The President: Thank you.
Thank you so much, everybody.
Thank you very much.
Everybody, have a seat, have a seat.
Thank you very much.
Well, thank you for that introduction,
Elliott, and your service.
Thanks to all of my members of the Cabinet who are here today.
And welcome, everybody who is here,
as well as joining us online.
My message here is simple: Thank you.
I'd like to come bearing raises and perks.
But I can't.
But what I can do is tell you how important
you are not just to me, but to the country.
Many of you do what you do at extraordinary sacrifice.
You could work at a lot of places.
You made a decision at some point in your life
to serve your country -- your country is stronger
because you made that decision.
You keep America running -- our airports, our embassies,
our financial system.
You take care of our troops and their families.
You do it without fanfare -- in fact,
doing your job right often means nobody hears about you.
They only report when something goes wrong,
or when there's a shutdown and suddenly somebody notices --
oh, we need that and nobody is doing it.
And in recent years, it's gotten more
challenging for so many of you.
You work under tough circumstances,
whether it's sequestration, pay freeze, shutdown,
and, more importantly, a political climate where folks
too often talk down government for cheap applause.
So my main message is, thank you.
But part of my message today also is to recognize
that that we do have an issue that we've got to address,
and that is, Americans don't trust government
like we used to.
Part of that is a very deliberate strategy
of trying to undermine government.
Part of it is political opportunism.
But part of it is our need to constantly adapt
to the demands of the 21st century.
That's why we need you, and that's why we need the best
and brightest of coming generations to serve.
And that's why those of us who believe that government
can and must be a force for good;
those of us that believe that together,
we can keep our country safe, and guarantee basic security,
and make sure everybody has a shot at success;
those of us who believe, as President Lincoln
did, that there are some things we should and must
do on our own, but there are some things that
we can and should do better together;
those of us who believe in both individual initiative,
but also the common good -- we've got to work harder
to make sure that government works.
We have to constantly ask ourselves,
how can we serve Americans better?
How can we yank this government into the 21st century
and make it smarter and faster and more responsive?
Because if all we're doing is hunkering down
and trying to push back against complaints
and criticisms -- many of which are unfair --
but we're not engaging in self-reflection
and trying to figure out how every single day
we can be doing our jobs a little bit better,
then we're failing the American people,
and we're failing an incredible tradition
that helped to build this country
that you are a part of.
So I've got a couple suggestions in this process;
I want to know yours.
But first, I want to just offer a few examples
of people who ask themselves that question:
How can I do it better every single day,
and, as a consequence, make this country stronger?
Case study number one: When the Ebola outbreak began,
Gary Penner and the State Department's Medical Services
team helped swiftly transport American aid workers
with Ebola to the United States for life-saving treatment.
And then Gary traveled to our embassies
in Liberia and Sierra Leone and Guinea to brief
all our personnel in the region on the steps
they should take to stay safe.
And at a time of stress and fear, Gary
and his team helped keep people calm
and prepared and healthy.
And so Gary's been an integral part of a team
that, as we speak, is in West Africa saving lives.
And for that, we want to thank Gary.
Example number two: We worked with the international community
to destroy Syria's declared chemical weapons,
which have made the region and the world safer.
And it was Kevin Tokarski's job to help
get those stockpiles out of Syria and onto a ship
so they could be taken away and destroyed.
You probably never heard of Kevin's team
at the Transportation Department -- that's what happens
when you do your job well.
Fortunately for the world, they did their job well,
and we thank you, Kevin, for not making news
and getting those chemical weapons out.
Example number three: Although everybody here
is doing remarkable work, let's face it,
usually what we do isn't rocket science -- unless it is.
So Julie Kramer White is helping America launch
a new era of space exploration.
Julie is NASA's chief engineer for Orion, the new spacecraft
that could carry humans farther into space than we've ever seen before.
I'm sure you were all as proud
as I was to see Orion's first successful flight
test last Friday.
America was already the first nation to land a rover on Mars;
when an American is the first human to set foot there,
we'll have Julie and her team to thank.
And at that point, I'll be out of the presidency
and I might hitch a ride.
So thank you, Julie, for your great work.
I could go on indefinitely.
Our senior leaders here and around the globe
are the best of the best.
I have to tell you, by the way, increasingly,
we're attracting folks from the private sector to come
and work with us and help brainstorm
with us around issues, and it always amuses me when
they have been around here for a while and they report back
to me, wow, these people are really smart,
they really work hard.
Yes, it shouldn't surprise you.
But it's a testament to the fact that, too often,
you don't get that notice.
And with your help, we're working to give you
a little more support to keep attracting the new talent
that we're going to need for the future.
So first, we're creating a new initiative called
the White House Leadership Development Program
for Future Senior Career Executives.
Talented civil servants are going to have a chance
to rotate through different agencies
on high-priority assignments, and then they'll bring
back their new expertise to their home agency.
We want great ideas to have the chance to spread.
We want people to get new experiences
that reenergize them, reinvigorate them.
We want those ideas to cross-pollinate across agencies.
We want the next generation of leaders
to have the experience of solving problems
and building relationships across the government.
Because one thing that we have to acknowledge
is that our government often statutorily
was organized for the needs of the 1930s or '40s or '60s,
and too often, we get stove-piped at a time
when we need people with different skillsets
and different agencies to be working together.
So this is a terrific opportunity for folks
to create networks across government.
Second, we want to do more to recruit, develop,
and retain exceptional civil servants,
and nobody knows how to do that better than you.
So we're creating a White House Advisory Group on
Senior Executive Service Reform, and it's going
to include leaders from large and small agencies
as well as rising leaders -- we want to hear from them too.
And we also want to make sure you're hearing
from your employees.
Every year, they give feedback through
the federal employee survey, but too few of you see it.
So starting today, all of you are going
to have access to a website where we've assembled
that feedback in a way that's clear and easy to read.
It's called UnlockTalent.gov --
it's worth checking out.
One of the things that we know in the private sector
about continuous improvement is you've got
to have the folks right there on the front lines
able to make suggestions and know that they're
heard, and to not simply be rewarded for doing
an outstanding job, but to see their ideas
implemented in ways that really make a difference.
Because most of the time, people get involved
in government because they want to make a difference.
And there's no greater satisfaction than when you
see something that you identified as a better way
of doing things implemented.
Third, in recognition of those who go above
and beyond every day, we're creating an award
to recognize outstanding service.
I'm surprised this hasn't been done before,
but we're going to start.
When an American needs something from their
government -- whether an education grant,
or a passport, or help turning a great idea into a small
business -- they're interacting with many of you.
You can make enormous differences in the lives
of individual Americans every single day.
We are going to honor the people who do this job best.
Because ultimately, that's what it's about --
making sure our government serves the American people.
And I'm going to keep doing everything I can
to support you and your teams.
I want you to know that I've got your back,
because I know that for many of you, this job
is more than just a paycheck -- it's a chance to serve
the country that you love.
That's why some of the best civil servants never
quite leave the job.
Even after they retire, or could retire,
they keep on serving.
Which brings me to two public servants
that many of you know.
When Elton Lester began his career
at the Department of Housing and Urban Development,
the department was still pretty new.
He was the only person of color
in the General Counsel's office.
And today, thanks in part to Elton's efforts,
HUD's workforce has grown more diverse.
And now Elton helps oversee every one
of HUD's insured housing and assisted housing programs
even though, after more than 40 years
in public service, he could retire.
He could be getting a check
every month and not working.
And that's dedication, that he's still showing up,
because he knows his stuff and he wants to make a difference.
Dwight Ink was a member of the civil service under
seven Presidents -- briefed President
Eisenhower, led the recovery effort after
the 1964 Alaskan earthquake.
I confess I didn't know there was an earthquake
in Alaska in 1964.
I was three at the time.
When he was 70, he retired -- kind of.
He stayed active on the issue he's most passionate
about, and that's strengthening the civil service,
helped lead public administration organizations,
wrote articles about how to make government better.
Today, Dwight is 92.
He's still at it.
He and his wife, Dona, are here
with us here today.
I'd ask all of you to join me in giving Dwight
and all the retired civil servants here
a big round of applause.
There's Dwight back there.
So that's the kind of spirit of service that built America.
That's the commitment that keeps America strong.
And now it's up to us to build upon the work that generations
of public servants have done to make our nation stronger
and more prosperous.
And every day, I am proud to be your partner.
This is going to continue to be a tough environment.
There's not going to be a lot of new money flowing.
There is going to continue to be ideological battles
about -- for those who think that the market
is king and there's no room for any kind of
regulatory efforts to make our air and water cleaner,
or to make our workers be in a safer work environment,
to assure that every child, not just some, get opportunity.
It's going to continue to be easy copy for the press
to focus on the one thing that goes wrong instead
of the 99 things that go right --
that's not going to change.
But what I tell my team in the White House
every single day, and I want to tell all of you --
and some of you know this and some of you have lived it,
Dwight certainly has -- there is no greater
opportunity to help more people, to make a bigger
difference -- in some cases to help millions,
in some cases to help billions around the world
-- than to be in the positions that we are
privileged to be in right now.
And for the short time that we're on this Earth,
I always tell my daughters there are two things
you need to learn.
One is you need to learn how to love and make
connections with people, to show empathy and be
able to stand in somebody else's shoes,
and understand what it is to be a friend or a spouse
or a parent.
And the other thing is being useful, just being
of use -- knowing that when you wake
up every day, you have the chance to maybe make sure
that somebody who didn't have a job last week has a job;
to make sure that somebody who is driving to work
gets there safely because the road is safe;
to make sure that somebody who didn't have health care
now has it, and as a consequence, are able
to catch that disease before it kills them;
to make sure that some child somewhere that doesn't
have much of a chance suddenly gets that chance,
and their whole world, their whole life suddenly
unfolds differently because of what you did.
What an incredible privilege that is.
What better way to spend your careers than
what you do right now.
I want you to wake up every day knowing that
the President of the United States appreciates
you for making that difference.
God bless you, God bless America.