Herbert S. Fain, Public Works Deputy Director (retired), City of Houston, Texas, and APWA Diversity Committee Chair
Claire L. Felbinger, Senior Program Officer, Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C.
The establishment of the Department of Homeland Security was the first major reorganization of the federal government since the 1940s. It combines the security forces of heretofore separate federal agencies under an umbrella organization designed to integrate and coordinate response to internal security threats and terrorism. Judith Mueller, Public Works Director for the City of Charlottesville, Virginia and former APWA President, was appointed to the President's Homeland Security Council and its Senior Advisory Committee on Emergency Services, Law Enforcement, Public Health and Hospitals (see February 2003 APWA Reporter, page 3, for additional details on her appointment—Ed.).
Mueller's appointment acknowledges the role of public works as a First Responder to terrorist threats. APWA was involved in the earliest stages of the development of the Department by forcefully articulating the breadth of local public works services and the necessity to see that local government interests were represented with a seat at the policy-making table.
Mueller is one of three females on the 14-member committee. She credits her 17-year involvement with APWA as the stepping stone to this appointment. It was in APWA that she was afforded the opportunity to meet local government officials from all over the country and, increasingly, all over the world. Through her committee work she developed leadership skills that she would not otherwise have had just by virtue of her college education.
When asked how young public works professionals might emulate her professional development and accomplishments, Mueller indicated that volunteering for the not-so-glamorous committee work and following through with on-time completion of those tasks is a first step. Over time, she stressed, peers will know they can count on you and you will be relied upon to perform even more important tasks and develop leadership qualities along the way.
As Mueller indicated, being active in APWA allows you to interact with a more diverse set of members outside of your own community. This establishes a broader view of practice and policy in public works.
Mueller is concerned that the profession has not done enough specifically to ensure succession planning. Very valuable expertise walks right out the door with retirements. She says that APWA should face the concerns over succession planning and talk about it. Only then will there be a concerted, proactive transmission of that expertise to younger professionals. She advocates that we challenge younger professionals, realizing that the new generation is technologically sophisticated and eager to learn new things.
So, how does a young professional jump-start a professional career? Mueller offers these suggestions: Get active in the local APWA Chapter—many current national APWA leaders developed their skills and networks at the chapter level; attend local continuing education workshops as well as the APWA Congress; and stay connected through InfoNOW and the APWA Reporter. The key to growing the future of the profession is providing vehicles for our younger colleagues to learn, execute, and lead.
Herbert S. Fain can be reached at email@example.com; Claire L. Felbinger can be reached at CFelbinger@nas.edu.