When public servants can’t answer their calling

 

The past two weeks have made me ask myself two fundamental questions: What does public service really mean, and what is my responsibility when I am told I cannot serve?

I am a public servant in my heart and in my career. I have devoted 20 years to serving people who are homeless — starting as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in the early 1990s and now as director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s office on homelessness. I live and breathe this work, and HUD’s incredible staff and partners have made a positive difference in the lives of people who experience what most of us cannot imagine: having no safe place to call home.

The federal government shutdown is wreaking havoc on me, my staff, our grantees and the people we help. I don’t sleep because I worry about the single moms on my staff, the grantees who cannot access funds to pay staff and rent, and the homeless people who may be going without services. I worry about the delays in funding and the backlog of important work that builds each day the shutdown continues. I worry about the pressure all of us will face when we are finally allowed to return to work.

In a year in which we have had to implement painful cuts to programs that assist the nation’s most vulnerable, this shutdown is a further affront to public servants who take their jobs and missions seriously, as well as to those Americans who rely on us and our government.

Progress on our mission — which is to end homelessness — has already, undeniably, been compromised. So has the work of the public servants who protect the environment, monitor food safety, run our national parks, conduct lifesaving clinical drug trials, provide IRS taxpayer services, process government-backed mortgages for low- and moderate-income home buyers and so much more.

To me, being a public servant means I pursue my mission with fierce determination, a strong work ethic and with the big picture in mind, even as I deal with the minutiae of the federal bureaucracy. It means being a leader to my team and to service providers across the country, even when the situation is difficult. It means making decisions that are in the best interests of everyone touched by our programs. I am not always right, but I try hard to do all of these things with integrity and transparency.

Working for our government is not just a job. It is a calling. Public service is filled with individuals like those I work with at HUD, who are devoted to helping people, making the country stronger and making our world a safer and better place to live.

So, the answer to the questions I asked is this: My responsibility as a public servant is to inform our political leaders about the impact their actions have on the people of this country and on those who serve them. It also is my responsibility to remind them that they, like me, are public servants.

Please act like it.

Ann Marie Oliva is director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs.

Special to The Washington Post.

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • French food on a slippery slope

    Before my first visit to France, around 45 years ago, I was told that you couldn’t find bad food there if you tried. I was of limited experience, so even a hot dog jammed into a baguette bore witness to that “fact.”

  • Even when the VA does act, it still fails our veterans

    Jymm’s preferred attire is a skin-tight Minnie Mouse T-shirt with bright pink windbreaker pants. Even when not sporting his outfit of choice, he dons short shorts and shirts with holes in them, because that’s what he finds most comfortable. His Santa Monica apartment was furnished with broken chairs and tables he dug out of dumpsters. He held onto his favorite old drinking glass long after it broke. Jymm is a Vietnam veteran (who holds two Purple Hearts), and he’s definitely a character. But he’s never hurt himself or anyone else.

  • Blue-state disgrace

    Immigration is a complex problem. So is the long-term question of how the United States should handle the influx of tens of thousands of children from Central America. Beyond the legal mandates, we owe them basic human decency. On the other hand, to say that they should all simply stay here for good begs big questions about encouraging more children to make this journey, and the rights of all the people abroad who are waiting their turn in line. Unless you believe in open borders, it’s all thorny. What seems right for an individual child can seem wrong systemwide.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category