Remarks by Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff at a Welcome Ceremony With Employees

WASHINGTON — Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate everybody turning out on such a kind of nasty day to welcome me to this great Department. I guess I’ve been Secretary for a little less than 24 hours, and I’ve gotten an extraordinary reception from people in all parts of the Department. And I am really proud to join you in serving the American people.

I’ve said this before, but it means a lot to me and I want to say it again. I have had the occasion in the last five weeks, since the President announced his intent to nominate me, to travel back and forth from New Jersey by train to be in various restaurants and public places and to have people come up to me to congratulate me but also to thank me for joining the Department of Homeland Security, because they think the work of this Department is so important, that the people who serve here are doing maybe the most important job in government, which is protecting their families and their loved ones.

And having been in a number of different government jobs, I have to say I’ve never experienced the sense of public ownership that I experienced since I’ve become the nominee for this Department. And I think it’s a tribute to the important work that you do and the service that you render that people feel that way.

Speaking personally, you know, I’ve taken the oath of office to serve in various government jobs on a number of occasions. One occasion I remember in particular goes back almost 25 years when I started out in my first entry-level job as a young assistant United States attorney in Manhattan. And it was really the fulfillment of a dream I had as a young lawyer to be able to serve the public in a job which was very important. And I vividly remember how important it was to me on that day to join a company of men and women who were doing extraordinary work to protect the American public.

And I still carry that vision of what public service is within me as I join you today, because I think each and every one of you, by being here, have had the same sensation that I had then, that there’s nothing you can do professionally that is more important than serving the United States.

I also know that in the wake of September 11th, the job of protecting the homeland has taken on an urgency as never before. All of us were touched by September 11th. Some of us lost loved ones and friends. All of us saw the devastation that was inflicted on the American public, and we experience to this day the consequences of that.

When I look out among you, I know all you agree with me and believe as I do that the most important thing we do in our jobs each day is to work as hard as we can to prevent something from that from ever happening again. And I am, therefore, proud and privileged to join you in serving in this great Department to achieve that very important public purpose.

I have to pay tribute to some individuals, as well as to all of you collectively. First of all, Secretary Tom Ridge, who took on the very difficult task of leading the Department at birth, really has done a superb job in setting the tone and making it very difficult for me, actually, to fill his shoes. And to the extent I’m able to achieve anything during my tenure, it will be because I stand on the shoulders of Tom Ridge and get the benefit of what he accomplished.

I want to recognize Admiral Jim Loy, who has dedicated more than 40 years to a career in public service and has been outstanding in every one of those jobs. It’s really an inspiration to be able to work with him as we overlap during these weeks. He brings a tremendous spirit, as well as tremendous knowledge to the job.

Finally, I want to thank all of the people who aided me in this transition. You have all been tremendous in trying to get me up to speed quickly through the process of learning about the Department in anticipation of my hearings, and now on my first day on the job.

I hope that I get to work with each and every one of you. I am going to be looking to learn from you. I want to hear your experiences, your observations, and your ideas for how we can make this Department better.

I know we have done a lot. I know there’s a lot more to do. But I do know that the one thing that distinguishes this Department is the spirit of the people who serve within it, and the goodwill and prayers of everybody in the American public who wishes us the best. And so when sometimes we get tired or frustrated or impatient, I think the thing that I will bear in mind is that we have a tremendous responsibility and a tremendous privilege, and every day we can carry that out is a day that we can feel we’ve done a job very well done.

Anyway, I appreciate again your turning out for this. It is a great privilege for me to stand here and say hello to each of you, and I look forward to seeing you and working with you again in the days and weeks to come. Thank you very much