Public administrators play a vital role in the communities they serve. Politicians get all the attention, but civic issues are primarily shaped by the hardworking public sector professionals who dedicate their lives to improving their communities.
Currently, public administrators face a variety of significant challenges, ranging from environmental concerns to economic mobility. Underscoring these community issues are sharp political divides.
With so much at stake, it’s vital that public administrators develop effective initiatives to serve the diverse needs and interests of their constituents. Public administrators can combine their subject-matter expertise from undergrad studies and work experience with leadership and administrative skills gained from graduate coursework in public administration to address the many exciting opportunities for change on the horizon, as highlighted below:
Social and Economic Development
Public administrators understand that the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality has its limitations. They recognize that economic mobility largely depends on being presented with the right opportunities at the right time. To that end, they plan and execute targeted government initiatives that give community members a leg up.
In Utah, many economic development projects currently target underserved rural communities. Some of these have sought telecommuting as a solution. For example, even before remote work took over, the Utah State Legislature approved an incentive program that would pay companies to hire professionals from the state’s rural areas. Expanding broadband access, via infrastructure bills, is a topic in many state governments across the country.
Meanwhile, in urban and suburban areas, transportation can play a crucial role in improving both economic development and social outcomes. Perhaps most promising is the expanded effort to create 15 or 20-minute cities where residents can easily access necessary goods and services — and where work commutes are reasonable.
While this concept originated in Paris, it also took hold in Portland, Oregon. There, several areas are already classified as 20-minute neighborhoods. This achievement would not have been possible without the Portland Plan, which is making headway on an ambitious goal: ensure that 80 percent of residents live in “complete” neighborhoods (featuring several types of dwellings, walkable streets, quality schools, and healthy food options) by 2035.
Environmental Protection and Resource Management
Caught up in day-to-day concerns, we often struggle to preserve our ecosystem on behalf of future generations. Environmental resource management initiatives provide a powerful reminder of our need to act as stewards.
Many cities are beginning to pursue green infrastructure, understanding that this provides not only long-term protection but also immediate financial benefits. San Diego, California, for example, has committed to using 100 percent renewable energy. The city also has adopted an ambitious Zero Waste Plan with a goal to achieve 90 percent waste diversion by 2035.
Green initiatives are by no means limited to big cities. In fact, some of the most exciting developments are taking place in smaller towns and suburbs, where residents often turn hardships into opportunities. In Greensburg, Kansas, for example, rebuilding efforts after a devastating 2007 tornado led to a proliferation of LEED-Platinum structures.
Managing Technological Changes
New technologies bring a world of exciting opportunities to the public sector. Perhaps most notable is the quest for better public access to digital resources.
With local and state governments storing considerable amounts of sensitive personal information, such as names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers as well as contractual, billing and financial information, public-sector cybersecurity is a concern for state and local governments.
These digitization efforts have forced government entities to step up their security game. From simple solutions (such as implementing multi-factor authentication) to advanced strategies (like stateful packet inspection), entities are taking a layered approach to security that echoes the predominant strategies in the business world.
The newfound emphasis on cybersecurity has resulted in greater technological literacy among all types of public sector employees. Agencies are focusing on tech training at all levels. For example, an up-and-coming webinar program from the Academy for New York State’s Local Officials will delve into today’s most prominent cybersecurity concerns, providing five weeks of on-demand content the Academy claims will bolster each municipality’s cybersecurity solutions.
In the wake of the devastating COVID pandemic, the need for hardy public health initiatives is abundantly clear. Many agencies were dismayed to discover just how ill-prepared they were to face the onslaught of the pandemic — but they’re taking steps to prevent such issues in the future.
In Massachusetts, a legislative COVID committee has identified the need to expand regional initiatives that improve public health at the local level. The goal: to enact a set of state standards that would provide a “core set of public health protections and that there are sufficient funds for robust capacity building and data collection.”
The lingering impacts of COVID lockdowns have also highlighted the increased need for mental health initiatives that benefit society’s most vulnerable. These programs aim to give struggling individuals the support, empathy, and respect they deserve.
For example, the Colorado Department of Human Services has spearheaded a revolutionary Behavioral Health Task Force. While this task force started before COVID, much of its progress has occurred amid the pandemic, with a Special Assignment Committee formed to provide targeted recommendations.
Colorado’s Behavioral Health Task Force has already created a blueprint for reform and is beginning to take action. Anticipated initiatives include:
- Developing a statewide care coordination infrastructure.
- Forming a dedicated Behavioral Health Administration.
- Cultural training that allows behavioral health specialists to interact more respectfully with people from all backgrounds.
- Expanding crisis drop-off opportunities and other crisis services.
Working Within the Current Political Environment
There’s no denying that we live in divisive times. The bridge between political parties continues to widen. Unfortunately, this creates extra burdens for public servants, who have been dismayed that even seemingly straightforward tasks can become rife with drama.
This divisiveness is one of the most difficult challenges to address at present, but it’s arguably the issue with the greatest need for a resolution. After all: if public servants from various backgrounds cannot work effectively together, they cannot hope to enact the much-needed programs identified above.
Thankfully, this public problem also has public solutions. Sometimes, the best option is to focus on initiatives that allow people from several political perspectives to find common ground. This approach has proven especially effective with various federal, state, and local infrastructure bills.
Redistricting may be another area of opportunity. There are growing calls for independent redistricting commissions, which would prevent politicians from gaining an unfair advantage when drawing their political lines. Without these commissions, the risk of gerrymandering is high.
Austin, Texas demonstrates how this approach can be effective at the municipal level. The city has developed a panel of citizen volunteers locally known as the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. Other residents can provide ample feedback during a three-week public comment period.
Additionally, public administrators can help to ensure that fair and equitable processes are developed and followed and to maintain the integrity of our institutions by acting in accordance with the rule of law, both of which are essential in a democracy.
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Implications for Public Service Education and Training
There are rapid changes in the public sector and there is a need for people to fill important and critical roles with state and local governments. Obtaining a master’s degree in public administration can help you make an impact in this field.
Aspiring leaders must possess soft skills such as empathy, creativity, and collaboration, but a thorough understanding of the policy-making process is vital. Already, graduate-level education is often regarded as a must-have for public sector employees who hope to obtain leadership positions and make a discernible difference in local government. Hence, the value of seeking a
Make a Difference in the Public Sector
If you’re eager to do your part, you could be a great candidate for the Master of Public Administration program at Post University. With our help, you can develop the career-oriented skills vital to success in today’s complicated yet opportunity-filled public sector. Contact us today to learn more about our MPA degree and other online graduate programs that could help you achieve your career goals.
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