A dedicated public servant recounts his bicoastal career working in European security, economic policy, education, and other arenas.
Born to Yiddish-speaking immigrants in Buffalo, Yochelson, the founder and president of Building Engineering and Science Talent, was 17 when he heard John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural exhortation to “ask what you can do for your country." He begins his patient memoir with this anecdote to underscore that at the time, the best and the brightest were attracted to public service; “surrounded by strivers,” Yochelson wanted to be “a striver too.” His experiences at prestigious schools, from Yale (which included a year abroad in France) to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, equipped him with the education for government service, derailed temporarily by his entrance in the Army in 1966. He was sure to be sent to Vietnam yet loath to shirk his duty, a feeling made stronger by the fact that his father and uncles had served during World War II. Sent to Germany on his father’s connections instead, he “felt like a hothouse plant” in comparison to others who had seen active duty in Vietnam. His facility with the French language helped him win the plum assignment of writing a monograph for Jean Monnet, architect of post-1945 integration, followed by a fellowship at the Brookings Institute. Successive posts took him to the Center for International Affairs, in Boston; the State Department, in Washington, D.C. (he worked in Western European security at the time Henry Kissinger was secretary); and Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he raised funds and managed relations with VIPs. As his career “topped out,” Yochelson moved with his family to San Diego to raise money for uncovering minority and women of talent for BEST in 2001. In the final chapter, the author composes a fictional letter to the president-elect on how to reshape the current civil service framework.
A quiet but compelling case for working in policy research and advocacy.