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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

October 22, 2004

Public policy program makes big strides in two years

by Dave Gieseke, LAS Public Relations

Talk with Kurt Thurmaier for a few moments and you get the sense that the public policy and administration program is heading in a thousand directions at the same time.

But spend a few more minutes with Thurmaier and you realize that, while there is a lot going on in the master's-level program, he and his faculty know exactly where they are heading.

The first part of that journey has been accomplished. Earlier this year, the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program within the department of political science received accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA).

"This accreditation is the result of many people working for several years to build the quality and infrastructure needed to meet the stringent accreditation of NASPAA," said Thurmaier, the program's director. "We're feeling pretty excited and pleased. We've accomplished a great deal in two years, but this is the accumulation of a lot of hard work and planning by a lot of people over the past decade to get the program to this point."

The program accreditation is for seven years. Iowa State's program is the only NASPAA-accredited program in the state of Iowa.

"The most important goal was for us to gain national accreditation," said Yong Lee, professor of political science and one of six public policy and administration faculty members. "It's the key to the future of the program."

That doesn't mean Thurmaier, Lee and the rest of the program's faculty will sit around basking in the accreditation glow.

New courses and curriculum are being developed in public management. An interdisciplinary minor in public service leadership is being formulated with the Carrie Chapman Catt Center. Program leaders also are exploring a dual-degree major with the Master of Science in information assurance and a graduate certificate program in public management with departments such as civil and construction engineering and higher education leadership. These build on the existing dual-degree program with the master's in community and regional planning.

Kurt Thurmaier, Ardith
Maney, Yu-Che Chen, Yong Lee, Rick Morse and Paul Coates

The six political science faculty members who make up the public administration and policy program (l-r): Kurt Thurmaier, Ardith Maney, Yu-Che Chen, Yong Lee, Rick Morse and Paul Coates. Photo by Dave Gieseke.

The future: e-Government

An emphasis on e-Government is a key component of these discussions. The term refers to the growing use of information and communications technologies to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of government.

"E-Government is the future of government, not only on the national level, but also for local and state governments, and non-profit organizations," Thurmaier said. "Information technology has transformed the way citizens interact with government."

For example, budgets and zoning regulations now are available on government Web sites. Citizens can pay utility bills or sign up for parks and recreation classes through the Internet. Chat rooms, bulletin boards and other public forums on the Internet are beginning to supplement traditional open forums for many governments, Thurmaier said.

"Continuing to develop our e-Government program is one way we can become unique and also help improve the way government works," Thurmaier said.

Program faculty are working on several e-Government projects. For example, assistant professor Yu-Che Chen is converting archived and relatively inaccessible information filed with the Secretary of State into a Web-accessible, e-Government information system. The goal is to encourage collaboration among local government units on public services such as public safety and infrastructure -- roads, parks and bridges. Chen is working with cooperation from the Office of the Secretary of State, Iowa League of Cities, Iowa State Association of Counties, Iowa City/County Managers Association, School Administrators of Iowa and University of Iowa; and funding from the IowAccess Council.

This information system will allow citizens -- via watchdog groups -- local elected officials and local public managers to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of government services by learning about effective interlocal agreements among Iowa's communities, Chen said.

For example, a small community of 800 residents that no longer can afford its own police officer could search the database to find interlocal agreements between sheriffs and small towns. Towns save costs by contracting with the county sheriff for patrol service in their communities.

In addition to providing a new database, the information system will provide a report that discusses why and how an interlocal agreement is effective or not.

With additional funding from the IowAccess Council, Thurmaier and Chen are working with the head of the state's information technology department, John Gillispie, to determine the demand for online government services. The project will survey businesses and citizens to gauge demand for online transactions with state government (such as filing permits, paying fines) and willingness to pay "convenience fees" for online transactions.

Efficiencies at the local level

Faculty in the public policy and administration program aren't limiting themselves to e-Government to improve Iowa government.

For example, first-year assistant professor Rick Morse will facilitate discussions in Boone and Poweshiek counties about potential shared local services, a project funded by the Iowa Innovations Fund.

"Throughout Iowa, there are small communities that are struggling to survive," Morse said. "We want to provide a process in which the communities can get together and explore options for collaboration in the delivery of public services, as well as regional approaches to community and economic development.

"In many cases, collaboration is a win-win situation, but there are some services that a community deems to be essential for its identity," he added.

"These and other projects are ways that the public policy and administration program is trying to help state and local governments become more effective and efficient in the delivery of their services," Thurmaier said.


"E-Government is the future of government, not only on the national level, but also for local and state governments, and non-profit organizations. Information technology has transformed the way citizens interact with government."

Kurt Thurmaier