Remarks at the Senior Executive Association Annual Banquet for Distinguished Rank Award Recipients

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 6, 2010

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all. Thank you so much. And welcome to the Ben Franklin Room here on the eighth floor of the State Department. We are delighted to be hosting you tonight and to take this opportunity to recognize the dedication that each of you has shown to public service over your impressive careers.

I must say that being Public Service Recognition Week, as it currently is, it is a special honor for me to take part in this dinner and to have a chance to both greet you and congratulate you. And I want to thank everyone who made this event possible. Of course, John Berry. Thank you, Carol. Thank you. And what a treat to be introduced by Shelby all these years later. (Laughter.) I have to say he’s very handsome, even now, don’t you think? (Laughter.) I don’t want to embarrass him, but we did know each other all those years ago. (Laughter.) Although sometimes when you’re talking about the late ‘60s, it is hard to remember what – (laughter) – happened and what didn’t happen. But I am delighted to see you honored, as you are this evening.

And I want to recognize another friend, someone whom I had the privilege of serving with in the Senate for eight years. Senator George Voinovich of Ohio has worked tirelessly on federal workforce issues. He’s championed diversity practices. He worked to increase retention rates among federal employees. He’s really changed the way that we think about employee performance and workforce planning. He’s here this evening with his wife. Both Senator and Mrs. Voinovich have given many years of their lives to public service, and I want publicly to thank both of them. (Applause.)

I have long admired the dedication of the people whose names rarely, if ever, make it into any headlines, but who are the backbone, the nervous system, the intelligence of our government year after year. And I wish every federal government employee could be recognized and thanked for his or her efforts. But tonight we have the special opportunity to thank those of you who have made exceptional contributions. Yesterday, I had the chance to recognize and thank those who are from the Foreign Service and the Civil Service here in the Department. Since the establishment of the Senior Executive Service, the President has honored the outstanding performances of its members with the Civil Service’s highest honor, the title of Distinguished Executive. And only one percent of senior executives can receive the award. It’s truly an elite distinction. And each and every one of you has merited it because of what you have brought to your time in the federal government.

The career executive corps is the long-term memory, it’s the wise counsel, it’s the driver of change and innovation in the federal government. As I know very well, political appointees come and go. (Laughter.) I remember showing up at the White House; you know, it was a pretty big deal showing up at the White House in 1993. And Bill and I were met by one of the butlers, who said, “You know, presidents come and go but butlers stay.” (Laughter.)

Well, certainly that is true, and thankfully so for our senior executive staff, which provides the continuity, the in-depth expertise, the insight to keep our government, and therefore our country, running smoothly. And I thank you for making a career in public service and in serving not just your government but your country.

Now here in the State Department, we talk a lot about smart power. And smart power obviously requires smart people. And that’s where all of you come in. It’s about harnessing the full range of our tools in order to address the world’s challenges, to seize the opportunities ahead of us. It means tapping the skills and the talents. And that’s really the hallmark of the Senior Executive corps. And every one of you did something to advance the cause of our government: being an effective change agent, a problem solver. You have dealt with some of our most difficult national priorities. You’ve created solutions. And all the while, you have served our country with quiet distinction.

There are so many of you who have made a contribution, and there a couple who have been brought to my attention, who have really struck a chord with me. I think from my time on the Armed Services Committee, now here in the State Department, of all of our military men and women deployed in high-profile conflict areas around the world. And Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations Pasquale Tamburrino guided the production of our most complex undersea weapons systems – the Seawolf and Virginia class submarines – at a cost reduction of 25 percent, $250 million per hull. Thank you. (Applause.)

And it’s fitting that, in a year when we finally have approved a historic health care reform bill, Anna Snyder – who unfortunately couldn’t be here tonight, I was told – of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in HHS, has implemented a system that reduced the rate of improper Medicare payments to save our country $12 billion a year.

And when what we affectionately call in the State Department “Snowmageddon” shut down the federal government a week this last February, the economic cost of that lost productivity was national news, as John well knows. But in 2006, when Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus had the Department of Justice back up and running at full speed just 40 days after major flooding disrupted building operations, while other buildings – some of them – took a full year, there were no headlines with his name. He just did the job that needed to get done, without fanfare but with great skill and resolve.

Those are just a few examples at each of your departments – Treasury, VA, Defense, all the others – your work to improve operating procedures and reduce wasteful spending has collectively saved the United States $49 billion. So thank you for making taxpayer dollars go further, which is especially important in these tight budget times, and for coming up with the solutions for problems that other people don’t even recognize, and being really ahead of the curve.

Every day, we know we see headlines about things involving the federal government. But it’s rare that we honor and recognize the individuals who actually put the policy into action, who make our government run. I think George would agree with me that when you’re in political life as a member of Congress, you can come up with all kinds of good ideas, you get the legislation passed, and then you just have to assume somebody else is actually going to implement it. And those somebody elses are all of you and your colleagues across our government.

So I hope tonight’s honor in this beautiful setting on this absolutely glorious spring day – and I don’t know, did you get to go out on the terrace? Yes. Fabulous view. I hope that you see this as at least a small token of this Administration’s thanks for your hard work. President Obama and I not only recognize your outstanding achievements, but all the ways that you inspire your colleagues as mentors and leaders. And we thank you for your leadership and your commitment. It is perhaps a small measure to give you the award and to have this dinner, but it comes with a great depth of understanding on my part of what it takes to be sitting where you all are tonight.

Thank you all so much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2010/583