Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

In Honor of Public Service Recognition Week, Sen. Kaufman Praises America's Federal Workforce

May 4, 2009

Mr. KAUFMAN. Mr. President, today marks the beginning of Public Service Recognition Week. This is a time to recognize the hard-working and devoted men and women who serve in our Federal, State, county, and municipal governments.

   I wish to make particular mention of the several programs taking place throughout the week in celebration of our civil servants and their contributions. I know the Partnership for Public Service, an organization with a mission to highlight our finest Government workers and promote public service, will be marking the week by awarding their annual Service to America medals. I congratulate the medal finalists and thank them for their excellence in service to our Nation.

   This is an appropriate occasion to address the subject which is so relevant to the way we face the challenges before us as a nation. These challenges have shaken the public's confidence in our financial markets, in our economy, and in our Government. We must work to restore the public's confidence.

   So many of the solutions being presented from the rising cost of health care to the multiple threats from overseas, to the mortgage crisis, rely primarily on the work of dedicated and dependable civil servants. The Federal employees who work day in and day out to better our country, often at great private sacrifice, deserve our public's confidence, and that is what this speech will be all about.

   In the post-9/11 era of insecurity and following years of political indecision

and divisive partisanship, we are left with an abundance of problems. Our honored veterans complain of diminishing benefits, while the young decry the increases in the cost of education. America's health care system is outdated and leaves millions uninsured. We remain painfully addicted to foreign oil, and auto manufacturers require more public funds to stay afloat. Some of our challenges rise to a level unseen in decades.

   Of course, whenever Americans face difficulty, we display that greatest trait of our nature. Service to the common good has been our answer to every hardship since even before the birth of our Republic. One would be hard-pressed to find any public figure of note who does not highly invoke the praise of community service and voluntarism.

   Indeed, in every neighborhood in all 50 States, one can find our citizens extending their hands in help to their fellow Americans and to the unfortunate throughout the world. Likewise, no one can refrain from honoring the service and sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform. Their dedication and diligence ensure our safe borders and sustain our liberty. The hard work of our service members is rightly congratulated.

   But, Mr. President, there are those who give so much of themselves and often so many years of their lives, yet receive hardly any share of recognition. In the recent past, the disparagement of our Federal employees--the greatest civil servants in the history of our republican government--has become sadly commonplace. Diminishing their contribution to this Nation is an all-too-frequent exercise.

   Federal employees deserve praise for the vital roles they play each day enforcing the laws we pass in this very Chamber. They care for our veterans. They toil in laboratories to create new energy technologies. Our Federal workers safely manage the complex networks of flights crossing our skies day and night. They deliver our mail, regulate fair housing practices, and conduct our diplomacy abroad. They serve in all three branches of Government.

   They are, in many ways, silent sentinels of our Nation's well-being.

   Indeed, Federal employees have become indispensable to our national life. With a generation of Federal employees nearing retirement, we need to attract our most talented citizens back to public service. Good, honest, responsible government requires the best civil servants.

   Throughout our history, great men and women answered the call to serve in the Federal Government--citizens from all walks of life and from every corner of America. There are those who dedicate their entire careers to public service, but there are also so many Americans who enter Federal employment for just a short period. Even the novelist William Faulkner worked part-time as a postmaster when he was a young man.

   The nature of our Federal workers today is the same as it was when the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville visited in the early 19th century. He observed that:

   Public officers in the United States are commingled with a crowd of citizens; they have neither palaces nor guards, nor ceremonial costumes. This simple exterior of the persons in authority is connected not only with the peculiarities of the American character, but with the fundamental principles of that society.

   I, too, was a Federal employee when I worked for 22 years with then-Senator Joe Biden, and I can attest as much as anyone that to serve entails responsibility and dedication. During my years in Government work, including 13 years as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, I met so many hardworking, well-qualified, and devoted public servants, most of whom will not be recognized individually by the public for their important contributions.

   The American people collectively put their faith in all who work in Government, from those elected to the highest offices, to those, like Faulkner, working part-time for an hourly wage. Our esteemed predecessor in this House, Henry Clay of Kentucky, once declared:

   Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.

   Senator Clay could not have been more correct. Those who serve the Republic carry the heavy responsibility of not working for the benefit of themselves alone but for the good of all.

   What should be a source of pride to those who enter employment in the Federal Government has become, all too often, a thankless job. Serving in the Federal Government can be an enriching experience, and we need to do more to promote civil service among young people. I am encouraged that there is a growing desire now, unlike in the past several years, among our best and brightest students to seek Federal jobs.

   For so long, the allure of easy wealth on Wall Street and scorn for Government work led our young graduates to overlook positions in civil service. But it should not take a recession and a popular new administration to attract this talent. Our young people are eager to take on responsibility, to prove themselves worthy of others' trust. They want to have a part in what President Obama has called ``repairing the world.'' With more recognition of our Federal workforce and praise for its important contribution, there is no reason we cannot convince these young, idealistic Americans to seek in Government what they so desire--a role in history, a chance to shape their world.

   The recent decision by Kal Penn, the young Hollywood star, to accept a position working in the administration advances this effort significantly. Despite a lucrative career in film and on television, Penn--a second-generation American whose parents are immigrants from Mumbai--announced he would take a couple of years off from acting to serve his country in the Federal Government. When asked about his motives, he said:

   It's probably because of the value system my grandparents instilled in me. There's not a lot of financial reward in these jobs. But, obviously, the opportunity to serve in a capacity like this is an incredible honor.

   Mr. President, when I was young, it used to be that this honor which Penn speaks of drew young people by the thousands to careers in our civil service. A job in Government was a mark of distinction. It was a privilege to be able to work for the betterment of the American people. However, in recent years, that honor has been eroded by the misconception that our civil service is growing beyond measure and consists of those in Washington who are out of touch with ordinary Americans. But I say this characterization is completely untrue.

   The number of Federal employees today has not grown significantly larger than its in the 1960s. In fact, 85 percent of all Federal employees live and work outside of Washington. They are ordinary Americans, yet they perform extraordinary work.

   As De Tocqueville observed more than 150 years ago, the qualities embodied by our civil servants reflect the greatest values we hold dear as Americans. Federal employees display exemplary citizenship, choosing of their own accord to pursue careers that not only provide for their families but benefit the Nation as a whole. This is despite the advantages to private sector employment. Our civil servants are industrious. They work hard, tackle difficult problems affecting millions of their fellow citizens, and do so with grace and humility.

   They often need to take risks, not only to make new discoveries in science and engineering or to represent us in unsafe corners of the world, but also to expose unnecessary waste and corruption where it may arise. The history of our civil service is filled with those who choose to uphold the public trust even when at a danger to their own lives and careers. Their work requires great perseverance, and results may take longer than their tenure in office. It requires great care and attention to detail. When the public's faith is bestowed upon you, there can be no halfhearted effort. Most of all, employees in our Federal Government display an unbelievable level of modesty.

   You may wonder why I go on about the virtues of our public servants when there are so many pressing matters to be considered by this body. I return, however, to my first point--that no matter what programs we launch to get America back on the right path, they will be carried out by our Federal workers.

   Exemplary cases abound, but I want to highlight a few individuals in particular who embody these values and

reflect the excellence of our civil service as a whole. They have each been selected by a blue ribbon panel which

   includes Senator SUSAN COLLINS, in concert with Partnership for Public Service, to receive a Service to America medal.

   When she began her job as Director of the Office of Public Housing Programs in 2002, Nicole Faison inherited a HUD rental system program rated for 13 years as a ``high risk'' program by the Government Accountability Office due to rampant waste, fraud, and abuse. Today, it is recognized for helping more low-income families receive housing assistance without wasting resources. Under Nicole's guidance, the program eliminated over $2 billion in fraudulent payments and earned praise for its streamlined operations.

   Since 9/11, there has been much attention on the security of cargo containers entering our country from overseas. Leading the charge to secure our ports, Tracy Mustin serves as Director of the Department of Energy's office of Second Line of Defense. Under Tracy's leadership, her office has installed monitoring devices at more than 100 airports, seaports, and border crossings in over 40 countries which help detect and prevent the trafficking of nuclear or radiological substances. She also oversees the Megaports Initiative, which screens and monitors cargo entering major seaports around the world. In addition to her responsibilities as a civil servant, Tracy is commissioned as a captain in the Navy Reserve.

   While Tracy and her team have been fortifying our Nation's second line of defense against terrorism, brave men and women in the Armed Forces remain overseas fighting on the first line of defense. When our wounded warriors return home, they can thank the dedicated civilian employees of our Defense Department for significant advancements in the treatment and care they will receive for their injuries.

   Dave Carballeyra, the Air Force's Director of Stereolithography, introduced a new 3-D technology for bone and tissue imaging which has improved treatment and rehabilitation care for wounded veterans. In particular, his work has helped soldiers suffering from severe burns from bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan and those requiring surgery to attach prosthetic devices. These advances have significantly improved their quality of life. Believe it or not, Dave is only 25 years of age.

   Another public servant whom I very much want to mention is Dr. Rajiv Jain. Each year it is estimated that 2 million patients develop infections while in U.S. hospitals for routine procedures. One hundred thousand of these patients die as a result, and the elderly and newborn are particularly susceptible. Rajiv and his team at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Pittsburgh are at the forefront of an effort to reduce these infections. The infection rate at their VA facility has already dropped 60 percent, and the strategy developed by Rajiv to prevent infections has now been adopted by all 153 VA hospitals.

   When asked about his work, he commonly explains that ``one infection is too many.''

   The final person I will mention, who works for the Department of Energy, has proven wrong those who are convinced that Government can't do something right. At the end of the Cold War, when the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver was designated as a Superfund site, it was estimated that it would take 70 years and nearly $40 billion to clean it up. Many advocated a permanent quarantine of the site, arguing that its rehabilitation was not worth the cost. Frazer Lockhart took charge of the cleanup effort in 1995 and finished the job in 10 years, spending only $7 billion. Today, 95 percent of the original site has been delisted from the Superfund and been set aside as a 6,200-acre wildlife refuge. Frazer's sound management and perseverance led to the cleanup 60 years ahead of schedule and $30 billion under budget.

   Mr. President, these stories are just a few of the countless many. Indeed, there are a great number of exceptional Federal employees, and I hope to continue sharing their stories before the Senate and honoring their service over the coming weeks and months, beginning with this group. I invite my fellow Senators to join me on those or other occasions in doing the same. These men and women daily carry out the work of developing new technologies, protecting our free markets, ensuring a cleaner environment, and advancing our interests around the world.

   I believe the Founders foresaw the need for a vibrant and effective civil service and that they would be proud of the Federal employees serving today. When the first Congress convened in New York on March 4, 1789, its first matter of business was to fulfill an obligation set to it by the Constitution. Article VI declares that all public officers are to be bound by an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution, but the document leaves up to Congress to decide on the form.

   The first piece of legislation ever to be passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Washington codified this simple but poignant oath:

   I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States.

   In the years since, it has been expanded to the oath presently taken by all of us who serve in this Chamber and in the House of Representatives and by every Federal employee. But the underlying point remains unchanged from that original oath. What the Founders intended in their first act of Government, and what we now reaffirm with each taking of our modern oath, is that everyone who serves in our Government is not only obligated to support the Constitution but also entrusted with that responsibility. That trust--the same as was noted by Clay--is the foundation of our civil service. It is the guiding principle of our Federal workers and the reason they deserve the public's confidence.

   Careers in Government, we know, frequently pay far less than comparable careers in the private sector, and many times our Federal employees are asked to move across the country or overseas to perform their duties. Many serve for 20 years or more, leaving a lasting impact on communities and on our national policies without special recognition. They never see bonuses like those paid on Wall Street or elsewhere in the private sector. However, after many years of service, when our civil servants retire, they can look back on their careers and know with certainty that when their country needed them, they gave of themselves. They gave to our Nation, and they know their contribution, even if little recognized, has been genuine and significant.

   This is their bonus, the satisfaction and the knowledge that they have answered the call to duty, that their lives have surely served a meaningful purpose.

   Again, please let it be noted that the first week of May each year is Public Service Recognition Week, and it is with great pride that I honor the service and sacrifice of our Federal employees. I thank them, and I urge my colleagues to join me this week and in future weeks to thank them for their continued work in support of our recovery during this challenging time.

   I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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