Mason Faculty and Students Address Local Government Issues
By James Greif
As participants of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ largest master’s program, public administration graduates help lead many of the area’s nonprofit and government organizations. But you don’t have to be a Mason alumnus to benefit from the research and outreach conducted by the program’s faculty and students.
In the coming months, the Department of Public and International Affairs (PIA) will be reporting on a comprehensive research project related to the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or the stimulus program.
“The stimulus was a stress test with very high stakes for the ability of our system to achieve coordination and effective public service delivery,” says Mason professor Paul Posner, who serves as director of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program and was involved in the project. “This report will assess what lessons we learned about the capacity of networks of managers to work collaboratively with each other.”
Seven PIA faculty members are developing the report, funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation, a private policy research-granting institution. Other professors who collaborated on the initiative are Priscilla Regan, Alan Abramson, Lehn Benjamin, Tim Conlan, Sheldon Edner, and Stefan Toepler.
Since Washington, D.C., is so close to Mason’s campuses, Posner, along with PIA chair Priscilla Regan, have stressed that the program’s focus should be on the needs of the public workforce and their leaders, whether they be in government, nonprofit, or private sectors.
“Government is the business of the Washington area and our public administration program is well equipped to serve the needs of the region’s core business,” says Regan. “We’ve made a concerted effort to join theory and practice though our research, teaching, training, and forums on key public management and policy issues.”
Student Research Gives Back to Local Governments
Mason public administration students also address key government issues on a daily basis. The Northern Virginia Public Service Fellows program is an exclusive master in public administration (MPA) cohort at Mason. Government employees from Northern Virginia towns and counties are selected by their agencies to participate in the program. These local governments help support the fellows’ tuition while Mason provides a work-friendly schedule for classes.
Alumni of the program are leaders of local governments and now run departments related to fire, safety, finance, and utilities across the region.
The fellows work together to conduct research and create resources that are free of charge and valuable to the governments of Northern Virginia and beyond. In 2011, the seventh cohort of fellows created Innovations in Aging, a report detailing the impending impact of retiring baby boomers on state and local governments in the region.
This year, the eighth cohort of fellows produced the Financial Crisis Toolkit, a guide for local governments to prepare for and deal with financial hardships such as the recent recession.
Building on the success of the Northern Virginia Public Service Fellows, the department is now launching cohort programs for federal agency managers in such areas as leadership and human resource management.
A Think-Tank for Public Service
To meet the needs of the region’s government and nonprofit sector, the Department of Public and International Affairs established the Centers on the Public Service in 2011. Housed on Mason’s Arlington Campus, the nonpartisan centers are dedicated to helping the public sector address emerging challenges through training, research, and collaboration. The three centers are the Center for Federal Management Leadership, led by Sheldon Edner; the Center for State and Local Government Leadership, led by Frank Shafroth; and the Center for Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy, and Policy, led by Alan Abramson.
The centers provide research, training, and leadership forums for hard-pressed leaders of federal, state, and local governments and the nonprofit sector. Former Congressman Tom Davis chairs the board of directors for the centers. In addition, the department recently hired former Fairfax County executive Anthony Griffin to be the practitioner-in-residence to help the centers connect with government and private business leaders in our area.
So far, the centers have conducted a number of forums on the federal budget, nonprofit organizations, federal management, and urban planning and finance. The centers examined the impact of the recession on Virginia’s budget choices and tax policy, as part of a major, six-state national study led by former Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker and former New York lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch.
The centers will hold conferences this fall on the fiscal and economic challenges faced by Northern Virginia, drawing from the results of this study. Other conferences include a major symposium on lessons learned from the implementation of the stimulus programs and a meeting on the history of federal budget summits.
The centers have also broken new ground in researching local government finances. They received a substantial grant from the MacArthur Foundation to study how local governments and states are dealing with the prospects and realities of bankruptcies facing selected localities throughout the nation. The 18-month study will be the first comprehensive review of state and local policies and experiences.
Jack Censer, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, notes, “In these difficult times with demands increasing and revenue stable at best, state and local officials have to produce even more efficiently than before. The research and outreach of the centers provide indispensable guidance and training to serve citizens.”
MPA Director Brings “Memos” to Government Leaders
Posner is also helping to organize Memos to National Leaders, a presidential transition initiative providing advice to incoming leaders in both the executive branch and Congress on the public management and policy challenges facing the nation. The memos address the federal budget process, intergovernmental cooperation, managing private-public partnerships, and other major public administration issues. The authors of the memos are leading academics and practitioners in public management, including James Pfiffner, Mason professor of public policy, and Tim Conlan, professor in the PIA.
The series is a joint project of the National Academy of Public Administration, for which Posner serves as a board member, and the American Society for Public Administration, for which he served as president in 2009. The first set of memos was released in July at an event featuring former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, a Mason faculty member with PIA, and former Maryland governor Parris Glendening. Other memos will be publicly released this fall, followed by a final report and a book to capture the key issues and lessons.
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