Moving ASPA Forward

By Craig Donovan

I previously wrote about the Law of Inertia — An object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force – otherwise known as the ASPA motto. While consistency, steadfastness if you prefer, is a good thing, experimentation, innovation and improvement are even better. The question is how can ASPA innovate in ways that would improve both the organization and public administration in general? After three decades of experience with ASPA (self-disclosure, I am a Lifetime Member and former presidential candidate), I have a couple of suggestions.

The first suggestion for change is a structural one. The most powerful entity within ASPA is not the president per se, it is the Nominating Committee. These are the people who select those who will (and ipso facto those who will not) eventually lead the organization. The people promoted to run, as well as their number, drive the possible results.

The people who work on the selection of leadership candidates should be independent of and at arm’s length from the current and past leadership. We need the widest range of candidates from across the membership. We should also structurally ensure that our presidential candidates and officers alternate terms between academics and practitioners as neither group should be allowed to dominate.

The presidential term of office is for one year. However, the overall term of service is three plus years: first as vice president, then as president-elect, then president, then past-president. This is a substantial commitment, one that is hard to make for our practitioner members. This is just one reason so many of ASPA’s presidents are academics.

Changing the presidential term from a multi-step, multi-year process to a single, two year term would reduce the burden upon those who run and serve. At the same time, it would extend the effectiveness of the office, providing those who serve with a long enough time in office to more fully introduce and manage their own initiatives above and beyond the annual conference.

While the above changes are structural, I offer one other recommendation that is functional. The American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) advances the science, art and practice of public administration.  But, just how do we do this? We hold our annual conference. We support our various chapters and sections and their activities. We produce a range of publications. But I believe we can do more.

Each year, or each two-year presidential term, ASPA could select a public administration topic, issue or problem which it would then review, study, write about and make recommendations on. This would have several advantages. Internally, by having a common front, we would bring together all the disparate parts of ASPA and its membership in a united focus. Further, this approach would allow ASPA to become a more vital force in public administration, visibly performing substantive work to improve the state of the public service.

Last year, ASPA celebrated its 75th anniversary with a once in a lifetime gala. As we continue into the 21st century and toward our 100th year, it is past time for us to go beyond just keeping calm and carrying on. Now more than ever, it is time for ASPA to reshape its operations and redefine its mission to reinvigorate our current membership, expand its desirability to potential and former members and expand its relevance to the field.

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