Federal Work Force Is 'Weapon of Democracy,' OPM Chief Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 9, 2002 America's civil service employees represent a "formidable weapon of democracy" in the war against global terrorism, the government's top personnel official said here today.
Kay Coles James, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, delivered the keynote address at this year's Public Service Recognition Week exhibition on the National Mall. James noted that Public Service Recognition Week activities, May 9-12 in 2002, are held to recognize the contributions of America's military personnel, and federal, state and local public servants.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, she said, have helped to erase "mental barriers" that existed among military members, DoD civilian employees, and employees from other federal agencies.
"We are America's team and we are here to serve the cause of freedom," James said, noting that the U.S. military in Afghanistan has "achieved the most exacting operation in defense of freedom since Normandy."
James said U.S. service members "successfully deployed to a land-locked nation half-a-world away, and with lightning speed they brought liberty to the Afghan people and justice to an evil regime and a new role for the terrorists of the world.
"The new title they have now is 'fugitive,'" she said.
James said America's federal civil service employees have also contributed in the war against global terrorism.
When Sept. 11 erupted, "federal workers who had trained for this moment sprang into action," she said. She praised "the 17,000 FBI agents who conducted "the greatest manhunt in human history." James also praised the Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs Service, and other government organizations that immediately stepped up to confront the crisis.
Civil servants employed in less colorful, dangerous jobs also serve, James said, noting, "Everywhere across this nation the prosaic, but sustaining, work of government continued."
"After all, what is the purpose of terrorism, but to terrorize?" the OPM director said. "When America's civil service committed those millions of quiet acts of defiance and returned to their desks, we showed them that we would not be cowards."
The Department of Agriculture "kept the school lunch program going," James said, while the Farm Services Administration continued to serve America's farmers.
"The Social Security Administration sent the checks to retirees -- on time," she added.
America's civil servants "kept the government running," James noted, as "they instantly grasped the nature of this threat and showed that America is unafraid."
David O. Cooke, the Pentagon's director for administration and management, is also on the President's Interagency Council on Administrative Management. He co-hosted the ceremony with William L. Bransford, vice chairman of the Public Employees Roundtable.
Roundtable officials said the group recognizes the quality of people in government and the services they provide; promotes excellence and esprit de corps within the government; and encourages people to enter government service and make it a career.
Cooke noted that the Mall exhibition, part of nationwide Public Service Recognition Week activities, ends Sunday afternoon. Two large tents on the Mall sheltered display booths from more than 60 military and civilian agencies. Static military equipment displays are stationed nearby outdoors.
Cooke was at the Pentagon during the terrorist attack and recalled for the audience the "heavy smoke, fumes, flames" produced by the hijacked airliner's impact. Like their military counterparts, Cooke noted, the Pentagon's civilian employees responded to the attack by using flashlights, golf carts and their voices to help others.
"These were ordinary men and women performing extraordinary things," Cooke remarked.
James noted that young people seeking extraordinary challenges -- who also want to make a difference -- should consider public service.
"If you want to make a contribution to this great nation, there's no better place to do it than in serving at the federal, state or local level in public service," she said.
Out on the National Mall, James told her audience, "You will find one of the most formidable weapons of democracy the federal work force."