Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Arnold Chacon

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
January 8, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, all, good morning to you on what is a cold morning. (Laughter.) Makes me feel right at home from Boston, right?

I am really delighted that so many of you could come and join us today for the launch of the new year with this most important nomination, which we will momentarily render utilitarian. And I can’t thank everybody enough for their support for what has been a much-too-long period of waiting to get here. Later today, I will swear in our – another appointee, Mr. Rose, who will – has waited over 500 days. So you should be feeling very blessed. (Laughter.) No small statement about the new United States Senate, I know.

But this is a really key position – and I think that might be well reflected in the numbers of people who are here today to celebrate it – most important to the future of the Foreign Service, future of this Department, because this job plays a critical role in the selection of future leaders, in the makeup and shape of this Department. It is the heart of our human resource production center, and therefore, the heart, in a sense, of the Foreign Service itself. So this role as the director of human resources, which is what we are all about, could not be more important.

I want to welcome the members of Arnie’s family who are here with us – his parents, John and Helen, his wife Alida, and their daughter Sarah, his brother Michael. And we’re very happy for all of you being here. Thank you. I’m also pleased to welcome, obviously, so many of the ambassador’s colleagues, including several distinguished predecessors as director general, and I welcome you all. And I also want to particularly welcome a temporary former boss of Arnie’s, former Ambassador to Spain Alan Solomont who is here, who I might add gave you a very glowing recommendation – (laughter) --


SECRETARY KERRY: -- long, long before I knew what I was looking for or that the position might be open. He said, “You got to watch this guy. He’s really, really good.” So good things do come out of political appointees, folks. (Laughter.) And Alan is a very good and old friend of mine from Massachusetts.

As I said a moment ago, the reason this position is so important is that we are only as good in this Department as our people. It’s a people place, and we’re involved in a people business. And what makes it particularly challenging and interesting is it’s a people business with lots of people, with different cultures, different languages, different histories, different challenges. And our job is to learn how to understand those challenges and meld into those cultures and marry those histories and pull it all together in a way that meets the needs of our policy and interests, of course, because that’s what diplomacy is about, but at the same time clearly helps people in other countries and meets the needs of those nations also. And it isn’t good diplomacy if you can’t do that.

So this is a very important appointment with respect to the shaping of the future of American foreign policy, our civil service, our locally employed staff, our contractors. Every component of the Department comes under this appointment. Our success or our failure depends on having the right people in the right place at the right time, and it depends on having men and women who are qualified and dedicated, enthusiastic, capable, for whom this is more than just a job; it’s a passion.

It also means making sure that everybody is as safe as they can be in, as we are reminded yesterday, an increasingly complicated and challenging world. It’s a dangerous world at times, and we have no alternative but to demand the very best, to expect the very best, and to recruit and retain the very best. And that requires real leadership, and that is why President Obama chose Ambassador Chacon for this uniquely challenging post.

The ambassador comes to this job with almost a third of a century of experience under his belt already in the Foreign Service. For the past three years, he was head of our mission in Guatemala, where I had the chance to personally see his capabilities firsthand when I traveled there last year for the OAS meeting in Antigua. And before that, Arnie’s many postings included Latin America, Europe, among them DCM in Madrid, as I mentioned a moment ago. He served at the UN Mission in New York, and he’s won the Presidential Rank Award and numerous other honors.

Ambassador Chacon is someone who knows what this Department needs. He’s lived it. He knows how it operates and how to get things done, and above all, he is passionate about fulfilling our priority goals of service, leadership, and diversity of personnel.

Years ago, when still in school, Arnie went to work. He went to volunteer actually for an NGO, Amigos de las Americas, that was involved in public health projects in Latin America. And that’s where he first became aware of America’s partnerships with other countries. It’s where he first met U.S. Foreign Service officers and aid professionals who were helping to build bridges to our neighbors. And it’s when he first began to master the art of negotiation, as he arranged with local officials for volunteers to work in particular areas. In other words, he fundamentally caught the foreign policy bug, or the bug caught him, however you want to say it. And that’s why several decades later we are here to mark yet another important milestone in a truly remarkable career.

I’m excited about this appointment, because I have confidence in the ambassador as a skilled teacher and as someone who understands the process of recruiting and training good people and of guiding them from one position to the next. And we have been very blessed always to have strong people in this role. One strong, most recently Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who I arm-twisted and cajoled and stole from a position she loved, and went on to take on the challenge of assistant secretary for Africa at a time that we really needed that kind of strength of leadership, and I’m grateful to her for doing it.

But like Linda, Arnie is committed to building the strongest and most versatile team that this Department has ever had. As he said in his confirmation hearing, the men and women we employ are among the most talented, loyal, and hardworking anywhere and they deserve our steadfast support. And I can absolutely guarantee to all the members of this Department that, as director general, in Arnold Chacon they will have that support.

It’s no accident that this Department consistently ranks in the top of the ratings of best places to work in, and I’m proud to tell you that under Linda’s stewardship and everybody else’s hard work we went up a notch this past year from fourth to third. And folks, before I leave here, I want to see number one, okay? (Laughter.)

The reason we’ve been able to do this, I think, is because our work has a direct impact on millions of people every day. There’s not a lot of jobs where you can get up in the morning and go to work and know you’re going to make a difference in somebody else’s life. And the fact is that on the great issues of war and peace, at a moment of enormous challenge in failing and failed states around the world, the individual stories of opportunity and freedom and justice that we help to write can make anybody proud of a lifetime of work. And it is inspiring. It’s also the heart of the challenge that we face for the future at this dawn of this new century.

We have a terrific story to tell here. Not enough of it gets told every day, I think. And it seems to me that more young people should be aware in our country of the extraordinarily fulfilling work that can take place as a member of the State Department, USAID, and part of this family that goes out into the world to carry American values and try to protect America’s interests.

We begin 2015 with a very full agenda, from fighting terrorism to building shared prosperity, promoting human rights, protecting the global environment. We will need all hands on deck to do the things we need to do. And that means supporting our personnel and their families, even as we harness the collective energy and intellect and skill of everybody here and not here who are all part of this Department.

I know that in his new position Arnie is going to do this, he’s going to bring us together, and he’s going to help us move forward on every single front of the human resources challenge. In that effort, I promise you he will have my complete backing, and I’m confident that he will have yours as well. So without further ado, it’s my pleasure now to swear in Ambassador Arnold Chacon as the 29th Director General of the United States Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources.

Arnie, if you would – (applause) – (inaudible). Raise your right hand, sir. (Inaudible.) There you go. It’s part of my job; I’m a photo opportunity now. (Laughter.) And you repeat after me your name.

(The oath of office was administered and the appointment papers were signed.)


Ladies and gentlemen, Director General Arnold Chacon. (Cheering and Applause.)

AMBASSADOR CHACON: It is a great honor and an enormous privilege, Mr. Secretary, to stand here with you this morning. I am deeply grateful to you and President Obama for the opportunity to serve. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to advance American diplomacy during this historic moment of turbulence – and as the Secretary reminds us, a historic moment of opportunity for our country and for the world. And finally, I am deeply grateful to have the opportunity to lead the world’s best diplomats and our government’s best workforce.

I care deeply and passionately about our organization and the people in it. I take enormous pride in the skill, grit, sacrifice, and commitment of our team here in Washington and around the world. And I know that we can and we must continue to adapt to a changing world.

Our national strength is a product of our continued national renewal, our endless journey to become a stronger and more perfect union. This is the spirit of our State Department team as well. For all the pride we take in our work, we all know we can do better, smarter, faster, and more diverse. And I am committed to doing everything I can to enable and empower our team to not only aim higher and farther, but to prove to ourselves and to the American people that there is no better investment out there than the investment in American diplomacy and in America’s diplomats.

The Department’s diversity, like our country’s, makes us stronger, not weaker. I will be the director general for all of the State Department family – Civil Service, Foreign Service, locally employed staff, family members, contractors, interns, detailees, and yes, Mr. Secretary, even Ben the diplo-pup. (Laughter.)

I will also ensure that our family reflects America in all its magnificent variety and represents every corner and every face of our great nation. Our mission is to recruit, retain, and sustain exemplary employees who advance our values, interests, and goals. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the essential thing to do if we’re going to navigate the complex challenges of the 21st century and make the most of new opportunities.

We will be guided by the Secretary’s leadership and management principles, which focus on mission first, people always. We will fight for resources to reduce complexity, returning value and time to employees, so that together we can focus on delivering results that matter. For me, this entails reasserting the Department’s preeminence in the foreign policy process, empowering a diverse workforce, achieving work-life wellness, and enhancing communication at every level.

My remarkable Foreign Service journey could not have prospered or been as meaningful without the support and love of my wife and partner, Alida, and my three children, Sarah, Helen (ph), and Jonathan (ph). As a family, we have given our best years to promoting and representing our country at home and abroad. I’m grateful that my parents and brother could be here today to share in this special moment. My parents’ devotion to God and country and the less fortunate inspired my lifelong commitment to public service, and I love them and I honor them.

I’m also pleased and humbled by the presence today of so many friends and colleagues who share my desire to make a difference in people’s lives. I think of myself as a protege of a unique generation of accomplished and trailblazing diplomats – in particular, Ambassadors Cresencio Arcos, John Negroponte, Alan Solomont, Kristie Kenney, Harry Thomas, Ruth Davis, Skip Gnehm, Ambassador Perkins, and Sally Cowal. It has been my good fortune to have been mentored by such exceptional individuals who gave me career-enhancing opportunities and helped me become the best that I could be.

I would not be here today without the persistence and persuasiveness of key supporters who advocated for my confirmation, from Secretary Kerry, Deputy Secretary Higginbottom and Chief of Staff David Wade, to Counselor Tom Shannon and Under Secretary Kennedy and Assistant Secretaries Brownfield and Frifield. I would also like to express my gratitude to former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Al Zapanta, Lino Gutierrez, Dan Fisk, Roger Noriega, Eddy Acevedo, Bob Silverman, Pranay Vaddi, and the members of the Hispanic Employees Council of the Foreign Affairs Agencies.

Finally, I want to express my appreciation to Hans Klemm and the entire human resources team – in particular, Judy Reed, Connie Dierman, Karen Keshap, Brenda Greenberg, and Karen Krueger. I could not have a more capable, professional, and motivated team.

Secretary Kerry argues that global leadership is a strategic imperative for America. It amplifies our voice, it extends our reach; it is key to jobs, the fulcrum of our influence, and it matters to the daily lives of Americans; it matters that we get this moment right for America, and it matters that we get it right for the world. To get it right, to continue to lead, and to continue to advance global peace and prosperity, America’s diplomats must be on the front lines, and we must do everything we can to ensure their success.

I will work tirelessly, Mr. Secretary, to do just that. I want to thank you and everyone in this room today for your support and partnership. I have never been more confident in the future of American diplomacy, never more confident in the value of public service, and never more inspired by the cause of American diplomacy.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: So that concludes the ceremony, but Arnie’s going to receive everybody, if you’d sort of line up and come by, I know he wants to say hello and thank you to everybody here. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)