Arthur Webb recently published a book titled, Honorable Profession: My Years in Public Service. Mr. Webb prepared responses to questions that colleagues and interested readers have asked him about the book. Mr. Webb’s previous book was published in January 2022 titled, Dangling on a String: The Future of Public Policy for the Field of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in New York. This was also featured in Autism Spectrum News in 2022.
Why did you write this book?
There are two reasons for writing this book: one is that I wanted to counteract all the negative and hostile rhetoric directed towards public servants; and two, I wanted to provide an insider’s view of what it takes to manage in government.
Why do you say that public service is an honorable profession?
I was inspired as a young person by President Kennedy when he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Our country is a young country and still trying to make democracy work for everyone. I entered into public services to strengthen the essential role of government, to shape its responsibilities and to ensure public dollars and resources were used in effective ways. I responded to the call.
Why do you use the term public servant?
First of all, the use of the term “public servant” is a more positive way of thinking about government employees. While bureaucrat and technocrat are often used but they sometimes carry a negative connotation. To “serve first” was instilled in me early when I was active in a national youth movement as a teenager. When I use the term public servant in this book, it embraces these deep emotions to serve first – be a servant.
What were your responsibilities over your 18 years in state service?
The book captures the lessons learned over 18 years as a public servant serving in six government agencies, four of which I headed. These agencies were diverse including state corrections, social services, health planning, substance abuse treatment and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Governor Mario Cuomo once referred to me in positive terms in a radio interview that I was a “utility player.” I interpreted this to mean that I could be called upon to undertake any position of responsibility.