Caught Between the Dog and the Fireplug, or How to Survive Public Service

Kenneth Ashworth

"A 'must' for anyone aspiring to a career in public service at any level, Caught Between the Dog And The Fireplug is highly readable yet filled with sensible observations and recommendations."
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Replete with practical advice for anyone considering a career in federal, state, or local government, Caught between the Dog and the Fireplug, or How to Survive Public Service conveys what life is really like in a public service job. The book is written as a series of lively, entertaining letters of advice from a sympathetic uncle to a niece or nephew embarking on a government career.

Kenneth Ashworth draws on more than forty years of public sector experience to provide advice on the daily challenges that future public servants can expect to face: working with politicians, bureaucracy, and the press; dealing with unpleasant and difficult people; leading supervisors as well as subordinates; and maintaining high ethical standards. Ashworth relates anecdotes from his jobs in Texas, California, and Washington, D.C., that illustrate with humor and wit fundamental concepts of public administration.

Be prepared, says Ashworth, to encounter all sorts of unexpected situations, from the hostile to the bizarre, from the intimidating to the outrageous. He shows that in the confrontational world of public policymaking and program implementation, a successful career demands disciplined, informed thought, intellectual and personal growth, and broad reading. He demonstrates how, despite the inevitable inefficiencies of a democratic society, those working to shape policy in large organizations can nonetheless effect significant change-and even have fun along the way.

The book will interest students and teachers of public administration, public affairs, policy development, leadership, or higher education administration. Ashworth's advice will also appeal to anyone who has ever been caught in a tight spot while working in government service.

Table of Contents



October: Working with politicians

November: Working with the press

December: Learning from your boss

January: Dealing with unpleasant and difficult people

February: More on unpleasant people

March: Subordinate leadership, getting help from above

April: Taking the initiative, or risk taking inside government

May: The kinds of pressures and influence used on you

September: Relations with a governing board

October: More on governing boards

November: Bona fide bureaucratic behavior

December: "Walking with kings"

January: Delegating, or working for your subordinates

February: Ethics and morality in public service

March: A few thoughts on leadership

April: A summing up


"A 'must' for anyone aspiring to a career in public service at any level, Caught Between the Dog And The Fireplug is highly readable yet filled with sensible observations and recommendations."—Wisconsin Bookwatch

"Quite often an academic assumes that a book of anecdotes provides 'war stories' but little insight. This book, however, richly combines real experience with solid advice that would benefit even the most experienced public administrator. Ashworth's book performs the rare feat of providing an amusing look at public service while maintaining the importance of service to the commonweal."—Public Administration Review

"Kenneth Ashworth's letters...are a wonderful, witty, and literate distillation of a distinguished career in public service."—Bill Hobby, former Lieutenant Governor of Texas and former Chancellor of the University of Houston System

"I would recommend this book to any student of public service. Kenneth Ashworth tells it like it is, using a rich collection of experience, anecdotes, and lessons in the real-life workings of our government."—Charles B. Reed, Chancellor, California State University


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Kenneth Ashworth is adjunct professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin and visiting scholar at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University. Among his many positions in public service, he served as Texas Commissioner of Higher Education.

224 pp., 6 x 9

Mar 2001

224 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-0-87840-847-4
Mar 2001

224 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-293-6
Mar 2001

Texts and Teaching/Politics, Policy, Administration series

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