Looks like a summer of discontent has descended. Many are screaming, committing public vandalism or trying to inflame on (anti)social media. Others, mostly celebrities, are making a big show of virtue. But many people are also trying to make effective and lasting change, civilly. Those in that third group tend to not bother trying to get publicity.
So I’m glad to get them a ray of limelight, focusing on people in the federal government or connected to it. They are showing admirable ways of identifying problems and doing something about them. To paraphrase Pat the Bunny, you can do these things too.
Take on an intern.
The Washington Center has connected hundreds of college students this summer with federal agency internship programs. More are opening in the fall and following spring. The Center’s federal programs director, Shannan Spisak, says the agencies, including the Transportation Department and the Naval Research Lab, have been able to pivot their internships to online.
Some internships are paid in a dollar stipend, others with college credits. But imagine the benefit of such a real working experience to students in populations you might want to strengthen.
Few methods of strengthening the skills of aspiring people are more potent than the mentor-protege model. Several departments and agencies operate mentor-protege programs for employees or for small business contractors. For example, Homeland Security pairs large companies with small ones to guide them in the intricacies of procurement.
Beyond the perfectly legitimate commercial motivation, mentor protege efforts can have a larger impact. In an upcoming interview, the Treasury Department’s Corvelli McDaniel details a mentor-protege system in which large banks can mentor small, minority-owned backs. Only 149 banks in the country are in minority hands. For a lot of reasons, the biggies are more than willing to mentor these small banks with managerial and information technology expertise.
The program services a Treasury mission, to ensure minority owned banks participate as Treasury financial agents. The mentoring helps ensure the banks remain in minority hands.
Advocate for good
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost is part of a group called Mission Readiness. It operates under the Council for a Strong America. Mission Readiness brings together former military officers to advocate for expansion of school lunch programs over the summer. Too many children have food insecurity. Closure of school buildings and bans on large gatherings worsen the capacity of the programs to reach kids in the first place.
Frost told me something I didn’t know. The school lunch program dates to World War II, when the Army found that poor nutrition was affecting the quality of too many would-be recruits. It’s still the case today, with too many potential enlistees obese, a sadly ironic outcome of poor nutrition. Frost and his cohorts are motivated both by the desire to see poor children eat more healthily and also because a greater percentage of physically fit recruits strengthens national security
Join a constructive organization
Race, racism and and racial relations dominate the national conversation at the moment. In the federal government, an enduring workforce question is why the percentage of minority employees in the workforce as a whole drops by a statistically significant percentage when you measure the senior executive ranks.
It’s a question Dr. Reginald Wells has asked for decades. He’s African American, a former long serving public servant (including deputy Social Security commissioner), and now a professor in the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University. He’s also president of the African American Federal Executive Association.
Wells doesn’t criticize, condemn or complain. But he’s seen a lot and still does works on the diversity issue. Work within an organization like AAFEA ties back to the mentoring idea. I asked Wells his advice to young black or other minority people who want a federal career. He emphasizes their own part in it.
“First and foremost I tell them to keep the faith. I tell them to have that vision of their future,” Wells said. He added impediments can beat someone down, discourage them. “But I also encourage them to have mentors. Don’t be shy about … seeking out the many of us who do that.” He also emphasizes doing things right, acting with integrity, and speaking up for yourself.
None of that is likely to undo impermissible bias in others, as we’ve seen for too long. But change can’t occur without these measures either.
Independence Day Should Have Been July 2. July 2, 1776 is the day that the Continental Congress actually voted for independence. John Adams, in his writings, even noted that July 2 would be remembered in the annals of American history and would be marked with fireworks and celebrations.