Thank you, Gary [Grindler], and good afternoon, everyone.
It is a pleasure to welcome you all to one of my favorite events of the year. I am pleased that so many colleagues, partners and proud family members are here to help commemorate this very special, and very happy, occasion. Thank you all for joining us.
In particular, I want to thank Deputy Attorney General Grindler and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mari Barr Santangelo for their help and hard work in bringing us all together.
The Annual Attorney General Awards Ceremony provides an important opportunity to celebrate the Justice Department’s many critical, and most noteworthy, achievements over the last year. I am especially grateful for this chance to acknowledge, and to personally thank, the 352 award recipients whose contributions have been instrumental in moving the Department’s work forward.
Although the Department of Justice team includes some of our nation’s most talented and most effective public servants, each of today’s awardees has stood out. Not only is their service to our nation inspiring, it is strengthening the work of the Justice Department at every level and making a powerful difference for people across our country, and far beyond.
As soon as nominations began coming across my desk, I was struck by what I saw. This year’s accomplishments have been historic: the largest health-care fraud settlement – and largest criminal fine – in Department history; the largest identity theft and hacking investigation and prosecution; the largest environmental bankruptcy case; and the prevention of the most serious plot to attack our nation since September 11th, 2001.
Record progress has been made across components, agencies and districts – from the DEA and FBI to the U.S. Marshals Service and Justice Management Division, from the Bureau of Prisons and the ATF to the Office of Justice Programs and dozens of U.S. Attorneys’ Offices. There are also honorees – from a social entrepreneur in New Orleans to an FDA associate chief counsel – who work outside the Justice Department, but serve as essential partners.
Some of this year’s awardees are relatively new to public service. But one recipient – of our award for professional responsibility – boasts more than six decades of federal service. That, of course, is the legendary Jack Keeney, who recently retired from the Department’s Criminal Division. Another recipient – Bill Taylor of the U.S. Marshals Service – has spent the last two decades responding to some of our nation’s most urgent challenges, from the Oklahoma City bombing to Hurricane Katrina. And I’m particularly proud to be recognizing another 20-year Department veteran – and one of the most dedicated, and indispensible, members of our senior leadership team – my chief of staff, Kevin Ohlson. Although I turn to Kevin often when making decisions, I want to state – for the record – that he was not involved in selecting this year’s recipients.
Other awardees have spearheaded much of the Department’s work to combat fraud, human trafficking, violent crime, and environmental threats. They have safeguarded our homeland, protected civil rights, and improved transparency across the Department.
Today, we honor a software developer whose innovations led to the identification and prosecution of child pornographers. We honor attorney teams that defended key elements of the False Claims Act, implemented Recovery Act funding and advanced the Department’s mission of equal employment opportunity. We honor a support staffer who found new ways to improve efficiency throughout her office, as well as a corrections officer who put himself in harm’s way to singlehandedly break up a violent brawl inside a federal prison. We also honor the members of the Guantanamo Review Task Force, who led an unprecedented evaluation of more than two hundred detainees – as well as the press officer who kept the media and the public informed about the Task Force’s process and progress.
And we honor so many others among you who – with integrity, creativity and tenacity – achieved excellence in the name of justice. One of you is even receiving two awards for such outstanding work. Mike Hertz, I’m talking about you.
I also want to specially recognize a team whose courage, sacrifice, and front-line efforts serve as an inspiration to us all – the seven DEA agents who, on October 26th, 2009, found themselves under enemy fire in Afghanistan. While defending themselves, they took brave action to complete their mission and to care for their injured comrades. Today, we commemorate the selfless, heroic actions of the survivors. And we pay tribute to three members of the DEA family, the Department of Justice family – Special Agent Chad Michael, Special Agent Michael Weston and Special Agent Forrest Leamon – who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country and their fellow citizens. True American heroes and great patriots.
The many contributions that have marked the last year have been vitally important to the Department, to our nation and to me. I know that the progress we celebrate today did not come easily – and that it is the result of tremendous personal sacrifice by our awardees, as well as their family members. But this work is not without reward. Each of this year’s award recipients should take great pride in the fact that their efforts have made a positive and lasting impact on the citizens we serve and will leave an enduring imprint on the Department’s work for years to come.
I am honored to work with such exceptional colleagues. I am privileged, and grateful, to count you all as partners in our nation’s ongoing pursuit of justice. And I am proud to join with your colleagues, friends, and family members in recognizing, and commending, each of this year’s Attorney General Award recipients.
Congratulations, and thank you all.