USC Price School of Public Policy

David Janssen

David E. Janssen

Chief Administrative Officer,
County of Los Angeles

David Janssen, a member of the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development’s Board of Councilors, is chief administrative officer of Los Angeles County. In a recent interview, he discussed his hopes for SPPD, and for the future of innovative governance.

“I hope the school can challenge people to think more broadly, more inclusively, and more creatively about government than we have in the past. While it has certainly been professional, it also has been kind of rigid, structured, disciplined, mechanistic, and narrow. We have been educated since Aristotle and Plato to be very logical. We always study the past to learn about the future and, in western civilization in particular, this pattern of thought has resulted in a model for governing ourselves that focuses on individual independence and is past-referenced. What this new era calls for, and what we find in other societies and cultures, is more focus on interdependence and orientation toward the future—a mindset whose hallmark is ‘we’re all in this together; we can’t do it by ourselves.’ ”

Janssen, recipient of the 2003 National Public Service Award, is a public administrator with more than 30 years of experience at the local and state government levels. He held several executive positions with the State of California before serving 13 years with the County of San Diego—four as its chief administrative officer and nine years as its assistant CAO.

Many of Janssen’s views on effective governance for the 21st century are refreshingly unorthodox. For instance, he says that “. . .we need to say, ‘this is where we want to go; this is what we need to focus our energies on; this is what we want to accomplish,’ and then be creative about it. We don’t always need to be so logical. Chaos theory tells us that nature isn’t logical; by extension, human beings are not exclusively logical, either. So we’re talking about revolutionary change in the thinking process of western civilization when we talk about being creative, interdependent, and future-oriented. And that’s part of the change we need to see in governments, too.”

David Janssen was born and raised in central California, and earned undergraduate, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in political science from the University of California, Davis.