A Public Manager Looks Back: What I Wish I' d Been Taught

Dan Fenn
The author, a practitioner-teacher of public administration, writes that the special context of government in the United States, whetherfederal, state, or local, needs to be specifically explored by schools for would-be public managers. The constitutionally established system offractionated power at once makes governmentjobs extraordinarily difficult and provides great opportunities for those who see themselves as partners in the policy-making process and want to put their stamp on the events
more » ... their times. Despite the view of the general public , government is made to orderfor entrepreneurs who are adept at accreting and maintaining power regardless of the organizational level at which they are operating. Specifically, public managers need a solid grounding in the liberal arts; a systematic way of understanding and analyzing the various independent power centers that shape public policy; the ability to analyze and control their managerial style so it willfit a system that operates more through accommodation than direction; and exposure to the body of theoretical and practical knowledge now being assembled about the process of negotiation through which public policy is made. Thirty-five years of public service which have taken me from the Lexington Town Meeting to the White House and back again, reinforced by a like period spent teaching in a wide variety of graduate management programs, have generated some personal observations on the training of public managers. I offer these observations not as a scholar, despite the years I have spent as a teacher, but rather as a practitioner whose teaching and writing have served to enrich workaday experiences in appointed and even in some minor elective offices. In thinking about this topic, I am concerned more with the context within which public management courses are presented than with any specific curriculum. An understanding of the nature and shape and underlying realities of the public sector in this unique American H.