Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Kaufman Delivers Final "Great Federal Employees" Speech, Paying Tribute to All Senate Staff

September 28, 2010

Full remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, last week I stood at this desk and recognized my hundredth and final Great Federal Employee.  Since May, I have come to the floor each week to share the stories of dedicated men and women who have chosen to work in public service.

Honoring these individuals has been truly one of the highlights of my time in office.  As my term nears its end, I look over at this mosaic of dedicated government employees, and I hope that these speeches each week in their honor have drawn attention to the excellent work they have done and continue to do for our nation. 

At a time when politicians express their frustration with lack of progress by attacking nameless, faceless Washington “bureaucrats,” I thought it important to shed light each week on the face, story, and accomplishments of individual federal employees.  In that way, in my own small way, I hope I have helped remind people that those who pursue government work are constantly trying their best – often at great personal sacrifice – to make this a better country and a better world. 

These hundred are a microcosm of our government workforce; as I have said before, they are not exceptional but exemplary.  They come from over forty departments, agencies, and military service branches.  They represent a federal workforce of 1.9 million. 

Just as we hundred senators are a snapshot of the American people, these hundred Great Federal Employees are a snapshot of the hard-working men and women who serve the American people every day. 

But, just as it takes more than a hundred Great Federal Employees to carry out the work of the American people, it takes more than us hundred senators to perform the work of the United States Senate.  This week, in closing my series of speeches honoring public service, I want to recognize the untiring efforts of United States Senate staff. 

I am not only speaking of those who work for members as personal staff.  I mean everyone here who has a role in making the Senate work, including those who work in the cloakrooms, the Parliamentarian’s staff and that of the Clerk, those who provide support services through the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Secretary of the Senate, the men and women who serve as Capitol Police, and so many more.   Over 7,200 people work as Senate staff in personal offices, for committees, and for the various services that keep the modern Senate functioning. 

All of them know well the importance of the Senate in our system of government and the role it plays binding our large and diverse nation together.  Indeed, on the west pediment of the Dirksen building it is inscribed: “The Senate is the living symbol of our union of states.”

It is a living symbol in that we rely upon a deliberative group of wise men and women to smooth out our differences and keep fastened securely our union’s many parts. 

We cannot do this without the help of our staff.  They brief us on issues and provide up to the minute research.  They are our link with executive agencies and the military.  They maintain our busy schedules and keep us on time – or mostly so.  They form a network that links our offices together with one another and make bipartisan deals possible.  Most important, they keep us connected to our constituents while we are here working for them in Washington. 

Who are these staffers, and what brought them to these halls?

Many of them are young, in their twenties and thirties.  They have an energy and passion for the issues on which they work.  Those who stay more than a few years often spend their whole careers here, becoming some of our nation’s leading experts in their issue areas.  Just like members, staff preserve the institutional memory of this body and pass on its traditions and history. 

We have staffers from both civilian and military backgrounds.  Every profession and field of education is represented here.  Senate staffers have trained as doctors, lawyers, writers, farmers, nurses, engineers, teachers, manufacturers – the list is endless.  They come from every state and territory in the union.

They are creative and intellectual, pragmatic and imbued with good-old common sense.  Senate staffers are diverse in both their origins and their ideas. 

The paths that led them to the Senate are diverse as well.  Staffers have come here because they are driven by a shared love of country and they long to play a constructive role in our nation’s history.  One of the common traits of Senate staffers is that, when asked, they will say that there is something truly special about working in the Capitol and these impressive office buildings.  Their eyes light up talking about the history and gravity of this place.  They share the great feeling of excitement from living inside the news.  

Staff work under the long shadows cast by this body’s members.  Infrequently seen in the public spotlight, nevertheless their hands mold and shape everything we debate and pass.  Here no two days are the same; there is no routine. 

I like to think that my staffers are the best, but I know that every member or Senate officer thinks his or her staffers to be the greatest.  I would never dare dispute any of them. 

Senate staffers share in common a deep sense of pride in their public service.  They share the experience of walking through these august halls and feeling goose-bumps from the power and weight of history and their palpable role in it.  On both sides of the aisle they all want America to be strong, prosperous, and safe.  

Mr. President, Senate staffers are so great because they take their jobs so personally. 

This is why they work so hard.  It is why they are here on weekends, drafting legislation, hammering out deals across the aisle, and advising their members on the next day’s votes.  It is why front desk staff assistants are so compelled to engage with the constituents who call in with questions about bills. 

It is why security guards, maintenance personnel, and those who work in the Printing, Graphics, and Direct Mail division trudged through the snowstorm to get here when all other government offices were closed.  It is why all kinds of staff are here past midnight regularly. 

Mr. President, I was a Senate staffer for twenty-two years.  My service as Chief of Staff to Joe Biden gave me the chance each day to work with wonderful people on both sides of the aisle who came to the Senate motivated by love of country.  Many of those with whom I worked during those days went on to other jobs in government and continue in public service today.  A number of former Senate staffers now serve in the House of Representatives and in this chamber.  

As I come to the end of this series, I cannot help but think about all those Great Federal Employees I have not had a chance to honor from this desk.  There are so, so many.  They are the unsung heroes that keep our nation moving ever forward. 

Mr. President, I hope my colleagues and all Americans will join me in thanking those who serve and have served as staff here in the United States Senate.  They are truly great federal employees as much as any of the hundred on this poster. 

I look forward to hearing the stories of the next hundred. 

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