Monday, July 30, 2007

The Clinton Service Academy

OK, I hate Hillary as much as the next guy, which means I fully expect her to win the next election. But her new proposal to have a national service academy for public servants is one of the most boneheaded idea in an election season full of boneheaded ideas. (See Clinton: Create Public Service Academy). Does the United States really need a École Nationale d'Administration? After all, that's proven such a font of ingenuity for all things French and bureaucratic. And, besides, don't we already have Georgetown University?


Chris Myers Asch said...

M.D. Fatwa,

As one of the co-founders of the Public Service Academy, I appreciate the publicity that you have brought to the idea, but I must disagree with your assessment. The Academy is neither "boneheaded" nor a "campaign idea."

There is a movement to build the Academy that extends far beyond Sen. Clinton or her campaign. Sen. Clinton has co-sponsored the Senate legislation, but we have bipartisan support -- folks like Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Rep. Tom Davis, as well as many military leaders (including the last three superintendents of West Point) are also behind the bill. They certainly are not interested in building a school to perpetuate government bureaucracy, and neither are we.

This is not a Democratic idea, nor is it a Republican idea. It is an American idea. It would be no more like the French ENA than the American military resembles the French military.

I encourage you and your readers to find out more about the movement to build the Public Service Academy by visiting:

You can even download a draft of our Blueprint by clicking on the "Learn More" tab -- I'd be interested in your feedback.

Chris Myers Asch

M.D. Fatwa said...

Thanks very much for your comment, Mr. Asch. Nonetheless, I must still ask why? What would a public service academy offer that the multitude of existing colleges can't? If "free education" is the only answer, wouldn't an ROTC-like approach be better than a military academy approach? In other words, why not have the government provide loans to students that could be forgiven in exchange for working for the government? After all, creating a modern university takes an enormous amount of capital. Why devote that much money to replicating a system that already exists?

Furthermore, the French ENA underscores not just the problem with government bureaucracy, but also the problem with group-think. One problem with the French civil service (IMHO) is that the leadership is drawn largely from a single school and a single culture. This is a problem that exists in our own military academies as well. Why do we want this for our government when we currently can draw high-caliber students from as ideologically and culturally diverse schools as the University of Chicago, UCLA, and New York's New School?

The comparison with the military academies also underscores the problem. The military academies train officers for the various military branches. Being an officer requires, primarily, leadership skills and an understanding of operations of a particular organization. However, the proposed US Public Service Academy would be training college students to be everything from teachers to park rangers. That's potentially a much wider range of skills than being an officer in a single military branch. Keep in mind, also, that the military academies (except for the Air Force Academy, of course) were established at a time when there were relatively few institutions of higher education in the United States and the broad skill-sets of being an military officer were quite different from anything in the civilian sector. However, in today's world of widespread technology and large organizations, these differences have narrowed, while the demands for officers have increased. This, of course, led the US government to establish the ROTC program. So, my question is, at precisely the same time that the military is moving away from strict reliance on the service academies, why are you trying to create an Ecole National?

And as for this being an American idea -- that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea. (And the West Point model was partly based on Napoleon's École Royale Militaire and English Royal Military Academy.)