Young people are under-represented among voters in U.S. elections, a trend that has led some observers to conclude they are apathetic about civic engagement.
But there's more to citizenship than voting, a point illustrated by Marshall Harmon, a Greenbrier college student. He's changed Arkansas at a fundamental level by working with fellow citizens on a project to improve state government. They've been effective: various project recommendations have been adopted.
"In democratic countries," Alexis de Tocqueville noted in Democracy in America, "the science of association is the mother of science; the progress of all the rest depends upon the progress it has made." In sum, citizens make a difference.
Three years ago our organization launched a state government Efficiency Project to identify potential cost savings. The Project was announced by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin at a December 2015 event in Little Rock.
The Project, funded by private foundations has reduced outstanding state receivables by more than $20 million. Policymakers can direct these savings to achieve fiscal policy goals.
Harmon, 22, attended the 2015 event, and volunteered for the Project. His assignment: identify state agencies with the word "efficiency" in their mission statements. He examined 21 state departments and found only four.
A Project report noted, "Agency officials expressed support for efficiency as a concept, though few mission statements include the term. Each agency should include the word efficiency in their mission statement and post it online in an easily accessible format."
The report was presented to the Hutchinson administration in late 2016, along with separate findings prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international management consulting firm. The reports included nearly 70 recommendations.
Gov. Hutchinson responded by creating a Transformation Advisory Board in early 2017. The panel and state agencies have advanced many recommendations.
What was Harmon's role?
His work informed an ongoing process that led seven Arkansas state agencies to amend their mission or core value statements to advance the idea of efficiency in government.
Today, 11 agencies include "efficiency" in these statements: They are Assessment Coordination; Aeronautics; Community Correction; Correction; Emergency Management; Environmental Quality; Finance and Administration; State Bank; Agriculture; Education; and Workforce Services.
Critics dispute that government operations can become more efficient. They will be among those questioning the administration's efforts in upcoming legislative sessions. Supporters counter the Efficiency Project is already saving tax dollars.
One point is clear: Faulkner County resident Marshall Harmon has made a difference.
He cannot be tagged with the label "apathetic." He volunteered, completed his assignment, and played a constructive role in the ongoing effort to improve Arkansas state government.
Other young people considering involvement in civic affairs should consider his example.
Economist Greg Kaza is executive director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation, a Little Rock think tank founded in 1995. http://www.arkansaspolicyfoundation.org