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Luring Top Talent to Public Service

Luring Top Talent to Public Service


Joe Davidson | The Washington Post via YellowBrix

November 17, 2009

If President Obama’s plan to attract lots of bright people to work for the feds by making “government cool again” doesn’t quite do the trick, money might.

Congress is considering legislation to create a program that makes such good sense, you might wonder why no one thought of it before. The Roosevelt Scholars program would draw young people to key positions in the federal service with the promise of paying their college expenses.

What the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) does for the military, the scholars program would do for the civilian ranks. At least that’s the idea.

Here’s how it would work:

A student would be nominated by someone with knowledge of the candidate’s academic experiences. A nonprofit foundation created by the legislation would conduct the selection process. Those chosen would win a scholarship that would cover full tuition and a stipend for living expenses and books. The amount of the scholarship would vary depending on the school attended, but the maximum annual award would not exceed $60,000.

That’s no small change, even given the high cost of higher education these days.

Such a generous allowance means the scholarships would be in great demand. But the supply promises to be very small: In the first year, about 50 scholarships would be awarded.

Under the legislation, Congress would authorize $10 million to establish an endowment that would generate its own interest income, perhaps allowing more students to become Roosevelt Scholars.

“Too often, agencies lack the most important resource in getting the job done — the right people with the right skills. The Roosevelt Scholars Act would provide the Federal government with another tool to use in competing with the private sector for the next generation of top-flight talent,” said a statement from Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) plans to introduce legislation Tuesday that would establish the program.

This month, university presidents, former government officials and others endorsed the program in a letter to the senators, saying it would “attract top students from our nation’s leading universities to solve some of the most difficult challenges facing America and the world today.”

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