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This book is written as a text for graduate students in Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy programs and for upper level undergraduate students. Whether the course is called an introduction to public service/public administration/ public management/public policy/or public affairs, the content is tailored to the sensitivities and knowledge that public service professionals need.

Essentials of Public Service is written for the twenty-first century, employing a governance lens in which the term “public sector” embraces government, public service-minded nonprofits, social enterprises, and for-profit entities that partner with government to provide goods and services. Our purpose is to illuminate the work wherever it occurs in: local, state, or federal government, regional compacts or special districts, nonprofits, partnerships between government and business, and international linkages. In this intersectoral setting, the democratic imperative requires attention to constitutional values, citizen engagement, skilled management, integrity, transparency, and a collaborative state of mind.


Ever mindful of the global context, content is sensitive to the fact that practices must be responsive to each nation’s traditions and political culture. The book focuses primarily on the U.S. context, which employs a complex governance model that relies on government to set the rules that let markets thrive, relies on nonprofits to unite common interests, and depends on business to create wealth and to deliver services that are necessary but for which government need not provide by itself. It is a system that relies on collaboration between the three sectors of the economy and blends the strengths of each.

The fabric of public service is threaded together by democratic values of equality and equity, paired with a management emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness. This text explains how these values and goals are blended and balanced in the pursuit of public purposes from street-level services to top-level administration. Starting with an overview of constitutional tenets that paint the “lines on the road,” chapters explore the role of federal, state, and local governments as they collaborate with citizens, nonprofits, and business; in order to set policy, design and manage programs, deliver services, and evaluate outcomes.


The profession of public service contains a panorama of career opportunities with a variety of venues in which the work takes place. Cases throughout the chapters reflect the variety of settings and jobs, the diversity of the workforce, and the breadth of public service pursuits. 

About one-third of students who enroll in public administration programs are more interested in working in nonprofits than in government and wonder why they should study government. But the nonprofits that hire them are extraordinarily likely to depend on government grants and contracts to fund their operations. This blend is detailed so that students complete the course with a rich understanding of the collaboration that marks the relationship between government, nonprofits, and public/private partnerships. Regardless of their career objectives, our goal is for students to find a place for themselves in this variegated tapestry we call “public service.”

The book embraces the circle that public service is: from citizen input to policy formulation to program creation and management to service delivery to evaluation and back to input. Collaboration and citizen engagement are emphasized, as is the role of social media and rapid information flow. A chapter on contracting is included, for most everyone working in public service must now be adept at issuing requests for proposals (RFPs), or responding to RFPs to land contracts, monitoring compliance, or evaluating performance. A chapter on transparency is included because the openness within which public actors operate makes government significantly different from business. A chapter on performance measurement is included because outcomes matter. In other words, each step of this dynamic process is covered.