A Comment on Public Service

An Internal Comment Board Reaffirms the Federal Housing Agency’s Mission

This week is “Public Service Recognition Week,” a congressionally designated time to honor government workers at all levels who have devoted their careers to serving the American people. This recognition is particularly important at a time when confidence in government is low.

One agency that deserves special credit for its work recognizing public servants is the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Five weeks ago HUD launched an internal web comment board that lets employees express why they “believe in HUD.”

“I believe in HUD because ending homelessness is not just an ideal; it’s a promise.”

This comment by Presidential Management Fellow Laura Kunkel is one of more than 250 posted to the HUD comment board in the last few weeks. Agency officials created the board to give their 9,000 employees the opportunity to publicly reflect on the importance of their individual work and how it connects to the agency’s mission.

The ensuing dialogue on the comment board has been inspiring and heartfelt. And it has come from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

“I’ve worked in several program areas … and always found a place where I knew I could ‘make a difference,’” wrote one employee. “I believe in HUD because we make a difference in people’s lives every day.”

Another wrote, “I believe in HUD because HUD makes the American Dream possible.”

Secretary Shaun Donovan has made engaging his workforce a top priority. In the email that launched the comment board, Donovan said he wanted to start an agencywide conversation about “about why we believe in the work we do, work that helps so many Americans in need.”

The online comment board is part of a larger effort that includes the creation of a HUD blog, employee coffees with Donovan, weekly employee “e-briefings,” and quarterly agencywide town halls with the secretary streamed to offices across the country.

Other agencies can inexpensively and easily replicate platforms like the HUD comment board. These initiatives boost morale and have other benefits, including:

  • Giving management insight into what motivates employees
  • Providing senior leaders a way to connect with employees about shared organizational missions
  • Helping agencies refine and evaluate their goals

In a political environment quick to unfairly demonize the government workforce as a burden, tools like these are important in reminding public servants that they are appreciated and that their contributions are essential to critical government functions.

Next week we’ll be writing on HUD’s agencywide town hall taking place in Atlanta.

James Hairston is a Research Associate and Jitinder Kohli is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.