RECENT events in Washington, including the Tower Commission report and the President's latest executive appointments, demonstrate the significance of professionalism in the widest sense of that term. Among some in the nation's capital, the term ``professional'' has a pejorative connotation. It denotes the ``establishment,'' or ``the bureaucracy.'' The professionals in politics or in government are blamed - particularly by the far right - for past failures, for excessive pragmatism, for obstructionism, or for lack of new and imaginative approaches. Yet when an administration seeks to regain the confidence of the nation, it looks for those with long experience in the art of government.
Professionalism in its truest meaning suggests a sense of responsibility, an understanding of what is right, a willingness to serve even at a sacrifice, and a balanced judgment of what is in the national interest. The professional will have a strong sense of purpose and clear objectives, but will not establish an agenda or a line of action before seeking a prudent assessment of the facts, the circumstances, and the possible consequences. Professionals will listen to those of whatever political party who have gone before. Those who qualify as professionals, whether as politicians or civil servants, are those who have experienced the varied perspectives, the pressures, the financial limitations, and the frustrations of public life.
Our society believes that success in any field qualifies one for work in government. Persons who have run a business or are affluent community leaders are considered especially capable.
But government service is as much a distinct profession as any other. Americans have come to public positions from different careers and from every stage of adult life and many have been outstanding.
Those who have served the country effectively, however, have possessed not only a strong sense of public duty and national purpose, but also the ability to understand the respect for other viewpoints and the art of constructive compromise essential to democratic government.
In appointing the Tower Commission to examine the role of the National Security Council staff, the President called on two men with long experience in the Senate, Edmund Muskie and John Tower. Muskie has been both governor and secretary of state. Brent Scowcroft, the third member, is a highly respected public servant whose military career has been capped by numerous calls to civilian tasks.
To restore the operations of the National Security Council staff the White House turned to Frank Carlucci, a career foreign service officer, who has loyally and effectively served both Democratic and Republican administrations in a variety of senior positions.
For his new chief of staff, the President chose Howard Baker, a person highly regarded on both sides of the congressional aisle. The issue of confidence in the Central Intelligence Agency was resolved by calling on a respected judge, William Webster, the director of the FBI. The two men in the administration who clearly raised questions concerning the wisdom of the Iran affair were two with long experience in senior levels of the Federal government, George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger.
The maintenance of professionalism in government has traditionally faced obstacles in the United States. The American people, living in a nation born in opposition to strong authority, have always been skeptical about government and those who serve it.
Until late in our history, federal positions were almost wholly determined by political patronage. The last two presidents have emphasized the evils of Washington in their campaigns. The entourage of each president has included those of strong ideological views who, rejecting experience, have had to learn basic lessons anew.
The recovery of the Reagan administration has demonstrated once more the resilience of American democracy. The recovery could only be accomplished, however, by bringing into key positions those who had established through their demonstrated experience the degree of public trust that marks the true professional in government.
David D. Newsom is associate dean and director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.