Master of Public Administration luncheon honors public service
Public Official of the Year is Daniel W. Krueger, head of Houston’s Public Works
What is the proper role of government in citizens’ daily lives?
It’s a question debated frequently these days in the run up to the 2012 Presidential Election. The various answers getting the most media attention, however, rarely include responses emphasizing practicality.
“We are listening to and hearing what is, essentially, a rhetorical war on government and it is the cause of some concern,” said public diplomacy expert David J. Firestein at a Feb. 24 luncheon hosted by the Master of Public Administration program. “What has sunk into the American psyche is that government is bad.”
As the keynote speaker, Firestein said his remarks were intended as non-partisan, but that “the most vociferous criticism of government is coming from Republicans” and “the use of incendiary language about the role of government is mostly one-directional.”
“What we’re seeing is a kind of scapegoating of our government and that’s not good for our country,” said Firestein, a vice president at the EastWest Institute, a global think tank with offices in New York, Brussels and Moscow.
To counter that narrative on a local level, the Master of Public Administration used the Feb. 24 luncheon to discuss how government – and the public service professionals that lead and populate it – works each day to improve the greater Houston region
The highlight of the event was the honoring of a government worker as the MPA Program’s first “Public Official of the Year” with an award bestowed at the luncheon. Attendees included City of Houston Mayor Annise Parker, City of Meadows Place Mayor Charles Jessup, City of Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen and Houston Community College Trustee Bruce Austin.
A committee comprised of one MPA student, two faculty members and two program alums chose Daniel W. Krueger, director of the City of Houston’s Department of Public Works and Engineering, to receive the award for his direction of the infrastructure response to this summer’s drought.
“There were 1,200 leaks a day to address during the 2011 drought in Houston,” said James Thurmond, director of the MPA program. “It was a like a hurricane had hit; this was treated like that kind of a disaster. They brought it down from 1,200 leaks per day to less than the normal rate in the summer time. It takes skill and expertise to figure that out.”
The underwriter of the luncheon was Peter Brown, founder of the nonprofit BetterHouston, a former Houston City Council member and a member of the College’s Dean’s Advisory Board. “We need more smart people in public service,” Brown said of his desire to share his expertise and financial support with the MPA program, which provides high-level training and education for pre-service and in-service public managers, public policy analysts and public officials to address major public policy issues in a metropolitan scenario.
On a national level, speaker Firestein recommended that each person answer the question about government interaction with individuals by taking a value approach to the size of government: “Are you happy with what you’re getting for what you’re paying.”
He listed some of what we pay for with our tax dollars is regulation of the business cycle, public health advancements, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the interstate highway system, Social Security income and anti-discrimination laws and enforcement.
“It was the government, not the private sector, that ended slavery in this country,” Firestein noted.
But he also said much of what government does for its citizens counts as intangible benefits.
“Government provides justice,” he said. “Government provides fairness. Government provides equality. Government provides security – at the micro level and at the macro level.
“Government provides negative assurances: we pay our taxes so that things won’t happen.”
Ultimately, changing the tone of the public discourse on the role of government is a personal choice, said Dr. Thurmond.
“I think government is bashed too much,” Dr. Thurmond said. “Government does make mistakes, but so does the private sector. It’s just a matter of public education that we have to say something good about government, so that the narrative is not all negative.”
~ Shannon Buggs