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What It Means to be a True Public Servant

I have struggled with this column the past few months. Part of that comes from the demands of my day job, trying to keep my small company successful in today’s economy.

James Sloan-the Gold Standard for Public Servants
James Sloan-the Gold Standard for Public Servants

But, the balance of my distraction comes from my discomfort in trying to be relevant in the era of Facebook and Twitter and tweeting and blogging.

I think I preferred the less formidable presentation of news by the traditional media that I came to age with. In any case, recent events have jarred me to express my dismay at how attitudes have changed in my lifetime about many things, but, none more so than what it means to be a public servant.

In recent weeks, we have witnessed the quirky behaviors of two Governors, Sarah Palin’s whimsical resignation of her office in Alaska, and Mark Sanford’s explanations for his international leave-of-absence from his duties in South Carolina.

Both luminaries, much in the news, purport to be public servants, a description whose definition, I believe, has drifted considerably from its original historical moorings. My understanding of a public servant is close to that which describes the ancient Roman office of tribune, a person who upholds or defends the rights of others.

I know a real tribune who recently died on June 24 after a long struggle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). James F. Sloan was a friend; a fellow retired U.S. Secret Service executive and veteran Army officer. He was also in his time the Director of the Department of the Treasury’s FINCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) , and most recently until this past February, the Assistant Commandant of the Coast Guard for Intelligence and Criminal Investigation.

Jim’s whole adult life was a testament to the true definition of public service. Public service, especially in federal law enforcement – is a vocation.

The men and women who devote their lives to this high calling every day, as true tribunes of the people- do so in the face of corrosive self absorption and promotion that all too often defines public service today.

James F. Sloan was the gold standard for duty well-performed, honor in all things, and country above the self which was the officer’s code, he learned at the outset of his federal career, and which he lived his life fulfilling.

When one contrasts his dedication and purposeful life with the shallow traces of what the cult of celebrity serves up today as exemplars of public service, we realize the true loss of this fine man and deeply appreciate those who are like him.

(Jim Huse is the CEO of IntegriGuard, LLC, a program integrity, payment accuracy company in Omaha, NE. You can learn more about him and his company at www.integriguard.org).


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