Public service academy completely unnecessary

Editorial

Move over, Air Force Academy. Make way, Annapolis. Watch out, West Point.

If some in Congress get their way, there soon might be a National Public Service Academy, styled loosely (probably very loosely) on these older institutions, that will take America’s best and brightest and mold them into the federal uber-bureaucrats of the future.

We shudder at the thought.

Those backing the plan — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arlen Specter and Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Chris Shays, R-Conn. — hope the institution’s prestige and a free education will help entice young Americans into careers as federal paper-pushers. It comes in response to an expected tidal wave of retirements from federal agencies (which we were hoping would lead to downsizing by attrition). And all it will cost to build the perfect bureaucrat is $205 million annually, for starters.

Where will the new academy be? That’s undecided. But we’re sure New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Northern Virginia will be in the running.

Clinton’s muddle-headed justification for the school suggests that even the bill’s sponsors are confused about its purpose. “We are facing . . . the impending retirement of so many of the senior ranks of our government,” Clinton said in touting the idea. “The people who do everything from help predict the weather, to run our nuclear power plants, to figure out how the Social Security system will keep functioning . . . we’re concerned that we’re not going to have the workforce that we need in the next 10 years to keep this complicated government functioning.”

Predict the weather? Run nuclear power plants? Figure out how the Social Security system will keep functioning? There’s no shortage of meteorologists; most TV stations have at least one. Running nuclear power plants is done by private-sector engineers, not federal workers, thank goodness, or we’d all be eating three-eyed fish. And figuring out how to keep the Social Security system solvent isn’t the job of federal bureaucrats, but of politicians such as Clinton, who have completely failed in that regard.

We don’t doubt attracting smart and ambitious people to work for federal agencies is a challenge. Control freaks, pencil pushers, committee-joiners and buck-passers may find government work appealing, but most young people want more from work.

They want to accomplish something, test their limits and get paid for their initiative and new ideas. Relatively few federal jobs provide such an opportunity; most are initiative-killers that drive good and competent people into the private sector. We doubt that will be turned around by establishing a gold-plated vocational school.

If Clinton & Co. really want to attract young Americans to federal jobs, they have to overhaul the way the government operates, by clearing away red tape, reducing the influence of unions, reforming a civil service system that creates and protects deadwood, and instituting a pay structure that rewards real skills and real performance. Agencies shouldn’t be about perpetuating themselves, amassing power and making work for people. They should be small, elite, nimble organizations on do-or-die missions — sort of like NASA during the Apollo program.

Part of what makes the military academies successful is the sense of mission they instill. Whether that can be replicated when you’re sending graduates out to serve in the bloated, unmanageable, lethargic and rudderless blobs that most federal agencies have become, is doubtful.

Existing colleges and universities are turning out plenty of the kinds of people a Public Service Academy would. Build a better federal government, and they will come.