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Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Remarks at the Swearing In of Patricia Roberts Harris as Secretary.

August 03, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. This is a happy day for our country. It's a great honor for me to be here as President and to have the chance as the leader of our Nation to select and to appoint a person who is so superbly qualified to head the agency that she will be leading.

It's a time of thanksgiving, I think, among those who look to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare for a new or sustained chance in life. I've known Pat Harris for a long time. When I formed my Cabinet almost 3 years ago, there was one major department in Government that had not adequately performed its function. It had been far short of its potential after 8 years of Republican administration. The Department of Housing and Urban Development was one that was formed with a clear recognition of a great need—poor were homeless, cities were destitute. They reached toward Washington with disappointment and frustration. The Department was poorly organized, and its effectiveness was severely in doubt.

Pat Harris came as Secretary of HUD, and with her superb management capabilities, she transformed this weak department into one of the most strong and able and effective and sensitive in government.

Hers has been a sterling performance as a manager with a heart. All who know her realize that she is bold, strong, outspoken. Anyone who looks to Pat Harris as a "yes woman" would be both foolish and ill-advised. [Laughter] I have never been that foolish, and I have never been advised. [Laughter]

She fights for her beliefs, and her beliefs are sound and she wins her fights. She has a big heart. With her background and with her experience, with her innate sensitivity and compassion, she has brought to that agency a superb record of performance. And if there's one area where my own political fortunes have been enhanced tremendously by the actions of a Cabinet officer, you could certainly not overlook the new confidence that local and State officials have in our Government, who have to deal with housing, urban development, the reconstitution, the rebuilding of our communities, and the provision of housing for those who often suffer by the lack of it.

She's now coming to serve the needs in health, education, and welfare. She will be following a good man, a man who has the same kind of concern and compassion for those who are served by this agency.

There is no doubt in my mind that there will be no slackening of effort, no lessening of commitment, no deviating from a path of superior service. And I know Pat Harris well enough to look forward with great anticipation to her ability, once a path has been described and delineated, that she can work harmoniously with every other member of the Cabinet, all the other Federal agencies, the local government, the State government officials, the constituency groups, the Congress in an effective way. She's got a superb batting average on the hill in getting legislation passed.

We now have great challenges in the Congress, hospital cost containment, the only specific piece of legislation before the Congress this year positively to deal with the increasing threat of inflation. Its passage hangs in the balance, and it's going to require an absolutely superb team effort to get it passed. I have no doubt that Pat Harris can lead that team effort.

I'm dedicated to passing through the Congress and implementing in a carefully phased and responsible way a comprehensive health program. And I will look to Secretary Harris to work with the Congress, particularly Senator Kennedy, to work with the labor organizations, the constituency groups, to make sure that our comprehensive health program is indeed passed by the Congress and is implemented.

We have a crying need to enhance the status of education in our country. The new department of education can provide this role if it's effectively founded in law, adequately staffed by me with the support and the nurturing from Secretary Harris.

And the final thing I'd like to say about her is that she has a special relationship with the poor, the homeless, the disadvantaged, the black, those who can't speak English very well, the aged, and others who will be and have been looking for succor and nourishment and a helping hand and a dependable hand from the Federal Government. Her heart is in the right place.

With all those characteristics, there could not possibly be a better person to head this important agency, and I am grateful to her for being willing to serve me as President, you as leaders of our Nation, and particularly those who will benefit from her service as the Secretary of HEW.

Pat, I thank you.

And now, I would like to introduce Justice Thurgood Marshall, who will administer the oath of office to our new Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Thank you.

[At this point, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall administered the oath of office.]

SECRETARY HARRIS. Mr. President, Mr. Justice, and friends:

It is an honor for me to be before you today as the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. And may I say that for some of us, it is really a great day when Justice Thurgood Marshall swears in Pat Harris, because the Justice and I first met—I remember him from that meeting because he was a great man, I was just a young whippersnapper who had been sent over by Elmer Henderson, who's out there someplace—when we were sitting at the Department of the Navy trying to get them to do right, as we did so often—we were on the other side. That really makes it a great day.

When President Carter asked me to serve as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, I had deep concerns. But after careful consideration, I agreed to do so. I agreed because I believe that there are no issues of our time that are more important than those dealing with the young, the poor, the handicapped, the infirm, and the aged. These are the people I served at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the President did me and HUD great honor by saying that we had done our job well and that he wished me to transfer my concern, my skills, and my time to doing the same kind of job on a much broader scale at HEW.

It will be a difficult and an arduous task, but I shall do my best. And I am confident that with the help of the people who share the President's concern and our concern for the most vulnerable Americans, we will succeed.

Although we live in the mightiest, the wealthiest, and the most powerful nation on Earth, all of our accomplishments are called into question and challenged by the reality of poverty, inadequate education, and deficient health care that torment and trap so many of our fellow Americans. But I see these great problems to be the challenge of our time, and Americans have never been afraid of challenge. It is at the core of our identity, and it is at the center of our national purpose. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare is at the center of the great national challenge and debate over these issues.

I want to assure everyone in this room and all others who view or hear this event that I will work tirelessly and resolutely to establish a separate department of education, to control the cost of hospital care, to bring reform and dignity to the American welfare system, and to enact national health insurance. We're going to do them all.

Furthermore, this member of the Cabinet, and other members as well, have an interest in the general well-being of the people that goes beyond our specific responsibilities of office. Therefore, we will be working diligently on such things as the President's concern and the concern of all of us about the cost of energy and home heating fuels for poor and moderate income Americans. These concerns can only be met by the passage of the windfall profits tax, and I believe with the help of the American people, these things will come about.

By nature, Americans are optimistic, but as the President noted in his televised address, the events of the past decade and a half have shattered much of that confidence. In November of 1976, however, nearly 41 million Americans said, "Jimmy Carter is the man to help restore that confidence and to help redefine our own sense of national purpose." The American people elected Jimmy Carter so that we could restore confidence in government, so that we could bring peace to the troubled spots of the world, so that we could make the Government more caring and more determined to meet the acute needs of our most vulnerable citizens. And I intend to work as hard as I can over the next 18 months so that all of us in this administration can fulfill our promise to the American people to get these things done, and I am convinced that this will happen.

My friends, judgments and controversy are a part of public life, if you didn't know. [Laughter] They come with the turf; they go with the territory. We who choose public life can neither fear them nor avoid them. Like Gibbon, we must believe that the winds and waves serve the ablest navigators, though they may overwhelm those without purpose or direction.

You who know me know the source of my purpose and direction. They are rooted in a strong belief in our system of government and optimism about our future, a confidence in our ability to get the job done, and a deep concern for those we are called on to serve. But I sincerely doubt that anyone in public life can withstand the realities of public life without the support, advice, and assistance of good friends. I need, welcome, and cherish your advice and assistance just as today I thank you for the assurance that your support by your presence here has given me.

Now, I've behaved very well. The President was very optimistic before I came over. He said, "You are going to say a few words, aren't you?" [Laughter] As he has said, he said I was outspoken, I'm sure he has frequently thought, but not by many. [Laughter] So, for all of you, some of whom have known me for decades, that take us to 30 years—I see Judge Parker, whom I met when we were both students at the University of Chicago in the forties; we won't say when, Barrington-but I want to say it will either reassure you or frighten you or make you say, "I told you so."

High office really hasn't changed me, and with all that that means for those of you who know me, I leave on that note, my good friends, saying thank you for being here today.

Note: The President spoke at 1:17 p.m. at the ceremony in the East Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Remarks at the Swearing In of Patricia Roberts Harris as Secretary. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250027

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