Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady During Visit to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management

April 23, 2009

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. I am just thrilled to be here. I want to thank Director Berry, your new director, for that kind introduction. And I want to congratulate him once again, along with his family and his new team, for his willingness to take on what will be an exciting effort to move this agency and this government forward. And I want to give him another round of applause. (Applause.)

I also want to congratulate Liz Montoya who John just named as his Chief of Staff. Liz, where is she? Come up, stand up. (Applause.)

And I also want to acknowledge somebody else, Jennifer Mason, who is a Deputy Chief of Staff. And Jennifer is a special part of the Obama family in ways that probably no one would imagine. Jennifer was one of Barack Obama's first employees when he ran for the State Senate. There were three people working at an office on 71st and Jeffery, knocking on doors, trying to get people to come to meetings -- "Barack Obama who?" (Laughter.) And it was me, Jennifer and a couple of other people, plus Barack -- (laughter) -- who were out there going door to door.

So we are grateful to have Jennifer as a part of this administration, as a part of the OPM family. She's going to do a terrific job. So just know that you have great leadership in your director and his senior management, and we are just thrilled to have them all here. So give them a round of applause. (Applause.)

President Obama -- I still like saying that -- (laughter) -- asked Director Berry to serve in this role because he knows that under his leadership -- and it is a highly competent leadership; John is a man of great charisma, poise, not just a nice person but a smart person and somebody who understands the vision of what's possible in this agency -- so he knows that under his leadership the Office of Personnel Management is going to serve as a model for the best in human resources management. And that's what should be coming out of this office -- the best of the best.

Our nation is best served when the principles of excellence and diversity guide the federal government's hiring practices. It all starts there. When we uphold the Merit Systems Principles that call for recruiting qualified individuals from all segments of society, when we demand that employees are treated fairly and equitably, when employees are paid equally for equal work -- when we do all this -- we make government stronger. It is a cornerstone of a strong and vibrant democracy.

Earlier today at the White House we celebrated Take Your Child to Work Day. And some of you may have children out there following you around. We welcomed 170 children of the employees of the Executive Office of the President, and the military office and the Secret Service. They asked me a ton of questions. They were hard. I think that was my first official press conference. (Laughter.)

But the theme of the event for the day was "Celebrating Service: Country, Community, and Family". And in speaking with those wonderful kids today I wanted to let them know a little bit about the type of work their parents were doing, why they were away so often, working so hard, the role that they play in making our country strong, and how hard they worked to make life not just better for them but for all children.

But I also wanted to introduce to the kids today the concept of a public servant; what does it mean to be a public servant -- for it's my belief, it's how I was raised, that it's never too early to encourage children to make service an integral part of their lives.

And the theme of today's event could also apply to my visit here today. One of my favorite things that I've been doing as First Lady is traveling around doing these agency visits. It not only gives me an opportunity to meet the workers who have devoted their lives to working in administration after administration, often without much thanks or acknowledgement, it gives me a chance to meet those folks but it also gives me a chance to meet people of the Washington, D.C. community and to better understand not just the work that you do but the lives that you live.

This is my ninth agency visit. I heard somebody say it was my 10th. I think it's my ninth. I'll be on the 10th soon. It's coming. (Laughter.) And with each one of them I am more and more impressed with the dedication of true public servants. People, regardless of who is in the White House, come to work every day and battle through tough odds, sometimes not great conditions, but they come to work every day and do their job and do it to the best of their abilities. And some of those folks have served in these roles longer than I've been alive. (Laughter.) It's true. (Laughter.) I've met many of them. Some of them are sitting behind me. (Laughter.)

But for me, the more important message is not how -- just how much time you've served, but rather how much passion you put into the work that you do. And that's true for all of you and all of the federal agents -- agency workers around this great nation.

You know, it's important through these visits that we remind the rest of America what happens in federal agencies; that without all of you, we wouldn't keep our air and our rivers and our national parks clean and safe. Our food supply is looked over because of the work that you do. You help our children learn and our teachers teach. You protect us at home and abroad. You provide for safety nets for millions of people who are struggling during difficult economic times, which we all know someone, if it's not us, who's going through a time right now.

And all of you here at OPM keep the government's most important resource -- and that is its people -- you keep them working. You make it possible.

I see first-hand how hard the federal employees work, and just how grateful they are to have someone come and say thank you, even if it's me. (Laughter.)

They and workers across America all face the challenge of finding the balance between work and family. That's one of the reasons why I take on this cause, because we're all struggling to make sure that we're not just good workers but we're good parents and grandparents and neighbors. As the federal government's HR professionals, it's important for you all to remember that you know how important that work-life balance issue is in maintaining a strong and committed workforce. If folks are happy at home, they're going to do a better job at work.

And at his recent confirmation hearing, Director Berry stated that the federal government, the nation's largest employer, should also be the nation's model employer. And I couldn't agree more. This office is the place where we can break new ground and we can be on the front lines of important issues of finding new and creative ways of making work important but also making sure that people are thriving at home, as well.

So, on behalf of the nearly 2 million federal employees and their families, I want to say thank you to all of you -- not just here in the auditorium but in the overflow crowd, because they were fired up and ready to go. I got to see them. (Laughter.)

And truly, as I say during all my visits, we're going to need you. Barack Obama cannot make the changes that we hope without strong employees who are motivated and excited and enthusiastic. The next several years are going to be hard work for all of us. We have to work together, we have to care about one another. That has to start here in this office if it's going to emanate through the entire federal agency.

So it is so important for me to be here with you all as you begin the next steps of creating that model of excellence in human resources. So I want to thank you in advance. I will be back. So let's roll up our sleeves and get to work. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady During Visit to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320238

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