September 7, 2021

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from an article that first appeared on the website of BMNT's nonprofit partner, The Common Mission Project (CMP). The piece is part of a larger Task Force Report by the CMP Board of Advisors. Click here for the full article and to read the rest of the Task Force Report.

In June of 2013, Edward Snowden leaked information about NSA programs that abruptly -- and severely -- broke Americans’ trust in their government. Two years later, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that only six percent of Americans felt “very confident” in government agencies — on par with Americans’ trust in credit card companies.

Unsurprisingly, this also affected the rate at which generations of high school and college graduates viewed public service as an option. Graduates entering federal jobs between 2001 and 2017 saw a 75% drop.

There’s worse news. The distrust spurred by the Snowden leak was only the fuel to a fire that was already burning. In earlier decades, following the United States’ triumphant and moral role in the two World Wars, many young citizens viewed the military as a respected (and almost de facto) option for public service. In more recent years, highly contentious wars like Vietnam and high-casualty, drawn out skirmishes in the Middle East yielded a scarring disenchantment with the idea of military service. A 2021 Reagan National Defense Survey showed that only 56% of our citizens have trust in the military, with the highest rate of distrust among those under thirty. In other words, the promising leaders of tomorrow want nothing to do with us.

Blanketing all of these detractors is the fact that government agencies’ recruitment models have remained relatively unchanged. And as promising innovators graduate college and move on to the private sector, we will continue to see a troubling pattern: a siloed approach to problem-solving, in which the government loses the best minds to the private sector and academia — all of which are duplicating efforts to solve the same problems in their own vacuums.

What does this mean for the future of our government, and the Department of Defense, in particular? It means that we will continue to lose the best and the brightest, particularly to the technology behemoths who are building power that the government struggles to regulate. It means we will be slower to solve time-sensitive problems that affect not only our nation, but the world. It means the public view of government agencies will continue to decline, and innovation will be increasingly difficult to bring to fruition, allowing us to fall behind rival nations whose militaries will soon outpace and outsize our own.

These problems are both systemic and overwhelming, which is why it is so imperative that we make changes now in how we introduce the concept of public service to the next generation. And we must do so in a way that excites them. If we want to attract the best minds to public service, it’s time to meet the next generation where they are.

Read the rest of the article here.