RFG is pleased to present the first in a series of official alumni spotlights. This month we feature William Creedon (UMD SPP, ‘18), a Presidential Management Fellow at the Office of Management and Budget.

Creedon graduated cum laude from Macalester College with a B.A., majoring in economics and minoring in statistics. 

Having lived and worked in Illinois, California, and North Carolina, William is proud to have spent his childhood in Minnesota.

What or who prompted you to focus on public service?

There was no single experience or person. It began with my grandparents’ habit of talking about politics, then my interest in history during public school years, and, as a tipping point, my realization while working in a private sector job I didn’t like after college, watching “Parks and Rec”, that I was meant to be a public policy and public service guy. I also benefited since undergrad from a great advisor, Prof. Sarah West, who taught me about the richness and challenges of public finance and economic policy.


How has the Robertson Fellowship influenced your career to date?

The Robertson Foundation always reminds me of the ideal of civil service, and that people of all walks of life and nationalities depend on the professionalism of American civil servants, whether in foreign policymaking, foreign service, or elsewhere. It has also made me more motivated to hold leaders to high expectations and personally commit to ongoing learning and professional growth.


Were there specific graduate courses that you found prepared you especially well for government service?

I would say my U.S. foreign policymaking process and program evaluation courses. Policymaking helped me appreciate the interconnectedness and complexities of both the executive branch bureaucracy and our shared-powers government, as well as the importance of being a quick study and clear communicator. Evaluation because it taught me how to make rational inferences and define and measure performance in policy situations that so often require decisions with very limited information.


What excites you most about working in your public service career? 

I love the opportunities public service provides for meeting great people and learning about complex governance issues and policies. I also feel good about contributing professionally to a country with, generally speaking, such an inspiring narrative and set of values; it’s far from perfect, but I feel the “American experiment” has refined itself and its aspirations in often very positive ways.


Is there an experience in your government position that has been/was particularly enlightening or surprising to you?

The retirement parties of two long-tenured budget technocrats at OMB shortly after I arrived. My eyes were opened to the importance of office culture and institutional memory in maintaining the functioning of good government (and occasionally bad). And how political officials have a significant opportunity to make things in their agencies better, but a much smaller ability to do harm, fortunately, at least in the short-term. The former underscores the importance of managing the civil service to prevent brain drain as older servants retire, and the latter underscores the power of political officials to bring positive leadership, if they bring the talent and find the pluck to do so.


Are there particular resources that you recommend to individuals interested in a career in public service?

I’ve always found GovLoop to be a helpful general resource for current and prospective public servants. I think The Hill and Politico are useful news sources, and the Congressional Research Service is fantastic when you need to do a deeper dive. I’m probably a tad biased (and a total nerd), but I think it’s very helpful to have at least a basic understanding of how the appropriations and budget process works (and what Congress has to pass each year if they want to keep the government running!), and to know where to find statutes (agency websites, uscode.house.gov, or law.cornell.edu). The Congressional Research Service provides appropriations tracking, and GAO has a great glossary of budget terms.


What advice do you have for current fellows and early career professionals as they pursue a career in public service?

Be patient with the processes of governing, but quick to make starts. I’ve usually made mistakes when I try to make ‘executive’ or concluding decisions too quickly because something feels like it is dragging. And you lose opportunities to build strong collaborative relationships – even though it takes more time and may feel tedious, you honor your colleagues by offering to include them in decisions and recommendations. Not only does this lead to better, longer-lasting solutions, but these relationships (and the accompanying positive reputation you earn) pay dividends throughout your career. But be quick to make starts – it’s far easier to tell your leadership that something might be an issue, that you might not understand how to do something, or to involve colleagues or offices that might have objections or helpful views, and to walk it back when you figure it out, than to sit on something. This approach will also help you learn your job a lot faster so that over time there are fewer false alarms.

Editor’s note: RFG Advisor Paula Dobriansky and colleagues recently published an opinion piece on The Hill about the positive benefits of exchanges, which facilitate direct engagement with counterparts in the academic, governmental, business and cultural fields and are effective in promoting economic values of private enterprise and free markets.

As former Secretary of Defense James Mattis asserted, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

His insight is reflected in recommendations we recently made to the State Department and U.S. Congress. We were asked by the Congress and the State Department to examine whether federally funded educational and cultural exchanges advance the foreign policy objectives of the United States. As part of our effort, we conducted over 125 interviews comprised of U.S. ambassadors and staff in embassies in more than 20 countries, as well as with exchange participants and alumni, current and former State Department leadership, officials from non-governmental organizations, Capitol Hill and other stakeholders.

After extensive research and interviews we found overwhelming evidence that people-to-people exchanges are highly successful and produce a tremendous return on investment. We believe that exchange programs are one of America’s most effective soft power tools when integrated into U.S. foreign policy strategy and planning.

Exchanges promote the best of American values. They build U.S. influence and help spread democratic ideals around the globe, strengthen economic and trade interests and provide a unique window into what makes the United States a singularly distinct and exceptional country. In interview after interview we were told that exchange programs are among the most potent and cost-effective instruments in the U.S. foreign policy toolkit. ‘Citizen ambassadors’ emerge from these exchanges and return to their own countries equipped with American democratic principles and the ability to advance U.S. interests.

As Ambassador Frank Wisner, former undersecretary of State, told us in an interview, “Exchanges represent the best way to communicate American values, something with which China and Russia cannot compete.”

Out of the darkness of a year of terrible loss and detachment, a renewal of human contact is the best kind of light at the end of the tunnel. Doubling down on exchanges will inspire, inform and engage foreign audiences while promoting closer ties with U.S. allies and competitors alike.  Whether they be private sector, academic, professional or citizen exchanges, we found that people-to-people engagements have overwhelmingly benefited U.S. foreign policy.

Across the globe, diverse exchange alumni who understand and embrace the United States, play prominent roles in their respective countries. In an interview with U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Ronald Gitwitz, he noted that 15 percent of the European Parliament and 25 percent of the European Commission are International Visitor Leadership Program or Fulbright alumni.

There are a multitude of world leaders who have participated in State Department exchanges. They are joined by legions of others from business, the arts, academia, civil society and lower levels of foreign governments who are exchange alumni.

Among those who participated in State Department exchanges were multiple Nobel laureates such as 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus, as well as legions of leaders from all parts of the world who rose to the top of their respective governments including current New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern; Burma head of government Aung San Suu Kyi; former Prime Minister of Sweden Carl Bildt, French President Nicolas Sarkozy; British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; President Anwar Sadat of Egypt; Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India and President F.W. de Klerk of South Africa.

What better return on investment than to have young leaders experience U.S. society directly? Exchanges facilitate direct engagement with counterparts in the academic, governmental, business and cultural fields and are effective in promoting economic values of private enterprise and free markets.

As the new administration formulates its approach and strategy for engaging allies and competitors, it has a powerful tool readily available. The impact of this instrument is underrated but should be maximized. Public diplomacy in its most elemental form — people-to-people exchanges — is one of the best instruments the U.S. has to advance its foreign policy objectives. 

Successful foreign policy and international trade is built on trust; international exchanges lay the foundation for trust — a ‘simple’ formula for quiet diplomacy. President Barack Obama said, “Simple exchanges can break walls down between us, for when people come together and speak to one another and share a common experience, then their common humanity is revealed.”

In the past, the American approach to public diplomacy and exchange activities has proven to be the gold standard.  With a cohesive, policy-based approach, we can upgrade to platinum.

Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky is former undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, 2001-2009; Edward Gabriel is former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001; and ambassador Marisa Lino is former assistant secretary for International Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, 2007-2008.

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Federal leaders must promote the public’s faith in government for our country to solve its most pressing challenges.

Recently, the Partnership for Public Service created resources to help political appointees, congressional leaders and career civil servants serve as stewards of the public trust:

  • A case study on four federal investigators who prosecuted Medicare fraud with unprecedented success.
  • A video of their Government Leadership Advisory Council reflecting on the value of public stewardship.

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The Elliot L. Richardson Prize is presented biennially to individuals possessing the public service virtues exemplified by Elliot L. Richardson, a National Academy of Public Administration Fellow. Mr. Richardson was an exceptional public servant and the only individual in our nation’s history to serve in four Cabinet-level positions in the U.S. government: Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and Secretary of Commerce.


Elliot L. Richardson was an exceptional public servant, a National Academy Fellow, and the only individual to serve in four Cabinet-level positions in the U.S. government, including Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and Secretary of Commerce.

Shortly after his death in 1999, several friends and admirers of Mr. Richardson, along with the financial support of Hitachi, Ltd and the Hitachi Foundation, established The Elliot L. Richardson Prize Fund in honor of his memory. The Prize Fund’s sole purpose was to establish and administer the Elliot L. Richardson Prize, which is awarded for excellence and integrity in government service and public management. The Fund’s goal is to “inspire future public service by highlighting the accomplishments of other exceptional public servants.”

Originally established under the auspices of the Council for Excellence in Government, the Board of the Fund approached the National Academy about becoming the new home for this prestigious award and fund. In 2010 the National Academy acquired the Elliot L. Richardson Prize Fund – a $1.2 million endowment that supports a periodic award to one or more individuals for excellence in public service (when there is more than one award the prize monies are split among the awardees). The amount of the prize is determined by the fund Board of Directors and has typically been $50,000. Consistent with the public-spiritedness of Elliot L. Richardson, recipients of the award are required to designate one or more charities to receive half the prize amount they are awarded.

Award Eligibility and Nominations

The Elliot L. Richardson Prize recipients are chosen by a majority vote of the Board of the Prize Fund. The Board receives recommendations from the Fund Nominating Committee, from other Board members, as well as from the general public.

Deadline: April 30, 2021

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