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Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for C. William Verity, Jr., as Secretary of Commerce

October 19, 1987

The President. Thank you, and with regard to your invitation—you mean the place is younger than I am? [Laughter] Well, we're here today to honor an old friend and welcome a new one.

The old friend, of course, was Malcolm Baldrige. No one knows and appreciates better Mac's contribution to the history of our times than you in this room. You were his colleagues for 6 1/2 years. The partnership between you and him was, perhaps, the most fruitful in the history of this Department, going back even to Herbert Hoover's term here. Mac had a special quality. He was direct and unassuming. He didn't stand on ceremony. He kept his eye on the big picture, but not so much that he ever took for granted those working with him. We won't see Mac in the halls or in meetings anymore, but we'll remember him in our prayers.

You may remember some years ago a definition of prayer that was in a movie called "How Green Was My Valley." It reminded me of Mac. It's when Walter Pidgeon tells young Roddy McDowall: "Prayer is only another name for good, clean, direct thinking. When you pray, think. Think well what you're saying and make your thoughts into things that are solid." And he concluded: "In that way, your prayer will have strength, and that strength will become a part of your body, mind, and spirit." I wanted to come over here today to tell you that our thoughts of Mac will also take a solid form in the years ahead. You see, the Great Hall of this—one of Washington's great, monumental buildings, the building in which Mac did so much good work for our country—the Great Hall is to be renamed after Mac: the Malcolm Baldrige Great Hall.

Now, I said we were also welcoming a new friend today. And you know who I'm talking about: your new Secretary, Bill Verity. Bill has big shoes to fill, and I'm confident he's just the man to fill them. You know his story: the man who successfully charted the course of Armco Steel in the sixties and seventies, the Chairman of the highly successful Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives, the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The president of the union that represents Armco's workers recently said of Bill: "He's an honest person. He's strong. He listens to both sides, and then he gives you a fair decision." Well, I can't think of any fairer or better endorsement than that. Bill, the Commerce Department is one of the class acts of the administration, and so are you. Welcome aboard.

By the way, Bill, you may have heard questions over the years about whether Departments run Secretaries or Secretaries run Departments—who's really in the driver's seat? Well, it can be confusing, and it reminds me of a story. In case you were wondering, this is my way of sliding into a story. [Laughter] Many of you here work on East-West trade issues, and I like to collect stories that I can verify that the Russian people tell among themselves, so I'm going to tell you this one.

It's about General Secretary Gorbachev. It seems that as part of the campaign to straighten things out there in his country he had issued an order that everyone caught speeding, or seen speeding, should get a ticket, no matter how important they might be. Well, one morning he was out at his country home and realized that he was running late for a meeting that he had in the Kremlin. And he went out to get in his car and told the driver to get into the back seat, that he'd drive. And he did, and down the street he went. And they passed two motorcycle policemen, and one of them took off after him. And a little while later, he came back and joined his companion, the other motorcycle officer. And the fellow said, "Did you give him a ticket?" And he said, "No." "Well," he said, "why not?" "Well," he said, "No, no, this was someone too important." "Well," he said, "we were told to give it no matter who it was, that they would get a .... No," he says, "not .... Well," he said, "who was it?" "Well," he said, "I don't know. I couldn't recognize him there, but his driver is Gorbachev." [Laughter]

Well, Bill will be in the driver's seat with some very important people—and I mean all of you. I can't think of a Department with a more noble purpose, one more central to the long-term welfare of our nation, than this one. If it is true, as I believe it is, that trade and economic relations are the brick and mortar in the temple of world peace, then your Department is a department of peace.

I know how many extraordinarily different functions are in the Department. You're often compared to a business conglomerate. But each of these activities—whether it's predicting the weather, taking a census, compiling economic data, or working on international trade—each of these helps make America stronger in the world economic arena.

Our trade policies, of course, must always be consistent with our national security interest. Today we know that the national interest of our country is directly challenged by the flow of advanced technologies and defense-related know-how and materials to hostile nations. Your Department, under the leadership of Bill Verity, must be ever vigilant in stopping this kind of harmful technology transfer to our adversaries. That's one of the challenges of the growing world economy.

Not only challenges await us but opportunities. I believe that the birth of a truly global economy, such as we're seeing happen now, will mark the birth of a new age of peace. It's already marking a new era of opportunity. This month we'll set a record: the longest peacetime economic expansion on record. I know you know what that means, because I get many of the numbers from you. And those that come from elsewhere, you study with a microscope. In September the unemployment rate fell to the lowest level in this decade. A greater percentage of our working-age population has been employed this year than ever before in our history. Personal and family income have risen steadily since our recovery began.

The leading indicators are sending a message: Steady as she goes. As one national business magazine wrote recently: "Business is holding to its faster growth track, buoyed by the revival in factory output." Yes, even as some still talk about the deindustrialization of America, manufacturing output has surged, and exports have played a major part in this. Perhaps a few of you could take the fellows around the camera platform aside later and explain to them what I've been trying to help them understand for some time now. We've been seeing substantial growth in exports in recent months, and our exports continue to stay well above their 1986 average. Exports have also been growing strongly in volume terms, while import volumes are down. Emphasizing only the dollar value of the trade deficit misses some of these fundamentals. We've also made headway with our major trading partners through our improved economic policy coordination process.

Indeed, I'm delighted that [Treasury] Secretary Baker has proposed reforming this process by adding a new commodity price indicator to assist us in reaching judgments about mutually consistent policies and performance. By the way, could you also remind those fellows in the back there that not only is American industry more competitive than ever but that since our recovery began we've created more jobs in America than Europe and Japan combined and that more than 10 million American jobs depend on imports, exports, or both.

This is exactly the wrong time—although there never is a right time—for Congress to get on a protectionist binge. The trade bill is working its way through Capitol Hill, and I know I speak for all of you when I say that the administration will work with Congress to achieve responsible trade legislation. But we will not support, and I am prepared to veto, anything that smacks of protectionism, whether it's procedural in nature or overt. Protectionism destroys jobs. It destroys growth. It undermines the entire global economy, and it undermines our own economy. I hope that Congress understands this and will produce a trade bill that you can be proud of and that I can sign.

And let me add one other thing: I hope that Congress will keep in mind that a strong and growing global economy is the great hope of the world of the next century. More than any other Department of the Government, you are helping our nation move into that economy of the century to come. You're helping to build the true temple of lasting world peace.

And too often your work is not sufficiently recognized, so let me leave you today with my profound thanks, on behalf of the entire Nation, for your loyalty, your dedication, and your hard work.

Thank you, and God bless you.

[At this point, Secretary Verity was sworn in.]

Secretarial Verity. Thank you, Mr. President, for putting your trust in me. And thank you, Justice O'Connor, for leading me in this oath. Thank you, Tim, for your prayers, which got Peggy and me here. Thank you, Senators, and particularly Senator Thurmond, who's right in the center, who brought me to confirmation. And thank you, family and friends and friends-to-be in our government, for being here today.

This is the start of a great adventure, and it is my hope and prayer that we in the Commerce Department can help this President achieve his goals and that we shall be a proud part of the most meaningful and successful Presidency of our time. We have much to do, but we have the man and womanpower to do it. My predecessor, Mac Baldrige, built a superb team. He lifted the image of this Department, and he accomplished much of value. To all the people in the Commerce Department—I need your continued support to finish what he has started.

We must work for a trade bill to promote free and fair trade. We want to increase exports, particularly by smaller businesses throughout the Nation. And we intend to take a leadership role in strengthening trade ties with our principal trading partners: Japan, Canada, Mexico, Western Europe, Latin America, and others in the developing countries and in Eastern Europe.

In trade with Eastern Europe, where export controls are required, we want to make certain that we effectively block transfer of militarily sensitive high technology and that the same safeguards are in place in COCOM [Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls]. At the same time, we must reduce the list of products of a nontechnical nature so that our manufacturers can increase exports and jobs rather than handing this business on a platter to our trading partners.

Tourism is in our beat, too. It is a tremendous new thrust for the United States, for our States and our communities. Our economic analysis and statistics must have reliability and credibility.

And what a marvelous place is NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] in this Department, with its vast treasures from the oceans to space, fisheries and coastal areas, and the weather—and our 23-ship navy.

The National Bureau of Standards will help American industry and government laboratories set new levels of standards and measurements to ensure that American products and services are the highest quality in the world.

We must assure that the 1990 census is the best ever. The completion of automating the Patent Office will be a milestone in the legacy of this President.

And I want to let you in on a secret: The Department of the Commerce is the best managed Department in this government. The goals established in 1981 are on target, so much so that we can take on three new missions: first, privatization; second, establishing an Office of Private Sector Initiatives in this Department; and Commerce must lead the charge in seeking innovative ways to reduce the trade deficit.

So, Mr. President, we're ready to go to work. And when you get me, you get a lot of extra help. My family, 35 of them, are right in front of me. And I want them to all stand, because I'm happy they're here, and I want you to see them all. And they're right there. Stand up, family.

Thank you, Mr. President, for being here. It's a great honor to have you in the Commerce Department.

Note: The President spoke at 1:31 p.m. in the lobby of the Herbert C. Hoover Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to an invitation by Acting Secretary Bruce Smart to visit the Department of Commerce on its 75th anniversary.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for C. William Verity, Jr., as Secretary of Commerce Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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