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Government Management: Why don’t people care?

We are puzzled and frustrated with the ignorance of many people about the importance of state and local government management.

They tend to be acutely aware of the politics in the places where they live. And many have strong opinions about policies of all sorts that directly affect them. But when we bring up management, we frequently get the kind of look you’d anticipate seeing on the face of someone confronted with a detailed explanation of quantum physics.

These aren’t uneducated folks we’re complaining about. In fact, we’re acutely aware of this phenomenon based on conversations with friends and family (among whom are doctors, teachers, lawyers, professors, and accountants).

It recently came as a surprise to us when we were showing this website to someone who has been a mental health counselor for years. She’s a friend, and so made an effort to kindly express some interest. But then she made it clear that, since it was about government, it had nothing important to do with her life. We persuaded her (at least for the moment) that states and localities had a great deal to do with mental health care. (In fact, at this very moment we’re writing a column for Route Fifty about this very topic).

We know we’re not the only ones who are aware of this phenomenon. Over the last 30-plus years, we’ve become aware of a secret weapon we have when interviewing people about their work in government management: they’re hungry for someone who genuinely cares about what they do for a living, because they don’t get that from their friends and neighbors, and even their spouses, parents and adult children.

Think about the public sector folks who refer to themselves as “policy wonks” or “policy nerds.” At least they tend to use these potentially pejorative terms with a tone of pride. People who implement those policies don’t even have a supposed-to-be-funny way of describing themselves altogether.

All of this is really a pity, especially at a time when trust in government is waning in large part because of the poisoned seeds of partisan politics. It would be nice, indeed, if more people saw work done by diligent public employees to make sure that they get the services they rely on for safety, transportation, health care, economic development, and much, much more.


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