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New center for government professionals promotes interagency thinking

  • Center of attention:
    Center of attention:  Tyler Hall, which houses the public policy, government, economics and international relations departments, will also be the home base for the new Whole of Government Center of Excellence.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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William & Mary has a history of producing top leaders in federal, state and military agencies —Bob Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98 and Ellen Stofan ’83, to name a couple — and a new track within the Master of Public Policy Program aims to build upon that legacy. 

Beginning in the fall of 2017, the Whole of Government Center of Excellence (a track within the Master of Public Policy Program) will provide mid-career civilian and military professionals with an interdisciplinary curriculum designed to train them to think holistically when addressing interagency challenges facing national security. 

“‘Whole of government’ is a term that basically focuses on the idea that problems of national and international importance — such as cyber security, terrorism, climate change, refugees and homelessness — are typically not taken care of by just one particular segment of government,” said Sarah Stafford, professor of economics and director of the W&M Public Policy Program. “They’re often going to cross different agencies within the government as well as different levels of government. So the idea is to train people who are going to be working on policy issues to understand how different agencies operate and how they can work together to provide better solutions.”

The idea for the center came to fruition when Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs John Harvey approached the university with a proposal suggesting W&M would be the ideal location for such a program serving civilian and military professionals.

“William & Mary has a well-earned reputation as a military-friendly university, with deep experience in partnering with military facilities in our region and beyond,” said Steve Hanson, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center for International Studies. “In a way, we’ve been training global leaders since our founding in 1693 as an overseas campus sponsored by King William and Queen Mary in the United Kingdom; today, William & Mary alumni serve at high levels in every major agency in the U.S. federal government. And our location, so close to key installations from every branch of the military, and not far from Washington D.C., is ideally suited to build a Center of Excellence of this type.”

In 2016, W&M received a state-funded grant to carry out a feasibility study around the center under the leadership of Kathryn Floyd ’05, adjunct faculty in government and project director for the study. Floyd, Hanson and Kevin Felix of the Roosevelt Group, a government relations consulting agency, conducted approximately 100 interviews in three phases with military and civilian professionals, as well as university leaders such as Gates and President Taylor Reveley.

“The results were incredibly encouraging,” Floyd said. “Everyone was in sync in their response — they all felt there was a need for a program like this and that William & Mary was the right home for it.”

In addition to W&M’s proximity to multiple military bases, the university was especially suited to the Whole of Government Center because of its size — a sweet spot, Stafford said, between a university that’s small enough that it’s easy to work interdepartmentally but large enough to have a long roster of talented and well-respected faculty. This gives the Master of Public Policy (MPP) Program the resources to move forward with the Whole of Government Center of Excellence at an accelerated rate — with the first cohort of fellows arriving on campus in the fall.

“The MPP program has joint degrees with all of the other schools — Arts & Sciences, law, business, and education — so we know how to cut across barriers really well,” said Stafford. “We have a lot of experience with crafting ways for students to get this multi-perspective, interdisciplinary graduate education.”

Existing courses within the public policy, government, law, business and international relations programs will provide the foundation for the curriculum, with new tabletop or simulation exercises introduced later on. These exercises will provide professionals from diverse areas of government with practice collaborating with one another to provide solutions to real-world challenges. In addition to coursework, fellows will be encouraged to participate in internship and research projects that support “whole of government” thinking.

“We need to train a new generation of future leaders who have hands-on, practical experience working across the different organizational cultures that must be harmonized in order to facilitate true interagency collaboration — long before finding themselves forced to deal with such issues during a foreign deployment or national emergency,” said Hanson.

The center is currently in the process of recruiting its first cohort from various federal, state and local military and government agencies (though anyone is welcome to apply). The admissions deadline for the fall 2017 semester is March 1