Good afternoon, and thank you, Mark, for that introduction.
I became Attorney General a little less than one year ago, so this is my first – and presumably my last – opportunity to present the Attorney General awards for excellent service. Today’s ceremony gives me a chance to recognize some of the most dedicated and talented public servants in our nation, to congratulate them, and to thank them. Before I go any further, let me say thank you. Thank you to the award winners for all of your efforts on behalf of your fellow citizens. And thank you to all the family members, friends, and colleagues in attendance today, for your indispensable support of those efforts.
There is a lot of skepticism, even cynicism, in America today about government and its ability to get things done, and to get them done well. Over the last few years, this Department has endured its share of critical attention. As a result, I have been asked many times about morale at the Department and about how we were going to restore the public’s confidence in DOJ. My answer has never wavered: to a person, the men and women who were here when I arrived have worked hard to help me succeed and have kept doing their jobs on behalf of the American people. Person for person, the Department of Justice is filled with the most impressive collection of professional talent that I have ever encountered let alone had the privilege to work with. And that the dedication and excellence of the people of this Department have not wavered in the face of public controversy is a powerful testament to how seriously you take the oath of office you have sworn.
Ceremonies such as today’s highlight the extraordinary work of our Department. When asked about the state of the Department, I wish I could simply hand today’s program to the press or to the Congress and ask them to read it. I wish the newspapers would reprint it so that the American people could read about the extraordinary work we do on their behalf. Today’s award winners are an extraordinary example of government working – and working extremely well. And they are merely representative of all the great work the Department does. For every deserving award winner, there were 3, 4, 5 other nominees that were deserving in their own right.
If the American people could see today’s program, I am certain that we would no longer have to field questions about our morale or whether people can have confidence in what we do.
The Department of Justice is – and remains – a great institution. The architecture and beautiful design of the Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice building down the street are a symbol of it, but obviously only that. That greatness does not lie principally in our history and the sense of purpose it suggests – though those are inspiring. Its greatness is due, exclusively, to the men and women who have sat in these seats in previous years and to the faces looking back at me now. In short, it is due to all of you, and your predecessors, and it will be simultaneously the gift and the responsibility of your successors. That is why it is such a joy to present these awards.
The exceptional achievements that we honor today may be individual or as a team. It may be an outstanding effort on one case or investigation; or it may reflect consistently excellent performance over the course of decades. It may be related to an organized crime prosecution in New York; or to wildlife smuggling rings in China and Mexico; or to abusive corporate tax shelters.
The achievements of the people we honor today span the globe, and are as broad as the mission of the Department: To enforce the law and to defend the interests of the United States according to the law. Agents, lawyers, paralegals, support staff, analysts, and investigators all serve that mission in different ways, as do our partners in law enforcement from outside the Department whom we also honor today. But what all of these award recipients have in common is that they have achieved the highest level of accomplishment in the work that they do.
Over the past year I've tried to express, at every opportunity, my gratitude for the hard work and the support of the employees of the Department of Justice. I will confess to you now, in this small and intimate setting, that my efforts are inadequate to that task. There is nothing I can say, no plaque or certificate I can hand out, that would capture fully how grateful I am to all of you and to the thousands of your colleagues around the world.
Although all of these men and women rightly deserve their moment in the spotlight today, I want to make sure that some of that light also shines on others deserving of praise and thanks.
These others include the families, friends, and co-workers without whose support none of our award recipients could have achieved the success we celebrate today. All of you understand the term "public service" in a way that many of our fellow citizens do not. There is, built into that phrase, the requirement that we live up to the standards the public has set, and that they have a right to expect.
And there is, built into that phrase, sacrifice – willingly doing without some things and quietly putting up with others. There's not a doubt in my mind that every one of the people whose names we will read today could have done something else, or worked somewhere else, for far more money, with far shorter hours, and far less stress. They sacrificed those things in the name of service. You, their friends and families, sacrificed as well in support of them -- and your names deserve to be on these plaques along with theirs.
There is more I could say about the dedication, and the professionalism, of the men and women we honor here today. And I could go on and on about the importance of service. But instead, I think I'll just leave you where I began – with my congratulations and my thanks.
Thank you very much.