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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Former Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould

Public Service Recognition Week - Kickoff Event at VA Headquarters
Washington, DC
May 4, 2010

Welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining us here this morning to kick off Public Service Recognition Week.

Dr. Trowell-Harris, your remarks perfectly set the tone for this week’s events, and I will do my best to complement your positive message.

I want to extend a particular welcome to our special guest colleagues—Ms. Twombly, Mr. Schadeberg, and Mr. Szaszdi. If my math is right, the three of you represent nearly 125 years of commitment to our nation’s Veterans—dedicated public service in the spirit of Lincoln’s promise to care for him who shall have borne the battle.

On behalf of Secretary Shinseki, thank you, and, if you would please come forward, I would like to present each of you with small token of my appreciation.

Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for our colleagues.

I can’t help but reflect on the fact that when Marilyn Twombly began her service 54 years ago, in 1956—during the Eisenhower administration—many Veterans of World War II and the Korean War were still in their twenties and thirties. There were no Vietnam Veterans, and Veterans of conflicts like the first Gulf War and today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were yet to be born. But while Veteran demographics changed dramatically over the ensuing five decades, VA’s mission—navigating by the pole star of a presidential pledge—never veered from Lincoln’s promise to care for our returning warriors.

And then, as I thought more on the longevity of public service reflected in the careers of our three colleagues, I considered all the men and women who have graced VA with their service from 1930, when we became an administration, through our transition into a Cabinet Department in 1989, right up to today, as we seek to transform ourselves into a truly 21st century VA.

What a broad expanse of employment history—hundreds of thousands, perhaps more than a million, public servants dedicated to such a noble cause. Working together, sharing a legacy of caring for their fellow countrymen and women who donned the nation’s uniform.

As a Navy Veteran—a title I’m proud to share with today’s master of ceremonies and the chairman of VA’s Public Service Recognition Week, Prince Taylor—I am naturally drawn to the words of Herman Melville, a great American author, adventurer, and seafarer, who wrote, "We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects."

That, my fellow public servants, is what we are all about: connecting federal government with the people; weaving the multi-stranded fibers of our work—our skills, our energies, our dedication—into the broad cloth of American life. Our cause—to lift up, assist, and honor our Veterans—comes back to us many times over when we see the effects of our work: Veterans receiving the best possible health care and rehabilitation; Veterans going to school, learning new skills, buying homes; aging Veterans comforted in their final days; and Veterans ennobled in final tributes in our national shrines.

We are among the 300,000 fibers connecting VA to our nation’s Veterans. From the newest threads of our youngest employees, to the silver strands of our most senior staff, we are connected to America’s Veterans though a shared and honorable sense of public service.

Our Department, the second-largest in the federal government, after Defense, directly touches the lives of our nation’s 23 million Veterans—about one-in-thirteen of all Americans. If you add in their families, their communities, and their employers, it’s likely that VA— from health care to benefits to national shrines—is almost everywhere Americans are. Talk about being connected!

And while I know we take pride in being the stewards of such a great mission, we are joined across this city and country by two million other Americans who have made federal service a career in dozens of departments, agencies, and bureaus.

In little more time than it will take me to deliver these remarks, federal government employees will have solved multiple crimes, supervised the safe take-offs and landings of dozens of airplanes, issued and updated the national weather forecast, welcomed hundreds of visitors to our national parks, rescued stranded boaters, paid food stamps to hungry citizens, and maintained the security of global positioning satellites so when your GPS tells you to turn right in 500 feet, you won’t find yourself in a corn field.

Public servants are powering the engine of government as it runs 24-7 to meet the demands not only of the American people, but also the global community’s interactions with us.

President Lincoln once observed, “This government … is worthy of [our] every effort. Nowhere in the world is presented a government of so much liberty and equality. To the humblest and poorest amongst us are held out the highest privileges and positions.”

Public service is a gateway opportunity to make an impact on the lives of our citizens, and to create policies that will better our society, our world, and our future.

In sum, good government is a reflection of the people who make it that way. Federal employees respect the public’s trust in them; they embrace the credo that ethical stewardship of the taxpayers’ dollars and expectations is inviolate.

But, and I say this from quite a few years in federal service—both in the Navy and in several federal agencies—federal employees are not immortal; we all have our allotted time. We will one day be relieved of the watch, and so we know that we must bring along the next generation of public servants who will take our place.

Which is why we are here today: to celebrate today’s federal workforce and to encourage a new cadre of service-minded citizens to step across the threshold of federal employment—to take on the work that must be done to keep America on the move.

In this day and age of green consciousness, government must be a renewable resource. It is my hope that this week—Public Service Recognition Week—we will kindle the interests of potential employees to give federal service a good hard look. I believe that if they do examine all the possibilities open to them—the myriad opportunities and responsibilities available to match their aspirations, education, and skills—they will join us and refresh our ranks with new energy, new ideas—and no less constancy of service

And when they join us—adding the fibers of their accomplishments to the great cloth of public service—when they are recruited, trained, retained, and promoted based on their skills and performance; when they are inspired to succeed by compassionate mentors and accountable leaders; they will see that those who bring government to life, once exposed to the tempering heat of experience and maturity, create a continuum of service worthy of our founders’ ideals, and deeply rewarding to themselves.

Thank you.