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How to update government service

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Donald F. Kettl is the dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and an author of several books on government and management issues. In this interview, Kettl speaks about government service and federal leadership challenges with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

What skills do young people need in order to be prepared for government service?

One of our goals is to train our students to solve problems that haven't even been invented yet. Look at September 10, 2001 and ask how many people were focusing on homeland security-and then look at how much has changed. Today's graduates are likely to face problems that will emerge long after they're out of school. It's important to provide a broader background, a sense of history and perspective that gives students the skills that they need to be successful in helping to transform the way in which government programs operate.

A great deal has been said about the next generation wanting to make a difference. How do you help your students see the connection between that interest and government service?

One of the things that I find so enormously encouraging is how many younger Americans are geared up for trying to make a difference in government service. They still view public service as something that they want to pursue and they're still excited. Quite frankly, the biggest impediment to making government service an important career option isn't so much that students are less interested in it as that they just find the process of entry so incredibly difficult. We need to make the road of entry into government service clearer and more accessible.