Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

Attorney General’s Awards Ceremony
July 17, 2002

Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates from Prepared Remarks)

      One of my great privileges as Attorney General is the opportunity I have to speak on occasions such as this – ceremonies that honor the men and women of justice and at the same time pay an unspoken tribute to the role of family in service to the nation.

      When justice honors its own, the hall is often filled – as it is today – with the husbands, wives, children and parents of the honorees. Your presence is a reminder that our service to our country is also a lesson to those around us. When we sacrifice for the cause of justice, we teach others that there are more important things than ourselves – causes and struggles and principles that transcend us; things that are worth sacrificing for. Welcome, and thank you for being here.

      This past year has been an extraordinary one for America, for the Department of Justice, for the men and women who serve here, and for the families we love and support. Last year, when I stood in this great hall and presided over my first Attorney General’s Awards ceremony, no one could have foreseen that the coming year would call us, not only to greater sacrifice for our country, but to a new way of serving our country.

      History has presented us with a new challenge: to identify, disrupt and destroy the terrorism that threatens our nation. To meet this challenge, we have been called to a new mission of justice that is rooted in cooperation, driven by excellence, secured by accountability and focused on a single, overarching goal: to prevent future terrorist attacks. This call echoes that of another time in American history, over a hundred years ago, when a great president appealed to the nation to rise up to the daunting task that lay before it.

      “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present,” Abraham Lincoln told Congress in 1862, just before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

       The past year, too, has been a year piled high with difficulty. And among the high honors of my life has been to witness the many ways in which the Department of Justice has risen to meet the challenge that history has placed before us. Last November, I announced a reorganization and mobilization of the Department of Justice to meet our new mission. I called on the men and women of the Department to join me in re-dedicating ourselves to greater effectiveness, greater efficiency, and greater resolve in protecting the nation’s homeland.

      Today, at this 50th Annual Attorney General’s Awards Ceremony, it is my great privilege to announce that the past eight months have seen great progress toward each of the ten goals we set forth in November.

– We’ve eliminated waste and retargeted our resources to better meet our terrorism prevention mission.
– We are demanding higher standards of accountability, and meeting those standards.
– We are attracting a diverse, high-quality workforce; improving our use of information technology; and forging more cooperative relationships with state and local law enforcement.
– Finally, we have initiated substantial restructuring and reform of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

      Today is a day to acknowledge these accomplishments. And today is a day to express our most heartfelt thanks. All of the men and women of the Justice Department have been a part of the accomplishments of this past year. The awards that will be presented today honor merely a representative sample of the excellent work that has been done. More than 540 individuals were nominated for awards in 27 categories. Of these, 188 were selected to receive special recognition in this awards ceremony. Twenty award recipients are from outside the Department of Justice.

      This year’s Incentive Award’s Board and John Marshall Panel, which make recommendations to me on award recipients, had a particularly challenging task. My thanks are extended to the members of the board and to its chairman, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, for their hard work and leadership.

      The Attorney General’s Awards are an opportunity to express our gratitude. But these awards serve also as an opportunity to look to the future. As is so often the case, I find myself on occasions such as this drawn back to the words of Abraham Lincoln.

      In his 1862 address, Lincoln sought to send a message to his fellow Americans that resonates to this day. As the Civil War took its destructive toll on the nation, Lincoln’s message was designed to be both inspiring and humbling; to remind his fellow citizens of the great privilege and great responsibility that fell to them as the nation endured its time of greatest testing.

      “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history,” Lincoln said. “We ... will be remembered in spite of ourselves. The fiery trial though which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We – even we here – hold the power and bear the responsibility.”

       We, too, cannot escape history and the challenge that history has put before us. All of us – each and everyone one of us – holds the power and bears the responsibility of defending the great, glorious, and eternal ideal of justice. I think you for wielding this power respectfully, and upholding this responsibility faithfully. May the fiery trial through which we now pass be of short endurance, and may our passage light us down in honor for generations of Americans to see.

      Thank you for our leadership. Thank your for your service. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.