The report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington research institute, says more than 60 percent of college students have seriously considered a career in public service by the time they graduate.
Brookings scholar Paul Light presented the report Tuesday at a news conference in Washington.
"Public service as a term has very clear meanings to these college seniors. It's very much about making a difference, one on one," he said. "When young Americans hear the words 'public service,' they think about the kind of jobs that non-profits do first, government being a distant second."
Professor Light said only more than a third of college students who have seriously considered a career in public service want to become government employees.
He said college students appreciate the job security and high benefits of a government career but think public agencies are ineffective and the work there is not challenging. In short, government is - surprise - too bureaucratic.
The report's findings have senior government officials worried. Commenting on the Brookings survey, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the faster hiring process makes it easier for the private sector to hire the best and brightest.
"When DOD interviews the same people, all we can do is offer then a ream of paperwork and a promise to get back to them in three to five months. It should not be surprising that the most talented end up working somewhere other than the Department of Defense," he said. Mr. Rumsfeld said because of the hiring backlog, some 320,000 soldiers at the Department of Defense currently perform tasks that he said should be left to civilians. He also complained that the current rules of civilian employment make it hard to dismiss or to discipline poor and dishonest employees.
The report by the Brookings Institution not only recommends simplifying the government's hiring process. It said federal agencies should enable employees to embark on not one, but several successive government careers, so they can maintain their devotion and dedication to public service.