Remarks with Miami Passport Agency Staff

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Miami, FL
April 14, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Wow. You guys look great. Thank you very, very – you haven’t been working hard enough. You look too good. (Laughter.) I’m really happy to be here and see everybody. How many people are SOUTHCOM people here? Raise your hand. SOUTHCOM. Thank you very much. We appreciate it enormously. Fort Lauderdale?


SECRETARY KERRY: Where are the Fort Lauderdale – over here. You hiding over there? What’s the matter, you scared of Miami or something? (Laughter.)

And then all the DS, Diplomatic Security people somewhere? Back there. Thank you. And of course, the Miami Passport Agency folks. Where – (applause).

AUDIENCE: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I beg your pardon?

AUDIENCE: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, I’m sorry. Oh, I thought – okay. I know there are some contractors here too, correct? (Applause.) Okay. I think I – I think we got everybody – 125 of you, right? Doing an amazing job every single day. Thank you very, very much.

I tell you, when I was a kid, I got my first passport when I was about 11 years old, and it was green with lots of seal – the American seal was on the front of it, all over it, and it was pretty hard covered, none of this sort of stuff we do now. But it was very impressive to me and I showed it to the State Department the first day I reported for duty when I came to the State Department. I opened it up and it said, “John, da-da-da-da, Kerry, da-da-da-da,” and then it said, “Four-foot-three.” (Laughter.) I swear to God. Hair, brown. (Laughter.) And as you can tell, it hasn’t changed much, so – still here.

But I used that passport, just to tell you, at age 12 years old to go through the checkpoint – Checkpoint Charlie – to go into the communist sector Berlin. And when my dad learned that at night – because I was very proud of it and I told him – he had a fit and yanked my passport. I was grounded. And he told me I could have been an international incident, held by the – but I think he was more worried that he was about to lose his job. (Laughter.) But it was an amazing lesson to a young kid about what a passport is, what it means and what it gets for you. And an American passport, without any question, is the most sought-after travel document in the world.

So I want to thank all of you for what you’re doing. Some 70,000 customers, 200,000-plus passports come through here. You are either behind a window patiently dealing with somebody as the face of our country, or you are on the phone or you’re mailing – whatever way it gets out to people. But I can’t tell you how many times even I have received a request, “Oh my God, I forgot my passport’s expired, can you get me a passport? I’m leaving by Monday,” and you’re at the last minute. So your reaction to these people is absolutely critical because you have a chance to send a message to them that the government works, that it works for them, that it can get the job done and get the job done quickly.

And you are a part of the security fabric of our country because the interviews, the work you do is critical to America knowing who is here, who’s coming into our nation, and you are critical obviously to sending a message to people that we can be efficient and compassionate and effective all at the same time.

So I just want to say to all of you, profoundly, thank you from President Obama, Vice President Biden, myself, all of us. We’re deeply grateful to you for what you do for this country every single day, helping to keep us safe, helping us to know who’s traveling, helping us to help American citizens to be able to travel around the world, and obviously helping to show people the real spirit of our nation in the dealings that you have with people on a very personal level every single day.

In some parts of the world, when somebody walks into our embassy and comes to the passport division and tries to get a visa, that may be the first American they’ve ever really dealt with in terms of their lives’ day-to-day affairs. So it’s really a special privilege. And I know it’s hard work, I know sometimes it’s just grunt work and monotonous and tedious and so forth, but the details that you pursue, the efficiency with which you do this, helps keep the United States of America safe.

So thank you to all of you. I know that this is the cruise season, so there’s even more pressure, and the holidays coming up, so forth, people travel a lot more. So we are aware of the pressure that you are under and we are engaged now in an emergency, urgent sort of effort to hire, and I’m particularly proud of the fact that we are reaching out to veterans, to hire veterans and reaching out to former Peace Corps people in order to bring them in to join you in the ranks of the United States State Department and the passport agency particularly.

So you want me to stop filibustering? Cause you have to go back to work if I do. (Laughter.) Just a huge thank you to all of you and I think everybody ought to applaud everybody else and say, “You are doing a great job too.” Thank you and God bless. Appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.) Ryan, thank you. And thanks to your chief Ryan Dooley. He does a great job. He was in Cuba 15 years ago (inaudible). Thank you.