The Army patrols the World Trade Center footprint. CREDIT: <a href="" target="_blank">Todd Page (CC)</a>
The Army patrols the World Trade Center footprint. CREDIT: Todd Page (CC)

Decision Points: The American Dream in the Balance

Sep 15, 2011

Led by Sam Speedie, who stepped up immediately after 9/11 and went into public service, this group of under-40s Carnegie New Leaders discuss how to move the country forward and help other young people to make a difference, whether in government, business, or the non-profit sector.


JULIA TAYLOR KENNEDY: We are happy to have one of our own Carnegie New Leaders moderating the event.

Billy Gouveia is currently a financial services consultant, but he has a long history with the intelligence community, so he has a lot in common with our speaker this evening. He used to work with Booz Allen Hamilton, with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the Department of Homeland Security, and also as a military intelligence officer. So he should have really great questions to kick off the Q&A [questions and answers] portion of this event as well.

Without further ado, I'll turn things over to you.

WILLIAM GOUVEIA: Thank you so much, Julia.

It is, as you said, really great to be here, to take this opportunity to reflect on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I certainly feel honored to be with you and look forward to hearing Sam's remarks and a firsthand perspective on what the many, many implications of that fateful day are.

Before we begin, I want to thank you, Julia, and Stefanie [Carnegie Council program assistant], and all the people who made this happen, and also you all for taking the time to come and share insights with us. As Sam and I have discussed, we really look forward to hearing your reactions to his comments and having this be as conversational as possible. I think that's reflected in the agenda. Sam's remarks are 15 or 20 minutes or so, and there is plenty of time to have questions and open discussion.

Setting some context here, on 9/11, I think many of us during that fateful day asked, what can we do? As we were wrestling with that question, it's really instructive to look at Sam's background and realize that he is somebody who stepped forward in response.

His personal experience is characterized by public service. I'm not going to detail his background. I believe you have to be literate in order to be a member of this fine program. But if I could just ask you to take a glance at it, think about it: Here's Sam. He graduates from Harvard in 1999, goes to work in Hollywood, pursues his dream of becoming the Brad Pitt of his generation, and then 9/11 happens and he's—

SAM SPEEDIE: I fell kind of short with the Brad Pitt thing.

WILLIAM GOUVEIA: That's another event entirely, Sam. Please don't remark on that in tonight's context.

But 9/11 happens as he is presumably wrestling with this question. He immediately steps forward and joins New York State's Office of Public Security, goes to work in New Jersey's Office of Counterterrorism, subsequently joins the Department of Homeland Security, and has a frontline perspective on a lot of the issues that were very timely, very topical.

Sam, thank you for taking time to share your insights on your experiences. I certainly look forward to hearing them. So without further ado, Sam.


SAM SPEEDIE: Thanks, Bill. I appreciate that.

I would like to, first, second the thanks and acknowledgments to Stefanie and Julia for helping to organize and promote the event and for bearing with me as I struggled to think about what I wanted to talk about, which took a little while to condense, and also to Billy.

He and I spoke on Friday. We have a common friend, interestingly enough, and really kind of a common background and similar ideals about public service. I'm really glad that someone who is so much of a kindred spirit and went through some of the same experiences, in different contexts, is here to moderate the event.

I should just say—it's a typical thing, but it's a disclaimer—what I say here tonight is representative of my experiences and views as an individual and isn't reflective of where I worked or who I have worked for, past or present.

I want to just take a minute to give a personal perspective on 9/11. I was one of, obviously, millions of people who saw what happened in real time. I was standing at a bus stop in Upper Montclair waiting to actually come down to Wall Street to interview with a temp firm. I had been, as Billy says, working for an entertainment company in Los Angeles, had been laid off from that job, and was back East trying to figure out what to do next.

Obviously, what happened happened. I don't remember the exact timing, but a couple of weeks later, I came down. I had heard that the Javits Center on the West Side was volunteer central for triage and supply efforts, basically trying to organize donations that were flooding in from around the country. It was where the skilled laborers were centralizing to go work on the World Trade Center site as part of the relief and recovery efforts.

I showed up that day, and a friend of mine was actually sweeping the sidewalk. He had been denied entry. So what I did was, I went to Duane Reade around the corner, and I bought $100 of pharmaceutical supplies, and I basically conned my way in, under the pretext of making a delivery to the center. That was a great entry point, but what I didn't realize was that once you were in, you really couldn't leave. Basically, we were there for 36 or 48 hours.

It was really an incredible experience. I think anyone who has been in a disaster zone, who has participated in disaster recovery efforts—standing shoulder to shoulder with people at 2:00 in the morning, stacking containers of Gatorade 20 feet high, dealing with the influx of surgical gloves and bandages, Gatorade, bottled water that was coming in from around the country.

A really vivid memory is of a couple who had driven all the way from Colorado with a flatbed full of medical supplies. Somehow we organized the military escort down to the site. You had people standing in the streets cheering, waving flags. It was very emotional, especially for them, given the sacrifice they had made to come cross-country.

Kind of a sweet and poignant moment, if you could call it that, against the backdrop of that event was a limo driver who kept circling the Javits Center looking for workers who had come off shift to take home. I'll never forget watching these two guys covered in dust, and God knows what else, walking out of the Javits Center at 2:00 in the morning and getting in the back of this guy's limo and getting rides out to the outer boroughs.

So it really was, to me, amidst the obvious backdrop of great human tragedy and cost, an inspiring example of what we're capable of as a society—not just a localized population of New Yorkers, but how the country really does band together in a moment of crisis.

There were, obviously, the unsettling aspects of the aftermath that most of us are familiar with if we lived here afterwards—such as people standing on sidewalks looking up at high-rise buildings afraid to go inside. I remember Rudy Giuliani, the mayor, who, at least in my perspective, was the closest thing we had to Winston Churchill in the aftermath of that event, finally telling people, "Honk your horns. Yell at each other. We're New Yorkers. We have to get back to normal."

Then, obviously, the flag lapel pins that were worn pretty much on every collar that was worn, male or female, on business suits, and flags flying from front yards.

Against the backdrop of all that, I really wanted to do something. I had kind of gotten a taste of public service with the immediate relief and recovery effort at the Javits Center, and I wanted to stay engaged.

I wound up reading in New York Magazine an article about a former FBI official who had been appointed by then-Governor Pataki to set up the New York State Office of Public Security, which was basically created as a state-level equivalent to what was being done in Washington with the Office of Homeland Security. I pestered him. I wrote him. I called him in his office. I wound up saying something to the effect, "I'll literally wash the floors if that's what you need me to do. I want to be on the team."

Thankfully for me, he finally accepted and put me on board and gave me a number of things to do that were unique to the time, and obviously kind of drinking from a fire hose in terms of my previous experience in college, and then working in entertainment.

But it was a very unique time. There are not many instances when you have the chance in government, at whatever level, whether it's federal, state, or local, to be involved in setting up a new discipline. There was no matrix or code written for the homeland security discipline at the time. It was very multidisciplinary. It was very multijurisdictional in perspective. The basic idea, which I think, ten years later, is still the right one, was to push as many people from diverse perspectives across the state agency community, and across the state and local law enforcement community, together into close quarters to figure out what made sense as a statewide homeland security and public security strategy.

It was really interesting for me, being a non-specialist civilian, coming at this as an English major, someone who had worked as a junior executive in Hollywood, suddenly being shoulder to shoulder with sworn law enforcement and subject-matter experts in the environment, in agriculture, environmental conservation, and just trying to figure out what the salient points and threads were from everyone's background that made up a meaningful whole, and what we were there to do.

Pivoting away from that moment and looking at the long sprint of the aftermath of 2001 throughout the rest of the decade—and Billy and I had a conversation about this—there are a number of barriers. Looking around this room, accomplished professionals, very bright people—I don't know what all of your backgrounds are. I would like to get into that, frankly, after the opening statement.

But when you look at electoral politics and you look at service within a bureaucracy, whether it's local, state, or federal, there are a number of disincentives. I would like to just trot out a few. I think they are self-evident.

There's money. There's fundraising. Maybe you know these facts, maybe you don't, but I picked out that according to a Federal Election Commission's news release dated June 8, 2009, the Obama campaign raised a total of $745.7 million in private funds for his primary nomination and general election campaign. Meg Whitman, in the 2010 California gubernatorial campaign, according to an Associated Press story that ran February 1, 2011, spent $178.5 million, including $144 million of her own fortune, to finance her campaign for governor. Closer to home, here in New York, Mayor Bloomberg, in his 2010 campaign finance report filed January 2010, spent over $108 million to win the final term.

It also applies to Congress. I don't know how many of you read Joe Nocera's columns in The New York Times. I'm personally a fan. He wrote an op-ed on September 5. It was an interview with Jim Cooper, who is a Blue Dog Democrat from Nashville. Here's a quote from that story: "Now, when a new member is sworn in"—this is from Cooper—"he or she is told what their dues are, how much they are expected to raise for the party for the next election. It's worse in the Senate. It turns the whole place into a money machine."

This is pretty much an immediate disqualifier to public service, looking at this data. You either have the money going in or you have to resign yourself to dialing-for-dollars from the moment you announce a campaign, or you're not viable.

The second piece is modern media, the 24/7/365 news cycle. We have seen traditional broadcast and cable outlets overtaken by Internet network devices, enabling information on demand. The old news cycle doesn't apply. We see blogs and social media that essentially are rewriting the rules of the profession. The emphasis is on being the first to break a story. I'm not a professional journalist, but I would imagine that leads to journalistic quality control taking a backseat to speed, and getting something out there.

Then we have, obviously, the ideological bias of cable news and talk radio programming, the fact that news organizations to a T at this point are subsidiaries of multinational corporations with a focus on P&L [profit and loss] and shareholder return, therefore facing pressures to make the news, quote/unquote, as opposed to merely reporting the news.

The final piece in this kind of unholy trinity is the toxic political environment. We have had this environment since the election of 1800 pretty much, when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams faced off in the presidential election. But what I find really disturbing as an individual citizen at this point is how the moderate center of both parties is an endangered species, how that moderate center that is willing to work together, able to compromise for the good of the country, is corroding from within. That is only exacerbated by the money aspects and the media aspects.

So that's the electoral political side. Then we have the civil service, working in the bureaucracy. There are seniority rules. That definitely applies. There are those, like Bobby Jindal, who, I read, was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at age 25, as well as Andrew Cuomo, the current governor of New York State, who was appointed HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] secretary at age 40. But that's obviously the exception and not the rule.

When you think about the incentive structures and advancement opportunities that are offered on Wall Street and Hollywood and Silicon Valley, a Mark Zuckerberg-type career really isn't going to be possible within the government apparatus. So I worry that, because of the structural requirements, which do prize tenure of service, education credentials, and work experience, creative minds that could potentially be useful in attacking some of these pervasive problems we face are being turned away.

The compensation aspect: The government service scale, the GS scale, correlates grades and steps to education credentials and number of years in the workforce. Annual bonuses are awarded in the context of outstanding performance. We have the Senior Executive Service, which I don't know how many of you are aware of. It was established in 1978 and serves as, quote/unquote, the major link between presidential appointees and the rest of the federal workforce, a corporate, merit-based executive service. That's according to OPM [U.S. Office of Personnel Management].

When I was in federal service, I always thought it would be interesting to have a GE [General Electric]-type program, a rising executive service, where you had young talented managers who were identified in their home agencies in their 20s and 30s, who were rotated into assignments within their home agency to give them a diverse sphere of experience, and maybe even among agencies, in interagency assignments, to broaden their perspectives. That, to me, would make clear the potential for advancement, as well as building a portfolio of increasing responsibility as people progress up through the chain.

So that's kind of a tour of my thoughts and my personal experience. I can tell you that one thing that really inspired me about public service was a movie by Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner, The American President, which came out in 1996. There's a great line where Michael Douglas, as the fictional president, says in a press conference, "We have serious problems to solve and we need serious people to solve them."

That's only put on full display today with the challenges we face with security, with high unemployment, the environment, with severe weather events and cycles that only seem to grow every year in intensity and severity, the global banking system and continuing instability there, and uncertainty.

What I really wanted to talk about, or at least raise as an issue to this forum, is looking at the bars or the disincentives that prevent people like you—again, not knowing your backgrounds—from looking at careers either on the elective side or the serving side within the bureaucracy. The stakes couldn't be higher, and I worry at this point that the morale in many respects couldn't be lower.

That's what I have.


WILLIAM GOUVEIA: Terrific. That's a great starting point for this conversation. Thank you, Sam.

As we dive in and explore some of these issues, I would like to know, has anyone here ever applied for a job on or one of the federal service jobs?

I saw at least four nods, and I was only looking at this half of the room. I have terrible peripheral vision.

Do you mind if I pick on you a little bit? Did you ever hear back?

PARTICIPANT: No. Liana Sterling.

I was one of the lucky ones. I was in graduate school at Columbia University, and we actually had a two-hour tutorial with a person from the Department of Labor, who was talking to us about how to use the USAJOBS site effectively, explaining how incredibly complicated it was. I was lucky to even have that. But even with that information, it was incredibly difficult to navigate.

I think, frankly speaking, if Columbia is getting a tutorial, this just speaks to the fact that other people need a tutorial. I understand completely that there are requirements and it needs to be fair, and it should be. But maybe there is another way to do that or a way to improve that.

WILLIAM GOUVEIA: Thank you, Liana.

Sam, I would like to take the moderator's prerogative and ask you the first question. You talked about some of the structural problems. I thought your comment about a rising executive program based on a GE-type model was a very insightful one. How can the public sector be made more enticing to the best and the brightest, like Liana?

SAM SPEEDIE: Well, the causes speak for themselves. I don't think you would have been attracted to that posting if you felt otherwise. But it's a great point about USAJOBS. In fact, I have followed this. I have seen that the director of OPM has mounted an effort to overhaul the site and make it less encumbering.

But I think there needs to be a better PR effort focused on college campuses and in communities. The steps of application need to be improved and streamlined. Follow-up definitely needs to improve. I think there could be, frankly, a great service rendered by a company that does this well, like a Google or maybe a Facebook or a GE, for that matter, in transferring best practices into the federal system so that some commercial behaviors migrate over into the government process. I think it's a great point.

WILLIAM GOUVEIA: Maybe you could broaden your remarks, if you would, Sam, to talk about some of the other structural barriers to entry. Many of us witnessing the response to 9/11 didn't have the entrepreneurial bent or the savvy to go to Duane Reade and con our way into this position.

As we think about the many compelling problems that our generation is facing and will ultimately be responsible for addressing that sort of abound from the newspaper each day, what are some of the ways—and I think structurally this is a great way to pick it up—that we can make some of the on-ramps to federal service or public service a little bit smoother so that people who have talent, such as Liana, isn't stymied by this impersonal door-closed message?

SAM SPEEDIE: I guess it's a question that could be responded to in a couple of different ways. How do we as individuals essentially market ourselves to the maximum extent possible to fight our way in the door? Then, what systemic changes could be made to enable top talent, motivated talent, to essentially get that access?

I think that the private-public partnership model is one that's really going to take flight. It's a fiscal reality, obviously, that government in all jurisdictions is cutting back and facing a deficit climate. The private sector obviously—the incentives are not aligned towards community well-being. But at the same time, I have seen a number of instances in the corporate sector where businesses do get involved, particularly where they have a significant staffing presence, in reaching out and addressing the needs of their communities.

I wish I had the silver-bullet answer to describe how the bureaucracy could be made more malleable. But I would say that, in terms of an interim step, in terms of how to get involved, there are mechanisms, there are nonprofits out there, that I think are uniting corporations with nonprofits and, to an extent, with government agencies at the state and local level to pursue common cause.

An issue in my hometown in northern Virginia is park maintenance, where there is a waterfront park that is very well landscaped and gardened. But there is a lot of reliance on private donations and volunteer drives to clean debris and just provide the basic upkeep, because the operating funds keep getting cut. I know that's more of a mission or an interest-based focus than a career focus, but to me that's going to be a trend that increases in the future, particularly as the economic situation kind of sustains itself, and not in a favorable way.

My name is Marc Jacquand. I'm part-time with the United Nations, and there are similar issues in terms of incentives.

But I would say that beyond those issues of incentives and structures, it seems to me that the core of the problem is also the way we talk about government here in this country.

It is nearly impossible to have a mature conversation about taxes anymore—impossible. You talk about the issue of government not being able to provide services in your community because of no operating funds, because there is no desire to look at taxes, not as an encroachment on my privacy, but as an investment that I am making in my community and in my country. That kind of discourse has completely disappeared. I think it's linked to what you said about the moderate center having disappeared.

But it's beyond the issue of taxes, to the role of government. We are unable to also talk seriously about what government can do, and what it can't do, without getting into slogans and easy answers.

So I think, fundamentally, as citizens, we have to push our politicians for a much more mature conversation about government and where government adds value, also recognizing the fact that government is not this third entity, a leviathan kind of beast out there. Government is you; it's me; it's what we make of it. But I don't see any of those messages right now in our current leadership, on both sides of the aisle, to be frank.

When government is stereotyped as something that is always the wrong answer, you can put in a lot of incentives. But people will look at the private sector, will look at other ways to build a career, because it has just been framed in a manner that, beyond the issues of pay and career advancement, just is not inspiring anymore, because politicians have decided not to make it inspiring.

SAM SPEEDIE: I think it's an eloquent and tremendously valid point. Obviously, there was a lot of excitement in 2008, when we had a president-elect who evoked memories of 50 years earlier with JFK and had that power to call people to common cause. But we have just sort of slipped back.

You're right. I don't know, practically speaking, when the ideals of public service and the responsibilities of government are so much in debate, and it seems there is one party that wants to eradicate government, at least up to a bare minimum point, and another side that—well, getting out of the political optics portion of it, I think it has only been exacerbated by the media. And I think it has only been exacerbated by the rhetoric and the tone.

These are great points. I wish I had a panacea or a silver-bullet answer to point out something that could be done—a tweak here, a modulation there, that could make a fix. But I think change has to happen across—trends such as MoveOn, where we have social media that is being harnessed to bring people of like minds together and is creating action of scale—that, to me, is a way that these things need to evolve.

I'm wondering if you see any pockets within government where there are little sprouts of hope or agencies that you can point out that are doing well in fostering talent, that people can look to, that can serve as an example, either here in the United States, or within one state, or internationally.

SAM SPEEDIE: You're welcome to comment here as well. I don't have a great perspective across government at the federal or state level. But I would think that people who are involved in Teach For America or AmeriCorps, where there is a tangible outreach component to the mission, where you are seeing the results of your work happen on a daily basis—I imagine you get a lot of idealistic, young, committed people who go into that and deal with the inevitable struggles and strains for the sake of what you're accomplishing.

We were just talking about this before the event. It was so unique for both of us, in our various stages, to be involved in government at a startup phase. That excitement—literally building the building around you, not just doing the work on a day-to-day basis—that really was a unique moment, and really added a lot of allure and appeal to the experience. But that's a rarity. Government agencies don't tend to get created out of whole cloth very often.

The Office of Personnel Management, OPM, does an annual study of workplace satisfaction across government agencies. Looking at the broad trends of that, it seems that there are two dynamics that stand out, in my mind. I have taken a casual interest in this survey over the years. One is smaller organizations. This is no great insight here.

Smaller organizations tend to have a higher degree of workforce satisfaction, particularly in terms of whether or not people feel like they are making an impact. The other is how proximate they are to their customer base. I think Teach For America is a great example of that. Some USAID programs—PEPFAR [President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief], things of that nature—the qualitative measures coming out of that are really through the roof, in terms of how easy it is for federal employees to put their hearts into their work each day.

When you look at the other end of the spectrum, at HUD—and I'm not trying to malign any particular organization—it's large, it's somewhat ethereal. People might show up every day thinking, "I'm making my country a better place," but it's a longer explanation to get there.

I don't think that's any different from corporate bureaucracies or things of that nature. But I think it's easier for these smaller organizations within government to be entrepreneurial, just like in the private sector.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I'm David Speedie. I work here at the Council.

A couple of thoughts occur. One is, I had a limited experience of working for a few years in city government. But that has been about it. An interesting thought occurred to me as Sam was speaking, from my background in nonprofit management, specifically in the arts—as the saying goes, in a previous life. That was that the best and brightest, to use the term that was used before, were frequently people who were regarded as builders, people who would really create something and then, when it was done, they would move on. They were not consolidators. They didn't like to go here and then flat-line, as it were.

I wonder—it just occurred to me as you were speaking—whether that speaks to the fact that the best and brightest may never be equipped to go into a bureaucracy, which essentially becomes a sort of self-sustaining thing.

SAM SPEEDIE: Again, it was a timely mention because we were having this exact same conversation. For anyone who is motivated, likes an intellectual challenge, and is high-energy and kind of an adrenaline junkie, it's always more fun to be involved in architecting something and building it, than it is to run it day to day.

"To make sure the trains run on time" is the cliché. That really is the nature of government. Once an agency is in creation, you may have program tweaks and strategic shifts that occur with political administrations, and layers. But for the most part, the agency is involved in the business of doing that mission. It's not like a private company, obviously, where you can be a water utility in one decade and an entertainment conglomerate the next. So that definitely is a mentality point that factors in.

I'm backtracking here, because I'm thinking of poor answers I'm giving to questions as they are occurring to me.

The U.S. Geological Survey and agencies that deal with climate change—I'm reading a book right now about the increasing incidence of big waves, rogue waves, as a symptom of increased storm system intensity. Again, I would imagine the geologists that are employed by USGS [U.S. Geological Survey] and NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], where there is attention and budget being allocated to these sorts of emerging problems—those are exciting areas, both intellectually and administratively, for people who are involved in those day-to-day missions, in the same way, frankly, that security was in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy.

DAVID SPEEDIE: The penny has dropped, Mr. Moderator, on my other thought. It really comes from my neighbor here and his, I thought, excellent comments and perceptions of government and so on.

This morning at the Council we had two speakers, Tom Friedman of The New York Times and Michael Mandelbaum, from the School of International Studies in Washington. They have written a book that really is somewhat pessimistic, but also has sort of a proposed scenario. They talk about something you are very interested in, Sam, the very perilous state of our infrastructure in the country and the need to address issues like this.

One of the things they come up with basically is that perhaps business as usual is not the way that business can be done and that perhaps a third-party approach, getting out of these toxic confines—I think is the word you used—of the way things are done in Washington—are answers deliverable in the current setup?

SAM SPEEDIE: You're asking the question of someone who firmly believes that the public interest should be apolitical, that there are issues on which we have to find common cause. Crumbling bridges and degrading roads and tunnels where tiles fall off—it's just not an acceptable state of affairs.

I don't know whether you need a third party to be set up, with all the bureaucratic and financial encumbrances that that would entail, in order to make that change happen. I'm vexed because I don't know what the trigger point for that is, other than seeing the condition in the example you raise of the quality of the infrastructure. We deal with it every day, those of us who come in and out of New York City. There is only so much in an operating fund capacity to support necessary maintenance and upgrades and renovation. I don't know where the point is that the compelling societal need becomes a political priority.

I don't know if you have a different thought on that or a variation.

I think there is just a very different perspective on government's ability to get stuff done. James Fallows had a great treatment of this question in The Atlantic some months back. I think it is one of our greatest political risks, the losing confidence that we have that government can really address these problems that we're facing. It's really disheartening. I think, Marc, you spoke to that very well.

I guess the question I pose, not just to you, Sam, but to the group, is, thinking back to ten years ago, when limo drivers were giving rides to relief workers for free—it's a very moving example, and certainly touching to many of us, I'm sure—it's often said that crisis is an opportunity. It's easy to kind of point fingers and say we squandered that one, in some respects, in terms of the public-spiritedness and the togetherness that we all felt at that moment. But I also think that's kind of an easy way out, just to point the finger and do Monday morning quarterbacking.

I would like to ask, what are some specific things that could have been done by any party, by any leader differently in the aftermath of that event?

SAM SPEEDIE: My only hesitancy in responding is that one of the things I hate is Monday morning quarterbacking—because I'm very sensitive to the reality that in circumstances where you have imperfect information and you're dealing with emergency or exigent scenarios—you make the best decisions you can with the information you have in your possession.

I was going to say if there had been a more focal effort to harness the outpouring of goodwill, and people wanting to get involved in some way—You remember the stories of people lining up at blood banks to do blood donations, to the point where they were turned away. If there had been a regime of such activities at a grassroots level, where people's energies and passions and grief could have been channeled—but again, you're dealing with an emergency. You are in crisis-management mode. How do you have the time and the forethought to think above and beyond the circumstances that you are dealing with?

I'm trying to think back, with a ten-years-of-hindsight benefit, what those certain areas would have been. I just think we had a unique moment in time when people were prepared to make a sacrifice and were prepared to commit themselves.

It really happened. We talked about Pat Tillman, who was a star football player for the Arizona Cardinals, who walked away from $15 million or $16 million in guaranteed salary to become Special Forces, and subsequently died in a combat deployment. I have personal friends, and I think you do as well, who deliberately changed their career paths after those events.

I wonder whether there needed to be a central push or whether people just felt the calling in their own way to make an adjustment or refocus their lives or refocus their priorities, to get involved in some capacity.

Again, just because I'm one step behind here in terms of reacting, on the infrastructure question, I remember reading a quote by the president where he admitted that he was surprised by what "shovel-ready" really meant as an infrastructure project. That's not to denigrate him at all.

My thinking there is, what if—"CM/GC" is a term, construction manager/general contractor, someone who knows the ins and outs of a construction site from the design schematics to the final product—what if we had that harnessing of expertise in relevant areas to inform political decision makers, build their awareness, and essentially mature ideas before they had funding applied to them?

I just think there are ways in which we could have more effective hardwiring, not for the private sector to commandeer the public sector, but to inform it so that public dollars are better spent, better allocated, leading to less furor and acrimony after the fact.

That's another observation.


MARC JACQUAND: Apologies for taking the floor again.

I think what's interesting is, in the case of an emergency—we saw that with Katrina and we see that around the world, often—you are often going to have that level of generosity and public engagement. I think the challenge is, how do you carry that over to longer term issues that are not as emotionally acute and compelling as 9/11 or Katrina?

I would like to challenge you perhaps on one comment you made about Giuliani being Churchill—

SAM SPEEDIE: Churchillian.

Churchillian, okay. Churchill did offer "blood, sweat, and tears," and that was the problem, in a way. Except for those who, as you mentioned, went to Afghanistan and went to Iraq—regardless of what we think about these wars, these people went there and put their lives at stake. For the rest of us, nothing changed for us—no blood, no sweat, no tears over the last ten years. I got tax cuts. That was great. So, in a way, it was the opposite of that. When we think about carrying that commitment and that sacrifice over to those broader issues that we are faced with in America, we didn't have that. We didn't have that call for sacrifice at all. It was the opposite.

I also do think that when you're talking about the infrastructure, our standards have fallen. If you look at infrastructure in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, they are way ahead of us now. For some reason, we no longer find it unacceptable when our infrastructure is crumbling. We feel that that's the way it is, when, in fact, it's not the way it is in the rest of the world. Even Africa now—certain airports in Africa are phenomenal. They have invested.

I just think we have also a problem of standards here. We have to increase our standards and our expectation of what government can do, because I do think government can do a lot of things. We just don't give government the means, and we also, as I said before, always think that it can do wrong. It certainly does a lot of things wrong, but I just think, going back to the previous issue, we just need to have a more nuanced conversation about this.

Finally, my last point: I do think it is a lot more difficult to ask people to have those conversations and make those sacrifices when you have a budget crisis, high unemployment, and fear. After 9/11, there was a lot of fear.

So I would like to put on the table the idea that, for me, the lost decade was the 1990s, when you didn't have fear, you had budget surpluses, but we were never asked to think about that famous bridge to the 21st century. We never saw it. It was a slogan, but we were never asked to make sacrifices to invest in a number of issues—invest our money, but also invest our thinking. We kind of coasted along. To me, that was a missed opportunity, actually, before 9/11, as well as after 9/11 perhaps. But I also think we missed one in the 1990s, when things were easy, when we could have taken difficult decisions, and we didn't.

I am, as I say, in violent agreement with you on all counts. It really is interesting to push the needle forward and think about the Clinton years, just as a historical term, in terms of when we should have been maybe hoarding our chestnuts a bit and preparing for the proverbial rainy day or at least for crisis.

But the strength of a society is interrelated. On the one hand, of course, it's extended military deployments. It's also interest rates. It's also employment levels. It's also the consumer economy.

When we think about the crises, starting with Enron at the turn of the century, then the dot-com bubble burst, and then obviously getting into the military involvement overseas and the crisis in the credit markets—I wonder, in response to your point, whether it's just been a deadening of the senses by absorbing repeated body blows and dealing with controversial issues and challenging issues seemingly one after the other.

But it's a great point about infrastructure, particularly compared to what we're seeing in evolving world capitals and emerging market economies.

WILLIAM GOUVEIA: Let me think about this notion of deadening of the senses, in that it's just one series of things after another. We live in an environment with the media as you characterize it and the toxic political environment as you characterize it. What do we expect from our public leaders? How is that different from what we expected ten years ago? Could I ask some of you to share your insights on that?

PARTICIPANT: My name is Diana.

It's kind of going a bit on that, too, but also on the infrastructure. I think that the difference, if you travel around the United States and go into areas—less populated areas, I guess—people are concerned about what affects them, and they aren't thinking about these beautiful airports in Africa and the bridges in New York City.

They are thinking about how they are going to feed their families, what they are going to be able to do for work tomorrow. I think their expectations, and perhaps even ours as well, are what affect us in our daily lives. Our interconnectedness, and our awareness of what happens globally and locally, informs our decisions and our expectations differently than what people in other areas might experience.

I'm Jeff Hittner.

From a broader perspective, the deadening-of-the-senses concept, I don't see that when I talk to young people, especially in universities. They have this whole bubbling-up concept of social entrepreneurship, for instance. It's where people want to go because they are kind of fed up with government and they are fed up with business, so they have created a third way.

You have five times the number of people applying for Teach For America than could possibly be enrolled. I really do believe, frustrated by the business as usual both in the public and the private sectors, they are finding new outlets for themselves to not be deadened and not give up. I see that when I teach at NYU and engage with young students all across the country at a university level.

I definitely think there is an infrastructure problem, whether we're talking about the actual infrastructure, our government infrastructure, or our business infrastructure. But when we're talking about the passions and ability for people to create change and want to create change, I actually think it's stronger than ever for the people that are coming up through their teenage years and early 20s.

What we're not providing them—"we" being government or larger private enterprise—is an outlet for it, so they are starting to create it themselves. But it's there. I see it there. I see it there every day.

It's also a question of perception. You said that you didn't hear back from USAID, but I have applied for a hundred jobs in the private sector, and I never hear back from them. That, to me, does not imply that they are bureaucratic, which they actually are. We always have this double standard between government and private enterprise, but I see the same lack of acknowledgment and lack of empowerment of individuals in both sectors.

I see that the budding entrepreneurs of this day and age are the ones that are figuring out that if they create a situation where they can empower people, because that's not happening in government. And it's not happening in big corporations, then they can really get a lot out of the people that engage with them, that work for them.

It's funny. To me, empowering, as we were talking about before, is just about reminding people that what they do makes a difference. I would feel like that's an easy sell when it comes to working in government. But we have to compete, as we were talking about before, with this perception in the media that anyone who works for government or anything that's involved in government has this big negative connotation attached to it. When certain groups were attacking teachers' unions, all of a sudden to be a teacher was to be a horrible thing. So nothing was sacred.

But, ironically, these professions—government, teaching, building a business—all these things are natural kind of aphrodisiacs for empowering us to create change. We just have to get over the hate-filled language that's associated with it at a higher media level. But it's not there if you are looking at Twitter and if you're looking at Facebook, outside of kind of the mainstream.

I see it all the time. I see people really expressing their desire to create change, and they are just figuring out different ways. So they are not working for local government anymore. They are working for organizations like EOBI [phonetic], local community organizations that are sprouting up, or they are creating microfinance groups within the United States, not even outside the United States.

I see this as kind of our third alternative, until we have a third party or until our two parties start talking about double horns at each other.

Maybe that's just how I choose to view all the negativity and frustration, and say that it can't stop people from wanting to create change. It definitely doesn't at a university level. It's just popping up in different places. We just have to have the eyes to figure out where those places are. For me, I'm seeing it pop up through this new concept—you mentioned earlier public-private partnerships—this new concept of a social enterprise, which is a mix between public and private.

WILLIAM GOUVEIA: Can I ask you a follow-up on that? When you speak to aspiring social entrepreneurs, in terms of the funding piece up front, you have diminishing foundation grant sources, corporate donations are falling off, government spending is obviously—how do they face and overcome these sort of daunting circumstances to get their organizations capitalized so they can conduct operations?

JEFF HITTNER: That's an interesting question. That also depends on their age demographic as well. If you are late 20s, early 30s, it's a lot more daunting to start a social enterprise when, say, for instance, you already have a significant other or if you have bills to pay. But if you're in college and you're already racking up $50,000 in debt—to be perfectly honest, in many respects, this is how I see a lot of college entrepreneurs think—what's another couple of thousand, what's another three thousand? I'm going to go live at home afterwards anyway.

Seriously, it's an interesting catch-22. What I see is that there are actually a lot of universities providing grants that are at the $1,000 or $2,000 level, which gets them excited enough to get going. You're right, it's definitely not enough to live off for a year for you and me. But for someone who's like, "Well, I'll just go live at home and work on my dream," they are able to do it a little bit longer. They can find solace in one another. That's what I have seen.

But there are a number of venture capitalist groups that are doing competitions and foundations that are focused on prizes for social entrepreneurs and semiannual and even quarterly challenges for people that present their concepts. So it's growing up.

That was a really long answer to say, in an abbreviated way, money seems to be the least important thing to them at the point in time when they are already again racking up $50,000 a year in debt. So they are all about their dream. Our job, if we are Generation Xers or on the tail end of Generation Y, is to make sure that they don't give up on that dream. If they have that dream and then they go into a position at an organization where suddenly the life gets sucked out of them, then we have to wait for the next generation. If we can connect them, then we don't have to worry about that.

JULIA TAYLOR KENNEDY: I think that was a really interesting point. Just to kind of connect it back to the question that Billy posed about leadership, what I have noticed is that there is a debate over what leadership means in this country.

A lot of what is coming out of the economic development field—we need to look to youth, we need to look to the young people, we need to look to some sort of grassroots sprouting for leadership, and crowdsource, in a way. You hear this from Bill Clinton. We're having William Easterly come to speak soon. He is of the same school of thought.

Then you have people who are looking for strong leadership and criticize President Obama for not being a strong enough leader, for giving more of an FDR-type directive to the country. Then you have people saying our leaders need to get out of our way and get out of our pocketbooks.

I see a lot of the push and pull in the debate over the public sphere really boiling down to this grappling with the definition of leadership and what we want from our leaders and what it means to actually be a good leader. Our society doesn't agree on that anymore. It's an interesting thing to watch happen and very difficult to kind of get over that hump, to move in the same direction, when you can't even decide what style of leadership you want, let alone what direction to go in policy-wise.

I don't have the answer. That's an observation.

JEFF HITTNER: I have a question. Do you think they can't agree or that no one can actually point to a leader? Because that's part of the problem as well.

I'm sure that's part of the problem. But also if you are looking for leadership from the grass roots, there has to be a focal point. You're right, it's difficult to find a focal point. But it's also hard to support someone if you're not sure what qualities you are looking for.

SAM SPEEDIE: It's a hungering for authenticity, I think, as well, particularly at the national level, when the cameras and the bright lights are on, and the microphones are out there. These candidates are petrified to death that they are going to say the wrong thing and get caught by somebody with a phone cam recorder and it's going to wind up going viral on YouTube. It's such an impediment, I think.

Media, in many ways, has so strengthened the discourse by getting messages out there and enabling microcasting, as well as broadcasting. But at the same time, it has just absolutely taken the willingness to take a stand: "This is what I believe. Agree with me or don't agree with me. Vote for me or don't vote for me. This is what I believe."

I like to reference movies. It's kind of how I view the world. The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon. I don't know if many of you saw it. Matt Damon plays a Senate candidate in New York who was in an election after some tabloid photo emerges of him mooning a nightclub audience. At his concession speech, instead of going into the typical bromides of "it's not how hard you fall, it's how well you get back up," he basically goes into this disquisition on the realities of campaign politics, and how his tie and his shoes were essentially pretested with an audience, as to what would go over well. As a result, the fictional character in that film gets quite a bounce and becomes the frontrunner for the next election, because he has allowed one moment of authenticity to shine through.

I think that's a huge problem that we face. When you go to a city council meeting, you see it on full display. There's passion. There's letting your hair down. There's putting your beliefs out there. But everything is so carefully and exquisitely stage-managed at the national level that I think that's a good part of the enthusiasm and the passion drying up. If you can't identify that quality in a leader, or at least see the potential for breaking through the partisan or ideological fictions, then what incentivizes you to dream big on that scale, above and beyond the localized involvement that I think many in this room, if not all, have partaken of?

WILLIAM GOUVEIA: I think there's time for maybe three more comments.

RAYMOND KARAM: Raymond Karam.

If I could just, since we are sitting here, bring ethics into this, the major obstacle that I had in considering working for a government is ethics. If I want to put myself in a position where it's easy to love the country you live in, but you don't always have to agree with the administration, how do you put yourself out there and work for an administration that you don't agree with? Maybe in your case it was a little easier because we faced such a monumental challenge ten years ago. But should I work for State or for any other department if I don't agree with that administration?

Maybe that's why a lot of our generation, the younger generation, is considering working for NGOs [non-governmental organizations], who maybe fit their perspective, or starting their own organization where they don't have that ethical dilemma.

SAM SPEEDIE: I think it's a great point. The reality is that even if you were nonpolitical in your status within a bureaucracy, within the working ranks of government, the fact is that the agenda does derive from the top layer, which is political appointee-based. So you are, quote/unquote, co-opted in that sense.

You're right that in the sense of a reaction to a crisis, whether you work for a FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] that's responding to Hurricane Katrina or a DHS [Department of Homeland Security] that's stood up in response to the events of 9/11, there's a very convenient laying-aside of that bias. In the day-to-day of what you are doing, you have a pretty reasonable degree of confidence that you are acting in the best interest of the common good. But over time it's inevitable that the partisan interest will snake in and essentially take over the determination of strategy.

But it's a very good point. It seems to me like the trend here, going back to the very first question—maybe the solution isn't how I get into the Department of Education, but the question is, how do I find the right public-private partnership or social entrepreneurship startup that has a unique mission focus that I can agree with wholeheartedly and put my passion into, and not have to worry about the ethical dimensions co-opting what you are trying to do out of a sense of civic responsibility or volunteerism?

WILLIAM GOUVEIA: I guess my take on it is that there are certainly large sections of government where the partisan atmospherics don't trickle down. When I joined the Army, I wasn't thinking, oh, I don't want to do this because I didn't vote for the commander-in-chief. I think national security has always been somewhat isolated from that stuff at a working level; many other parts of government, less so.

But it doesn't change the reality of the point you made. It's the perspective of some of those that are on the ground.

PARTICIPANT: Melvin Hunter [phonetic].

Just to really hit the point that we share a very common story. On 9/11, I was working in the private sector and thought I was really happy. Then 9/11 hit, and I said, I need to become of service. So I decided I was going to go work in the not-for-profit sector. I have been there ever since. I get more of a personal fulfillment working with people and trying to build people up, develop them, and see them reach their dreams and aspirations than I ever got working for a multinational organization.

I was down at the Javits Center. It holds more of a personal emphasis to me, because September 12 is my birthday. To be at the Javits Center on my birthday, being of service just brings me great pride in doing so.

I just wanted to say that, but then also to touch on the point of leadership. Without touching different political parties, it just would seem like—and I'm going to reference a movie as well—Excalibur—it would seem that all these so-called leaders today are reaching for the sword and they can't pull it out of the stone. There is no one leader out there. You hit the point with the youth of today. They view themselves and they see themselves as their own leaders. They feel like they have to make it on their own, because the government will not be there to help them.

That's a big plus, but also it creates, I think, a struggle from within. You take these same individuals and they would be great for community service and activism. But they feel that, because there is not that support there, they have to go it alone.

What we need to do, as the Generation Xers or Yers, is try to pull them up and bring them into the fold, to show them that, yes, you can take your same creativity and ideas but apply them here. If we don't do that, we will just end up at the end of the day with a bunch of individuals who may make some difference, but they won't have the same impact that they could have had if they were just nurtured a little bit differently.


Sam, I want to leave you a few minutes for closing insights and observations.

SAM SPEEDIE: If I could, what's the mission focus of your nonprofit? What area do you work in?

The company is Fedcap, and our mission is to employ persons with barriers to employment. We service thousands of individuals here in New York City. We provide them with training and job opportunities. That's what we have been doing for over 75 years.

SAM SPEEDIE: This is ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]?

PARTICIPANT: We get very little funding from the government. Someone touched on how you grow these organizations without that type of funding. What we decided to do was more or less create our own opportunities. We start initiatives. We started one initiative in the South Bronx where we have said, "Okay, we have been centrally located in New York City, but no one has heard of us. Where can we make the greatest impact? Where can we take all of our resources and apply them to make a difference?"

We have several contracts with the government, but we decided, let's reach back into the communities, and let's reach back to the city council level. That's where a lot of things today seem to be getting done. As we try to go out more to the state level, there is a lot of pushback. But we feel that if we reach into the communities, we find opportunity there. So that's what we have been doing, trying to reach into different communities and connect with the people.

SAM SPEEDIE: I applaud that. That's an amazing, driving reason to get up and go to work every morning.

This was really meant to be a conversation, and I'm glad it turned into that. I guess what I'm really struck by—I came in attempting to offer a retrospective on the event from my personal participatory perspective, and then to think about ways in which government could be made more attractive as a vocational option.

But to your point, this may be just a case of shifting venues, taking that impulse and rechanneling it along the lines of what you found in your new profession, where the same impulse, which is just as valid. And the same impact, which is just as meaningful, is realized outside the official corridor—working in conjunction with government, as you say, in conjunction with the corporate sector, when corporations are induced to support these types of causes.

But given all the atmospherics that we have talked about with money, with media, with ethics, with ideology, it's kind of shaping my thinking in a way that maybe has taken me a little bit off the starting point that I had coming in, which is always the sign of a productive exchange—usually.

I think we can all agree that our thinking has been challenged and shaped.

Thanks so much for joining us.

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