Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Sen. Kaufman Recognizes Great Federal Employee, Michelle O'Neill

September 21, 2010

I rise once again to honor one of our nation’s great federal employees. 

Mr. President, as my colleagues know, I have been coming to the floor since last May to deliver a series of weekly speeches recognizing federal employees’ contribution to this country.  When I was appointed to the Senate, I saw it as an opportunity to draw attention to the important work performed each day by some of America’s hardest workers.  They work for all of us – they choose careers in public service not because they’ll be paid more – they won’t – or because it’s an easy job – it certainly isn’t.   They do it for love of country, for a sense of duty.  They do it because there are inherently governmental tasks we as a nation expect to be performed, and because we deserve the most highly skilled and hardest working public service to carry them out. 

I have been honoring great federal employees from this desk for the past sixteen months.  It has been one of the highlights of my time in office.  Now, Mr. President, I rise to honor a great federal employee for the last time.  I am proud to share that my honoree today is my hundredth great federal employee, a talented individual who has spent two decades reducing trade barriers for American goods. 

Michelle O’Neill has served as Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade since 2005.  In this role, Michelle supervises the day-to-day operations of the International Trade Administration, or “ITA.”  The ITA has over 2,400 employees and an operating budget of over $400 million, and its mission is to promote American exports and ensure fair access to overseas markets for our businesses. 

Michelle, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Sweet Briar College in Virginia and a master’s from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, first came to the Commerce Department in 1983 as an intern.  Over the course of her career, she has served under five administrations and eleven secretaries of Commerce.  She has travelled to over forty countries to carry out her work. 

From a family with a long history of public service, Michelle knew very early that she wanted to pursue a career in government.  Born on a military base, Michelle has said that “public service is part of my DNA; I have always found helping others, being part of something bigger than myself, to be very rewarding.” 

Throughout her career at the ITA, she has done just that – helping Americans trade fairly across borders and pursue commerce, which has always been a vehicle for achieving the American Dream.  Michelle has consistently placed her work above her own advancement and taken risks for the sake of carrying out the ITA’s core mission.  

Michelle served overseas from 1995 to 1998 as the Commercial Attaché to our mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  Before that assignment, she worked as the executive assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary of International Trade – the position Michelle now holds.   In 1995, she served as a Brookings Legislative Fellow with the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade in the House of Representatives, and from 1990-1991 was detailed to the Office of Policy Development in the White House. 

One of her major achievements at the ITA has been resolving a major China market access barrier, for which she won a Departmental Silver Medal.  She has also been praised for her role in developing an online portal for government export assistance – called “export.gov.”  Michelle was also awarded the William A. Jump Award for exemplary service in public administration.  This June, she was honored as “Outstanding Woman of the Year” by the Association of Women in International Trade. 

Today, Michelle is part of the ITA’s leadership team, and the American people are fortunate to have her talents and experience at work for them.  She joins the ninety-nine other outstanding public servants whom I have honored weekly throughout my term. 

Together, they are my hundred Great Federal Employees. 

Mr. President, I hope to come to the floor next week to speak about a special group of outstanding federal employees.  But this week’s honoree, Michelle O’Neill, is the final individual whose story I will share in this series.  I hope my colleagues here in the Senate and all Americans will join me in thanking her and all those who work at the International Trade Administration for their service to our nation. 

They are all truly great federal employees. 

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