Government needs to change to deal with populism — Here’s How–Opinion: It’s time for civil servants to give citizens their power back– by Joseph Maltby (for


For those of you concerned with our collective civic responsibilities, especially those new and continuing public servants, the above referenced article should be on your reading list.  Here was my response to the author–

Hi Joseph–

Great job!! It is refreshing to know that this perspective exists within the confines of government, especially at the federal level. I’ve written similar articles for the PA Times. Ironically, when I’ve experienced criticism on this subject it has come from career federal employees. In general their interpretation is that I’m advocating political engagement by government workers. This is not remotely true given our mandate of non-partisan professionalism. Either my writing is unclear or we are dealing with a more disturbing myopia along the hallways of government. Many bureaucrats narrowly define their responsibilities as enforcement of the rules. As most of us know, that IS a portion of what constitutes public service. The challenge is to balance the needs of our varying constituencies with the rule of law. In many instances this is much easier said than done. Yet beyond the varying definitions of what constitutes public service among government employees themselves, there is an ever bigger challenge; balancing the engagement of the bureaucracy within the confines of a democratic/republican form of government. The United States was never a direct democracy with no notion of a bureaucracy (excepting Madison’s references in the Federalist Papers). It is a republic, a representative form of government. The challenge of governance seemed to be much simpler when it was perceived to be between just two entities, the governed and their duly elected representatives, a somewhat naive understanding of the process of creating and implementing public policy.

Since the days of Woodrow Wilson, the bureaucracy was to just blindly implement even during a time when “Populism” was just as evident, maybe even more so, than it is today. Regardless, it is clear that the nation needs to revisit the relationship between the three governmental layers. It is more than just implementing the latest method in community outreach and citizen surveys. It takes a concerted effort, especially for elected officials, to allow the bureaucracy to help them partner with those that we all serve. This takes the ability to share responsibility, to share power, and to share authority. Everyone, from the individual citizen, to the administrator, to the street level bureaucrat, to the locally elected official must embrace a willingness to share responsibility without feeling threatened or devalued. Roles have to be clearly defined, and accepted by all.  This will take a significant shift in thinking amongst all of the players. It will require acknowledging that organizations are silos both vertically and horizontally.  However, your article is timely and worthy of further discussion.

Keep Up The Good Work!!

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