Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
January 30, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, good morning to everybody.  Thank you all for coming to join us.  Finally, we are getting some confirmed people actually sworn in.  (Laughter.)  What a process.  I reach my one-year mark the day after tomorrow, and I still am waiting for 50 percent of my under secretaries and a whole set of assistant secretaries, not to mention a very large group of ambassadors.  So I will be on the phone today to both the majority leader and the minority leader in the Senate in an effort to try to accelerate this process.

But today, thank heavens, I get to finally swear in the other half of what The Washington Post has called DC’s new power couple.  (Laughter.)  I set out to embarrass Heather right away, folks.  (Laughter.)  I’m not waiting at all.  Heather’s predecessors in the job both wanted to be here but were not able to be here, but I want you to know, because Heather will not tell you, that the first two people – literally, first two people to congratulate her when she was confirmed were the two people who had the job before her, Jack Lew and Tom Nides.  And I heard that Secretary Lew wrote her a terrific note, a personal note of congratulations, and the reason she knew it was from Jack Lew was that she couldn’t read the handwriting, so – (laughter) – those of us who know Jack know that.  It’s true.


This is a really nice, special kind of family event.  It’s got a lot of similarity to the event that I was privileged to be at most of before I had to run out to leave – with Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden a week or so ago when we swore in our new Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Affairs – Issues.  And we all felt a very special connection there because I’ve known Tom Donilon a long time, Mike Donilon worked on my campaign in 2004, he worked for Joe Biden, as both of them had for years and years.  We’ve all known each other since 1970s.  And so there was a special longevity and family quality to it, and that is exactly how I feel and how we come here today.


Heather’s husband, Danny, worked with me on the Senate Commerce Committee for years and years before he came here as Ambassador Danny Sepulveda.  And I know that I am also welcoming here the person who may, at some point in this event, steal the entire show – that’s beautiful daughter Gisele.  (Laughter.)  In show business, they tell you never share an event or a stage with children or animals.  (Laughter.)  So while I’m not competing with Heather’s dog, Lola, today – (laughter) – Gisele, I fully expect you to do something to steal the show somewhere here.  She’s over there.  She’s kind of tuning out, I think, right now – (laughter) – which you’re not allowed to do to the Secretary of State.  (Laughter.)


Anyway, I want to welcome the rest of Heather’s family here.  George and Anne, everything that I know and admire about Heather is – starts with the DNA.  Her parents live up on Cape Cod in Yarmouth Port, and if you know anything about them, you’ll understand exactly why Heather is standing here right now.  And as a retired professor of English Literature at the State University in Binghamton in New York, George used to be the Dean of Liberal Studies at Broome Community College in Binghamton, and he is almost as big a hockey fan as I am.  (Laughter.)


So Heather comes from a family of professors and teachers who love learning, and they have a passion for the community around them, global community.  And Heather, I know, applies those lessons on a day-to-day basis.  Like her parents, she knows that leading America requires a understanding of and connection to community, and it brings every single one of us that sort of thinking and the tradition, which her family represents, brings us all to this notion of service, to a set of ideals that are bigger than each and any one of us individually.


I first met Heather up on the fourth floor of the Russell Senate Office Building 15 years ago, 1999, when she came to interview to be a legislative assistant to me.  And it’s amazing how fast the time has gone.  It just feels like yesterday, a head full of thick hair and smart, creative, played soccer, hockey – I’m talking about me, not her.  (Laughter.)  I don’t remember anything about Heather.  (Laughter.)  No, only joking.  (Laughter.)  But a lot has changed since she came to work for me way back then, a lot of what both of us have experienced.  She’s worked at the highest levels of government and politics, from presidential campaigns to the White House Office of OMB.


What stands out mostly, though, is what hasn’t changed about Heather – the fact that she remains as idealistic, as committed, as smart, as diligent, as capable as she proved herself to be the day she came to work, and as committed to public service and to the mission of the State Department and this Administration.


Her journey has taken her from my Senate staff at the entry level, to my presidential campaign and then back to my Senate staff.  Not the route we – either of us planned.  (Laughter.)  She became then my legislative director, and then left that job to help me start up a think tank here in Washington called the American Security Project – a lot of people don’t realize that was a place where she cut her teeth – and then went off to Chicago to work for a candidate named Barack Obama.  The rest, obviously, is history.


I’ve joked with the President that he stole Heather from me, so it’s only fitting that I sort of half-stealing back, but the reality is she’s still working for the President of the United States, as we all are.  And I’m grateful to him that he didn’t mind my bringing her over here so she could change location and function at this point in time.


But she has taken a really remarkable journey in a short span of years.  I want to ensure everybody here in the State Department that she is mightily prepared for this job, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.  It’s a big job, building on the big accomplishments of Jack Lew and Tom Nides.  It’s a job, as you all know, that has existed but wasn’t filled.  And then Hillary recognized that it was important to do so, and did so, and I think to the great benefit of the Department, because there is so much to do. 


And Heather now is the first woman to hold the title of Deputy Secretary of State.  (Applause.)  That’s a statement in and of itself, as you have all just recognized, and it’s important.  But I want you to know that no one ever said to me about this job, “I’m so glad you found a woman.”  They have said to me, “I’m really glad you gave this job to Heather,” or “Heather is the right person for this job.”  And we are here because – I know many of you have worked with Heather either in her role on Capitol Hill or over at OMB.  Some of you worked on the campaign trail with her in 2004 and 2008, where she served in 2008 as President Obama’s Policy Director.  Many of you worked with her in the White House where she was serving as the Deputy Director for the Domestic Policy Council and then Deputy Director of OMB. 


And a lot of you understand what prompted David Plouffe to call her the “Jill-of-all-trades.”  She will draw on her experience in all of those jobs here.  And it is good that she understands the Hill, she understands the White House, she understands the budget, she understands all of the management challenges that we face.  But importantly, she also is a terrific listener.  She’s a great manager.  She has the ability to be able to help us modernize and innovate and do the things we need to do to make sure that this Department is operating by 21st century standards, and that we are breaking new ground with respect to how we communicate how we bring people to our issues and to our values. 


So while she came to us as somebody who learned how to look at the budget and the numbers, and we all understand the green eyeshade components of the OMB, I would say she is not a green eyeshade type of person.  She doesn’t look at our budget as piece of paper.  She understands that it is a reflection of our mission and of our values and of how we can best meet our interests on a global basis, which is an enormous challenge in and of itself, with 275 posts and 70,000 people.  The decisions that she makes as Deputy Secretary of State for Management in her work with our superb Under Secretary Pat Kennedy, are going to be absolutely critical to deciding whether our diplomats are safe, whether we expand our trade and investment, whether we can create opportunity, protect human rights, pursue peace, and most importantly, project the interests of our country in the way that we need to in the context of 21st-century diplomacy. 


I know from my own early experience as a – just watching my dad in the years that he was in the Foreign Service, this place has changed a great deal and the challenges here have changed enormously also.  But now we have somebody who can come to work every day in the context of this 21st century challenge and help us to manage our challenge more effectively.  That’s why this role exists.  And I am absolutely confident that Heather’s the right person at the right moment of time to take on this challenge and follow in the footsteps of what Jack and Tom succeeded in doing.


So it’s my pleasure on behalf of President Obama and all of us in the State Department to now administer the oath of office to the first woman to hold this job and to somebody who I am, as you can tell from these comments, fully confident is going to set a great standard for us and help every single one of you to do your jobs and carry out our mission more effectively.


So Heather, if you’ll step up and we can --


(The oath was administered.)


DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for those very kind – oh, sorry – and very kind words.  I am so grateful to you and to the President for this opportunity.  And I’m honored to once again have the chance to serve you.  I could never have imagined the ride that I would take after walking into your Senate office 15 years ago.  I have always felt lucky to count myself on Team Kerry and to be able to count time and again on your support and friendship.  Thank you.


When I joined the President’s team in 2007, I knew that he would change the country, but I don’t think I had any idea how he would change my life, and I will always be grateful for him for this opportunity to serve, and more importantly, for the things that he has done for this country. 


I’m thrilled to be joined here by my wonderful family, first and foremost, my husband Danny Sepulveda, my daughter – our daughter Gisele who is running around between your legs, I’m afraid, right now.  There she is.  Hi, Gisele.  (Laughter.)  Last time she was really good.  (Laughter.)  My parents, Anne and George Higginbottom, who inspired in me the desire the serve.  My brother and sister-in-law, Eric and Stella Higginbottom, Danny’s sister Patty, her husband Rusten, and our sister-in-law Kathryn Hurd.  So thank you so much for being here.  It means a lot.  And Kathryn – Patty and Rusten traveled from Florida into this frigid weather to be here, so I’m especially grateful for that. 


Looking out at this crowd, I see so many familiar and friendly faces from children – childhood friends to friends and colleagues I’ve made in the past year here at the State Department, and literally every step in between.  You’ve all helped me make this day possible, and I’m in debt for your wisdom, kindness, good humor, friendship, and counsel.  And thank you so much for being here today.


And I have a lot of people to thank, and this feels a tiny bit like the Oscars and a very surreal experience, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t publicly thank the people in my office and in the Office of Legislative Affairs who worked so hard on my confirmation.  In particular, I want to thank Rob Fallon, our nominations guru, and Tom Sullivan for skillfully guiding me through the confirmation process.  And Andy O’Connell in my office, for being a terrific sparring partner.  But it was really a whole team effort, and I have Maya and the whole DMR – that’s what my office is called – I have the whole DMR team to thank.  So thank you so much for making this possible.


I also want to thank Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, Under Secretaries Wendy Sherman and Pat Kennedy and Counselor Tom Shannon, Administrator Raj Shah for their support and counsel, and for all of the good work that I know we’re going to do together.  And finally, although he’s going to hate it, I have to single out David Wade who’s, of course, in the back.  (Laughter.)  He’s the Secretary’s Chief of Staff and over the past year I have had the privilege of once again working shoulder-to-shoulder with David.  He’s absolutely brilliant, he’s an incredibly hard worker, he’s a lot of fun, and he’s a great colleague.  And I’m really grateful for his friendship and support.


For me, balancing our presence in Asia, to making peace in Syria, to rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, to embracing our friends in this hemisphere, to the many crises we cannot begin to predict, the people at the State Department and USAID will confront tremendous challenges and opportunities in 2014 and beyond.  In this role, I’ll share in the global responsibility for U.S. foreign policy, but I’ll also seek to drive institutional reforms.  I’m thankful that my two predecessors Jack Lew and Tom Nides, as the Secretary noted, were remarkable public servants who left behind an impressive legacy.  I plan to build on their work so that we can leave behind a stronger institution, one that can continue to advance America’s interests in the coming decades.


A top priority for my team will be working to ensure our posts and people are safe and secure.  We need our diplomats fully engaged wherever our vital national interests are at stake, and that means we must constantly improve the way we protect our people and our posts.  I’ll also work to ensure that we use taxpayer resources wisely and efficiently.  As you all know, America’s investment in diplomacy and development is critical to our global leadership, to our national security, and to our nation’s prosperity.  It’s one of the very best investments we can make for our country and it’s the right thing to do.


But we must do everything we can to increase the return on that investment.  That’s why I’ll focus on management reform and innovation.  I want to step up our efforts to align our budget planning and management functions with our foreign policy priorities, including by launching the second quadrennial diplomacy and development review and by improving the way the State and USAID coordinate our development activities.  Our shared development mission is crucial for America’s national interest.


Of course, change can’t just be top-down.  We need to foster a culture where all our diplomats and development experts are empowered to find new, exciting, productive ways of doing business.  We owe that to the employees here and to the American people.


I know that together we’re going to accomplish amazing things, and we’d better because the Secretary has really laid out an ambitious agenda for us.  In the coming years, if we’re successful in achieving those goals, it won’t be because of me.  It’ll be because of the terrific people in my office, in this building, and at our posts – 270 posts around the world.  Our diplomats and development experts are our greatest resource, and they do a remarkable service for the American people.  Under the Secretary’s leadership, I plan to do my part to support their efforts and to keep America safe and prosperous.


Mr. Secretary, on behalf of my family and myself, my most sincere thanks for this opportunity and for your confidence in me.  Thank you.  (Applause.)