Good afternoon ASPA Members:
I am honored to be one of ASPA’s bloggers for this upcoming semester. I look forward to discussing issues that impact our profession and our lives throughout the course of the year.
One of my areas of interest in substance abuse and the administration of policies that attempt to control the social problem. I have worked at all levels of American government, in nonprofit treatment and detoxification centers, and encountered the occassional drunken or stoned student in class. While we hear about the problem on the news, we rarely think the problem impacts our profession. I am working with publishers on three books on that very subject. Often times, I had to rely upon my primary research, interviews, etc. rather than articles published about this issue in public administration journals.
Our policies dealing with this issue vary from community-to-community, state-to-state, and even nation-to-nation. Often times, we ignore the problems that an employee experiences when he or she is addicted to a substance like alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit ones. We ignore it until it becomes a problem. At which point, the person is given a choice to go to treatment or be fired. The public sector protects the rights of individual in need but do we often ignore those problems? I say, we do.
For example, how many professors of public administration are trained to deal with the student who attends class intoxicated? How do we know the student is even intoxicated if he or she is not belligerent? What about our colleagues who seemed to be “buzzed” all of the time? I remember having a couple of professors who were obviously alcoholic or drug-addicted. Instead of dealing straight away with the problem, the person’s colleagues ignored the problem and passively complained.
What about in the public sector workplace? Colleges and universities have a zero-tolerance policy but it may be ignored until an avoidable situation becomes unavoidable. In some situations, the intoxicated person is fired immedidately, particularly in areas where one’s health and safety are at stake. But what about the secretary who takes pain medication and is a bit “flighty” for an hour or two on the job? What about the caseworker who justifies their actions while under the influence?
Our national policy toward substance abuse is coordinated through the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy. Several federal agencies control certain aspects of the multifaced issue: Health and Human Services conducts addiction research; the Justice Department works with domestic and foreign governments to control drugs flowing into the country while tracking down moonshiners (their numbers are growing around the country); Housing and Urban Development attempt to clean up neighborhoods; the Department of Education writes curricula on prevention programs, etc. State and local agencies attempt to write their own policies that mirror their concerns but match federal policies. I contend these bureaucracies, those of us who work in public administration, are the policy makers here.
We work with citizens groups. We talk with industry leaders. We work with and educate elected officials about the problem and what needs to be done to help us. But the problem eventually returns to us – the bureaucrat – and we make decisions based upon what we see when that person enters our public treatment facility, is pulled over by the local police, or comes to class intoxicated.
This is a topic that warrants more discussion within and among our field. I look forward to hearing and reading your comments.
All the best,