What makes our economic times interesting in terms of government is the type of leadership we get from appointed government officials. Nothing about appointing someone to head a large and important agency is easy. Simply take a look at how choppy the water has been for the new president when choosing cabinet members.
Herbert Stupp was the commissioner for the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) for eight years under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Stupp is the Chief Executive Officer at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York. Little Flower became a voice for abused and neglected children in 1929, when it was formed through St. Peter Claver Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Most of the children and the clergy then were African American. Little Flower is a quite diverse organization today, helping children all over New York. Little Flower has its roots in the Catholic tradition, but serves children from all backgrounds.
At DFTA, Stupp was in charge of a budget that lingered around $250 million. Today, he heads an organization that has a budget of around $50 million dollars and serves around 2,000 children and families. I get email from students majoring in public administration about this field as a career. Stupp’s journey is one of success, so it’s a good place to start when talking about public management.
The government employee, or public administrator, has – by definition- changed. The city gets a better employee today because there are people that actually study public administration beforehand. Generations ago, a man came back from military service, and if he found no other work, there was work with the government (often the post office was a good place for veterans to find work). It was a good way to reward veterans. Later, the government employee was often a person that just did not find work elsewhere and agencies were kept afloat out of political patronage. Because of this, the quality of service became that of the infamous Department of Motor Vehicles (which has since gotten much better).
What has changed? Well, it started with Stupp’s generation and continues today. People are going into public service, instead of falling into it. So their passion and energy are making for a better government. Managing in government is every bit as valuable as managing in the private sector. And we do not need to be reminded that the private sector does not always get things right.
Because these economic times are so pressing for us, I thought I would reach Stupp in order to better understand the differences in pressures faced by public administrators when they go from government to nonprofit organizations. The pressures are different, according to Stupp. “In a government agency, there is less risk of the agency itself going away,” explains Stupp. “With a nonprofit organization, it can fold if it cannot support itself. Many organizations have gone under recently, not us…but many others have.”
On the other hand, Stupp explains that his work at Little Flower is less tied to external, political worries. Commissioners of government agencies can be asked to leave for things for which they have no control. That is less likely in a non profit position.
Stupp’s work at the Department for the Aging is well remembered by former staff at the agency. When overhearing some folks that used to work at the agency talking about some of the scandals that the agency endured in the past, I asked if any of it was on Stupp’s watch. “Oh no…no way,” was the answer I got. Stupp’s eight years were considered successful and Mayor Giuliani would later write “I don’t think the DFTA has ever been better run, and I don’t think there’s ever been a time in which the senior citizens of this City feel the commitment of the City more than they do now.”
Organizations such as Little Flower and New York Families for Autistic Children have taken a big hit in recent years because much of the money that they hope to get by way of donations has slowed. What this creates is a need for expert leadership to pilot them through these tough times.