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Richard Burk's words on public service

OMB's chief architect Richard Burk finished up his government career over the weekend. So, I guess that would make him the former OMB chief architect. They had a government-only party for him last month, and then IAC hosted a packed farewell last night. Unfortunately, I was not able to be there. I did manage to get a copy of Burke's speech from the government only festivities -- and I think they say much about why people become public servants.

For those of you who don't know, here is Burk's bio:

Richard “Dick” Burk is Chief Architect within the Office of E-Government and Information Technology, and is responsible for the Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office (FEA PMO). In this role, he leads the FEA PMO support team in developing and evolving a business and technology framework for the President’s E-Government Initiatives and the alignment of Federal IT investments to The President’s Management Agenda. Prior to OMB, Burk was the Chief Architect for the Department of Housing and Urban Development where he was responsible for the development and delivery of HUD’s Enterprise Architecture Practice, Data Management Practice and Strategic Planning Process. Burk’s 30-year career at HUD Headquarters spanned the research, demonstration and management of most Federal activities in the fields of community development and housing rehabilitation. Burk earned a Masters in Public Administration degree from The Ohio State University. He worked in the City of Columbus Finance Department before coming to HUD in Washington, DC. Prior to graduate school, he served for two years as a Peace Corps Health Volunteer in Uganda, East Africa.

I know we will all get to see Burke around, but... congratulations on a long and distinguished career of public service.

These were Burk's words to his fellow feds:

Thank you for this reception---all who were involved in putting it on,

Thank you for your presence here. I am humbled.

Thank you for supporting me over these 35 years as I worked in this lively profession of public service.

Also, thank you for choosing this profession of The Public Service. For devoting your professional lives to serving the US in the Federal Government.

Indulge me for a few minutes.

Your service comes at a time when the federal government, and consequently the federal official, is not held in high regard in some circles.

There is a strain of political thought today that decries “big government” as the source of our problems; that the Federal Government is incapable of dealing effectively with the problems before us as a country. From the political buffoonery of Rush Limbaugh:

“With the exception of the military, I defy you to name one government program that has worked and alleviated the problem it was created to solve.”

To the now retired, government bureaucrat, Bob Dole: “Everything the government does is ripe for infection.”

These comments are cheap sound bites and generate easy votes from disgruntled citizens by using the federal government and its officials as whipping boys.

This position is simply not supported by the facts on the ground. The history of the Twentieth Century is replete with unprecedented successes in the Federal Government touching every area of our lives. Several examples, some from your agencies, might clarify the debate.

Through the GI Bill of the Dept. of Veterans Administration more than 20 million military have gone to college, including two Presidents and three Supreme Court Justices, and more than 14 million GIs have bought their first home.

Head Start in the Dept. of Education has been found by more than 200 studies to be successful in reducing drop-out and discipline problems and increasing graduation rates;

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has been called the world’s number one public health resource;

The Food and Drug Administration ensures whatever health care product or mechanical device we use, has met the most stringent standards available;

The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development has helped more than 23 million Americans buy their homes, and America’s homeownership rate has steadily moved from 44% in 1935 to 67% today – more than double any other country;

The Environmental Protection Agency through stringent enforcement of the 1973 Clean Water Act has cleaned up the country’s major bodies of water, including Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Boston and New York harbors, Lake
Erie and, yes, the infamous Cuyahoga River;

Despite tremendous cutbacks, our military services continue to conduct successful military and humanitarian operations throughout the world;

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration continues to lead man’s exploration of space.

The clear truth is that Federal Government programs not only work, but are successful beyond our wildest expectations. And their impacts are not contained within our borders; they have served as beacons for other nations. For what Pericles said of the Athenians has long been true of this Republic:

“We do not imitate--- for we are a model to others”

For those who argue government squanders our money, consider the following: Over the last 40 years, the federal government has spent half of its money on three things: Defense, Social Security and Medicare. What were the returns?

We won the cold war;

We cut the rate of elderly poverty in half;

We gave our seniors the best health care in the world.

Was the price too high? Consider this:

Our budget deficit, as a fraction of our economy, is the second lowest in the industrialized world (behind Norway);

Our tax burden as a fraction of our economy, is tied with Japan for the lowest in the industrialized world; and

Our government spending, as a fraction of our economy, is the lowest in the industrialized world.

These are not just successes; they are grand slam home runs! And they have been brought to the American public by the Federal Government and its public servants.

But serving in the public sector is not just about successful programs; it is more to the core of who we are as a people. We in America do not have a common ethnic heritage. We are an assemblage of the world’s societies. Most of our ancestors came here under differing circumstances. The glue that binds us together is a shared belief in a set of ideals and values contained in two documents: The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. For more than 200 years, these ideals have attracted millions to our shores with the hope of a better, more just society. It is government service that turns those ideals into a reality for all Americans. Therefore, there is no nobler calling than to create a just society where those values become living rights and benefits for our citizens. Public service is a proud and lively career. John Kennedy in his first State of the Union address said most eloquently, “ let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: ‘I served the United States Government in that hour of our nation’s need.’”

I was 16 when I heard John Kennedy’s clarion call to public service: “Ask not what your country can do for you, Ask what you can do for your country.” I have talked with some of you, and know that his call had a great impact on your decisions to enter public service. And so too for me. Next Friday, I retire from a 37 year career in public service. I may be leaving the playing field, but I am not leaving the game. My late father used to tell me, “To those to whom much is given, much is required.” I have been given much. I am a blessed man. So, I’m just moving to a coaching role.

Ever mindful of our responsibilities, let us go forth to lead this country, remembering to Act justly, Love tenderly and Walk humbly with our God-----but aware that on earth, His will is worked by men and women.

Thank you.

Dick, thank you!

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on Oct 03, 2007 at 12:17 PM


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