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Nature of the Work
* Over 8 out of 10 government chief executives and legislators work in local
government, while the rest work primarily in State governments.
* Many jobs at the local and even State level are part time and pay little.
* Few long-term career opportunities are available.
Chief executives and legislators at the Federal, State, and local level direct government activities and pass laws that affect each of us. Chief executives run the governmental bodies that formulate and enforce laws. These officials include the President and Vice President of the United States, State governors and lieutenant governors, county executives, town and township officials, mayors, and city, county, town, township, and special district managers. All except appointed government managers are elected by their constituents. Non-elected managers are hired by a local government council or commission.
Government chief executives, like their counterparts in the private sector, have overall responsibility for the performance of their organizations. Working in conjunction with legislators, they set goals and then organize programs to attain them. They appoint department heads who oversee the work of the civil servants who carry out programs and enforce laws enacted by their legislative bodies. They oversee budgets specifying how government resources will be used, and insure that resources are used properly and programs are carried out as planned.
Chief executives meet with legislators and constituents to discuss proposed programs and determine their level of support. They frequently confer with leaders of other governments to solve mutual problems. Chief executives nominate citizens to boards and commissions, solicit bids from and select contractors to do work for the government, encourage business investment and economic development in their jurisdictions, and seek Federal or State funds. Chief executives of large jurisdictions rely on a staff of aides and assistants, but those in small jurisdictions often must do much of the work themselves.
Legislators are the elected officials who pass or amend laws. They include U.S. Senators and Representatives, State senators and representatives, county legislators, and city and town council members.
Legislators may introduce bills in the legislative body and examine and vote on bills introduced by other legislators. In preparing legislation, they read staff reports and may work with constituents, representatives of interest groups, members of boards and commissions, the chief executive and department heads, and others with an interest in the legislation. They generally must approve budgets and the appointments of department heads and commission members submitted by the chief executive. In some jurisdictions, the legislative body appoints a city, town, or county manager. Many legislators, especially at the State and Federal levels, have a staff to perform research, prepare legislation, and help resolve constituents' problems.
Both chief executives and legislators perform many ceremonial duties such as opening new buildings, making proclamations, welcoming visitors, and leading celebrations.
The working conditions of chief executives and legislators vary with the size and budget of the governmental unit. Time spent at work ranges from meeting once a month for a local council member to 60 or more hours per week for a U.S. Senator. U.S. Senators and Representatives, governors and lieutenant governors, and chief executives and legislators in large local jurisdictions usually work full time year round, as do county and city managers. Many State legislators work full time while legislatures are in session (usually for 2 to 6 months a year), and part time the rest of the year. Local elected officials in many jurisdictions work a schedule that is officially designated part time, but actually is the equivalent of a full-time schedule when unpaid duties are taken into account. In addition to their regular schedules, chief executives are on call at all hours to handle emergencies.
Some jobs require occasional out-of-town travel, but others involve long periods away from home to attend sessions of the legislature.
Chief executives and legislators held about 93,000 jobs in 1996. About 8 out of 10 worked in local government, while the rest worked primarily in State governments. Chief executives and legislators in the Federal Government include the 535 Senators and Representatives and the President and Vice President. State governors, legislators and other managers, as well as executives, managers, and council members for local governments made up the remainder.
Chief executives and legislators who do not hold full-time, year-round positions often work in a second occupation as well. This is commonly the one they held before being elected.
Voters seek to elect the individual believed to be most qualified from among a number of candidates who meet the minimum age, residency, and citizenship requirements. Successful candidates usually have a strong record of accomplishment in paid and unpaid work in their district. Some have business, teaching, or legal experience, but others come from a wide variety of occupations. In addition, many have experience as members of boards or commissions. Some candidates become well-known for their work with charities, political action groups, political campaigns, or with religious, fraternal, and social organizations.
Management-level work experience and public service help develop the planning, organizing, negotiating, motivating, fundraising, budgeting, public speaking, and problem-solving skills needed to run an effective political campaign. Candidates must make decisions quickly, sometimes on the basis of limited or contradictory information. They must inspire and motivate their constituents and their staff. They should appear sincere and candid, presenting their views thoughtfully and convincingly. Additionally, they must know how to hammer out compromises and satisfy the demands of constituents. National and Statewide campaigns require massive amounts of energy and stamina, as well as superior fund raising skills.
Town, city, and county managers are generally hired by a council or commission. Managers come from a variety of educational backgrounds. A master's degree in public administration, including courses such as public financial management and legal issues in public administration, is widely recommended. Virtually all town, city, and county managers have at least a bachelor's degree and the majority hold a master's degree. Working in management support positions in government is a prime source of the experience and personal contacts required in eventually securing a manager position.
Generally, a town, city, or county manager in a smaller jurisdiction is required to have expertise in a wide variety of areas. Those who work for larger jurisdictions specialize in financial, administrative, and personnel matters. For all managers, communication skills and the ability to get along with others are essential.
Advancement opportunities for elected public officials are not clearly defined. Because elected positions normally require a period of residency and local public support is critical, officials can usually advance to other offices only in the jurisdictions where they live. For example, council members may run for mayor or for a position in the State government, and State legislators may run for governor or for Congress. Many officials are not politically ambitious, however, and do not seek advancement. Others lose their bids for reelection or voluntarily leave the occupation. A lifetime career as a government chief executive or legislator is rare except for those who reach the national level.
Town, city, and county managers have a better defined career path. They generally obtain a master's degree in public administration, then gain experience as management analysts or assistants in government departments working for committees, councils or chief executives. They learn about planning, budgeting, civil engineering, and other aspects of running a government. With sufficient experience, they may be hired to manage a small government and often move on to manage progressively larger governments over time.
Little, if any, growthis expected in the number of State or Federal Government chief executives and legislators through the year 2006. Few new governments at any level are likely to form, and the number of chief executives and legislators in existing governments rarely changes. Some increase will occur at the local level as counties, cities, and towns take on new responsibilities. New positions will develop as cities and counties turn to professional management to deal with growth, Federal regulations, and long-range planning, and volunteer positions are converted to paid positions.
Elections give newcomers the chance to unseat incumbents or to fill vacated positions. In many elections, there is substantial competition, although the level of competition varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from year to year. Generally, there is less competition in small jurisdictions, which have part-time positions offering relatively low salaries and little or no staff to help with routine work, than in large jurisdictions, which have full-time positions offering higher salaries, more staff, and greater status.
Earnings of public administrators vary widely, depending on the size of the government unit and on whether the job is part time, full time and year round, or full time for only a few months a year. Salaries range from little or nothing for a small town council member to $200,000 a year for the President of the United States.
According to the International City/County Management Association, the average annual salary of chief elected county officials in 1996 was $25,600, while chief elected city officials was about $12,200. ICMA data indicate that the average salary for city managers was about $70,600 in 1996, while that of county managers was about $86,700.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the salary for legislators in the 40 States that paid an annual salary ranged from about $10,000 to $47,000 per year. In 6 States, legislators received a daily salary plus an allowance for expenses while legislatures were in session. Two States paid no expenses and only nominal daily salaries, while 2 States paid no salary at all but did pay a daily expense allowance. Salaries and the expense allowance were generally higher in the larger States.
Data from Book of the States, 1996-97 indicate that gubernatorial annual salaries ranged from $60,000 in Arkansas to $130,000 in New York. In addition to a salary, most governors received perquisites such as transportation and an official residence.
In 1997, U.S. Senators and Representatives earned $133,600, the Senate and House Majority and Minority leaders $148,400, and the Vice President $171,500.
Related occupations include managerial positions that require a broad range of skills in addition to administrative expertise, such as corporate chief executives and board members, and high ranking officers in the military.
Information on appointed officials in local government can be obtained from:
International City/County Management Association, 777 North Capitol St. NE., Suite 500, Washington, DC 20002.
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