05/17/2013 09:46 am ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

Why we serve

Federal employees have different reasons for choosing a career in public service. Some have been influenced by personal experiences or external events. Some have followed in the footsteps of their parents or have been inspired by other role models. Many have a strong sense of idealism and share the common thread of being mission driven and wanting to help people and make a difference for society.

In keeping with this year's Public Service Recognition Week (May 5-11) theme of "Why I Serve," my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, asked Cabinet secretaries, other federal leaders and some rank-and-file employees about their reasons for choosing to work in government. Their responses are illuminating and, in this often cynical world, quite inspiring.

Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan
, for example, is among those influenced by external events in his life. "I serve because I grew up in New York City at a time when homelessness was exploding, when we were wondering whether American cities would survive," said Donovan. "I was at the 1977 World Series in the Bronx when broadcaster Howard Cosell said to the audience, 'Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning.' I felt like, having witnessed that, the best way I could give back was by working in public service to try to end homelessness and bring cities back."

Andrew Rabens, a special adviser for youth engagement for the State Department, found his motivation after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which he said ignited a desire to better understand the similarities, differences, ambitions, aspirations and dreams of people around the globe. "September 11 happened three days into my first week of freshman year at Harvard, and ultimately helped change my trajectory from someone intent on becoming a professional tennis player to someone intent on entering into the global political environment," Rabens said.

Ernie DuBester, chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, said that he was part of the earlier generation that was inspired by President Kennedy's call to public service. "In my field of labor-management relations, I have had the privilege of serving at three different agencies--two in leadership positions. My experiences have sustained my lifelong belief that all federal employees make a noble contribution to our country," DuBester said.