and international programs, so I do a little of everything! I have a great team working alongside me on these efforts. Together, we run the Grand Challenges in Public Administration campaign, the Agile Government Center, the Center for Intergovernmental Partnerships, and sponsored events. We conduct important research projects—most recently, publishing a report on how regulatory agencies can utilize core agile tenets and practices to improve outcomes, enhance equity, and increase collaboration. (Yes, agile regulation! Shocking, I know.) The strategic initiatives team addresses the major issues facing governments at all levels and develops innovative frameworks for use by practitioners and thought leaders.
What do you like best about working at the Academy?
As a boundary walker with a wide range of diverse interests, the Academy’s ethos and activities—which reflect the interdisciplinary and multi-faceted aspects of the field of public administration and policy—are a wonderful fit for me. I started here right out of graduate school in the early 2000s. Except for about a year as a leader standing up a new office at the General Services Administration, and a few semesters teaching graduate-level public administration and policy, this is where I have spent my career. The Academy has allowed me to delve into different aspects of government: from the broadest questions of governance, leadership, and management to more specific issues like strategic planning, human capital, and performance management. When I worked in and later led our organizational studies program, I had the privilege of consulting with almost every federal cabinet department. Ultimately, I feel that we make a significant impact, both inside organizations and across the field, and that’s what’s most important: the sense that we’re improving government and strengthening democracy.
Which of the 12 Grand Challenges in Public Administration resonates the most with you?
Having spent a year leading the team that identified these Grand Challenges, I can’t highlight just one! I often note that these challenges, while individually important, are interconnected. Take one example: climate. While a major issue itself, climate cannot be divorced from such other Grand Challenges as social equity, resilient communities, fiscal health, international, public governance/engagement, water systems, and meaningful work. Local jurisdictions must address climate when building more resilient communities, but they cannot do so effectively without supporting policies, programs, and infrastructure from all levels of government. Climate is also an international issue—it's not enough for the U.S. alone to act. And, over time, effective climate action may lead to meaningful green jobs for individuals, which may enhance social equity.
These types of interconnections do, in some ways, increase the “wickedness” of these “wicked problems.” And yet, if we adopt a more holistic way of thinking, we can develop mutually reinforcing solutions that address multiple challenges simultaneously. I see this as modern-day proof of Dwight Eisenhower’s adage, “if you find a problem you can’t solve, make it bigger.”
Why is public service important to you?
I am a product of public schools and public institutions. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the opportunities that this country has given to me. I caught the government bug in college when I was president of student government. From my undergraduate days in the 1990s to today, I have experienced public service as the best way to contribute to society.
My own career has been in more of an advisory capacity: consulting with organizations and advancing thought leadership. This reflects the diversity of roles that we play in and around government. But, whatever one’s role or position, the common denominator of public service is that it addresses society’s most fundamental needs: national security, democracy, the rule of law, community, social services, individual rights. I recommend a career in public service to anyone with a passion for meaningful work that lets you give back to the society that's nurtured you and helped shape who you are.
What is your favorite hobby or interest outside of the office?
There are so many things! I love spending time with my family and friends. I am active in my church and have a regular yoga practice. I enjoy suspense novels, both the classics and the latest authors, and I’ve been known to binge watch shows on HBO and Netflix. I love living in downtown Washington, DC, with all the sights, sounds, and attractions of the nation’s capital just a short walk (or metro ride) away. And with the advent of remote work, I appreciate the opportunity to get a change of pace and scenery at a family beach house outside Myrtle Beach—all without missing a meeting!
What is your favorite travel destination, either past or future?
I haven’t been doing any international traveling during COVID, but I do hope to start up again soon. One memorable trip prior to the pandemic was a cruise to the Western Mediterranean. I would love to go back, especially to the Amalfi Coast and the South of France. I also want to go to Greece, Japan, and Thailand.