The Power of Public Service in Massachusetts

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Huey and I entered Massachusetts and prepared to visit Boston. Because maneuvering an RV through the narrow and winding streets of Boston was not something I wanted to do, I left Huey and the RV in the parking lot of a T station while I ventured into the heart of the city by myself.

My first stop was a meeting with the Executive Director of the Greater Boston Federal Executive Board (GBFEB), Kim Ainsworth Klaskin. I met Ms. Ainsworth Klaskin on the 11th floor of the Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Federal Building in Boston. The building, which is administered by the General Services Administration (GSA), boasts a view of the city from the top floor and houses a chunk of federal offices. Ainsworth Klaskin has been running the Boston FEB for two decades after getting her start in federal government through the Presidential Management Fellows Program.

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A dedication plaque in the lobby of the O'Neill building.

The Federal Executive Board network was created in 1961 following a directive by President John F. Kennedy to foster better coordination, collaboration, and communication across field offices outside of D.C. The FEB network currently operates under the purview of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). As a majority of federal employees work outside of Washington, D.C., FEBs play an important role in disseminating information and coordinating government-wide initiatives.

Ainsworth Klaskin explained the role of FEBs in general and the unique aspects of the GBFEB. The senior-most person of each agency component in the region is a member of the GBFEB, about 230 members in all. Having an FEB allows agencies to coordinate on matters (such as locality pay) that affect all federal employees in the region. Additionally, the FEB ensures that agencies are on the same page when it comes to implementing directives from the White House and handling regional emergencies.

The GBFEB, for instance, handles more snow-related difficulties than regions with more temperate climates. Additionally, many of the agencies in the GBFEB have a maritime focus due to the large section of coastline in New England. Ainsworth Klaskin suggested many federal locations to visit in the region. I greatly appreciated her perspective.

I returned to Huey, who was sleeping soundly in the RV when I came back. Evidently, he had been more than refreshed by his nap, as he took the first possible opening to jump out of the RV and sprint across the full parking lot. I think he thinks his escapes are a game. He kept letting me almost catch up to him before wagging his tail, looking coyly over his shoulder, and taking off again. After a brief chase, I was able to snag him when he stopped to receive pats from a passing biker. Of the four states we have visited so far, Huey has escaped in three, which I see as a losing record for me.

Unfortunately, our dramas were not over for the day. After maneuvering our way out of the parking lot and getting back on the highway, our engine began to overheat. Warning lights flashed on the dashboard, the engine made clunking noises, and steam emanated from under the hood. I immediately pulled off the highway into a gas station and waited for the engine to cool down. When it did so, I refilled my oil and engine coolant, crossing my fingers that there was no bigger issue. The engine did restart, but something was clearly amiss. As I had reached the limits of my automotive problem-solving skills, I called AAA and waited for a tow truck.

We eventually made it to a repair shop and discovered that the RV needed new belts—a relatively minor repair in the grand scheme of possible damage. With that, we were back on the road!

We spent some time visiting friends in Dover, Massachusetts, a small town southwest of Boston. On one particularly beautiful afternoon, we went for a kayak on the Charles River, which wends its way through Dover on its way to Boston and the Atlantic Ocean. On our meandering paddle, we saw many turtles sunning themselves on logs in addition to a few ducks and one heron. I did not take too many pictures on the river due to my fear of dropping my camera overboard.

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Fall foliage on the Charles River in Dover, Massachusetts.

That we were able to enjoy such a clean and peaceful paddle can be attributed in part to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Beginning in 1995, the EPA spearheaded the Charles River Initiative to make the river fishable and swimmable. The overall water quality of the river has drastically improved since the initiative began.

After our lovely sojourn in the suburbs, Huey and I headed back into Boston to visit our next big federal destination: the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on Columbia Point. The library and museum is administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). About two-thirds of the 30 or so staff are federal employees, while the remainder are funded by the John F. Kennedy Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the library and museum.

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Huey approaches the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on Columbia Point.

I was given a warm welcome in the building’s lobby by Ian Shepherd, the Visitor Operations Manager. The tenor of the museum is exemplified by the stickers given to visitors to mark their admission, which show the moon emblazoned with the text “WE CHOOSE TO GO”. I attended a Highlights Tour of the permanent exhibits in the museum. The tour included several films in addition to a walkthrough of JFK’s early life, campaign, and presidency. The exhibits on his presidency are housed in a section of the building meant to mimic the interior of the White House.

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A replica of the Resolute Desk, which was first placed in the Oval Office by Jackie Kennedy.

After the tour, I was able to sit down with Jamie Roth, Deputy Director of the library and museum; Nina Tisch, Education Specialist; and Mr. Shepherd. Both Mr. Roth and Ms. Tisch have been working at the library and museum for 18 years, while Shepherd has been there for 9 years. All three spoke with pride of the work they accomplish.

Tisch works with high school and college students and provides them with unique ways to learn about history and civics. She described one program that allows students to create discretionary spending budgets—certainly no small task!

Shepherd underscored that each day on the job provides new and interesting challenges. The museum hosts around 200,000 visitors each year and provides brochures in 12 languages. Roth highlighted the special programming that takes place at the library and museum, including guest speakers and naturalization ceremonies. They all agreed that seeing people engage with the materials housed in the building was gratifying and inspiring.

The staff I interviewed had trouble picking a favorite artifact, which is understandable given the breadth of the collection. From items steeped in lore, such as the coconut that JFK carved a rescue message on during World War II, to more quotidian objects, such as pencils with JFK’s teeth marks on the ends, the museum displays a diversity of historically and personally significant artifacts. Seeing JFK’s scribbled notes on the text of a speech or letters he wrote to his family, things he actually touched, help humanize the legend. At the same time, memorabilia from his campaign and pieces from the space race memorialize his greater impact on the country and the world.

As an avid garden-gnome enthusiast, my favorite artifact in the museum may have been a set of JFK and Soviet Premier Khrushchev garden gnomes on display in the special exhibit celebrating JFK’s 100th birthday with 100 artifacts from his life. The gnomes were part of a set presented as a gift to JFK by a West German citizen during the Cold War.

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The Kennedy and Khrushchev gnomes.

JFK’s dedication to public service permeated the building. At the end of the Highlights Tour, our tour guide encouraged us to embody JFK’s spirit of service as we returned to our communities. The staff clearly enjoy working together and fulfilling the mission of the museum to share JFK’s life and legacy with visitors, especially taking pride in his commitment to public service. I left with a positive outlook on public service and a greater appreciation for JFK’s contributions to the federal government.

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I.M. Pei designed the building with an unfinished-looking section to reflect the unfinished legacy of JFK.

To top off our exploration of Massachusetts, Huey and I headed out to the Cape Cod National Seashore, which is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. We stopped briefly at the Salt Pond Visitor Center, although we were there after hours. I appreciated the special water bottle fountains in addition to regular drinking fountains. Huey consented to going for a short walk bundled up in his raincoat.

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A raincoat-clad Huey braves the storm.

In the morning, we ventured to Nauset Light Beach. Huey, who loves beaches, gleefully dragged me towards the surf. Due to the misty and foggy October weather, we had the place to ourselves (or at least free from other humans and dogs). I did spot a seal bobbing in and out of the waves in addition to the numerous species of birds riding waves and pecking around on the sand.

Judging by the numerous warning signs we had seen since entering federal land, there were likely some sharks sharing the morning with us as well. A first aid kit for severe bleeding was tethered to a post not far from the shoreline. As Huey is more adept at playing with shells than administering first aid, I was glad we did not see any shark activity.

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Huey enjoys a well-kept beach.

Our time in Massachusetts allowed us to experience the work of some agencies we had not encountered in other states. The presence of President Kennedy permeated our visit in a way that I had not expected when our trip began. However, given that he was from Massachusetts, I suppose his influence on this portion of our trip was appropriate. We were able to gain some historical perspective on the work of public servants, which only expanded my appreciation for the vast amount of dedication and coordination it takes to keep the country running.

Huey and I will be finishing the New England portion of our journey in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Stay tuned! You can follow our journey in this weekly column and by checking out our Huey-centric Instagram page @federalfifty. Please send us any comments or suggestions for future stops here.

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