George Bush photo

Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Elizabeth H. Dole as Secretary of Labor

January 30, 1989

The President. Well, first, my respects to the former Secretaries of Labor who are here. Secretary Usery I know is here and Secretary McLaughlin, Secretary Brock, and I hope I'm not missing others -- maybe they're there. So, I bid welcome to all of you, certainly to our new Secretary Elizabeth Dole and her mother and others that are here with us today -- certainly to her husband, Bob Dole, who is with us up here. And, Reverend, thank you, sir, for those lovely, lovely words of prayer. Actually, I've been planning to come over to the Labor Department since last year to play it safe. I figured if I won the election I want to be here for Elizabeth's swearing-in, and if I lost the election I'd come by to fill out an unemployment form. [Laughter]

But I've come here to introduce the new Secretary of Labor, something that I did back in 1985, when Bill Brock took his office, which he did so well. And then last year, I was a guest of Ann McLaughlin here in the building. So, I have some familiarity with your work. I'd be remiss if I -- as I look around this crowd -- if I didn't single out Lane Kirkland and say how pleased I am that he's here to welcome our new Secretary, too. You've heard of Elizabeth Dole. [Laughter] She obviously will be my top adviser on labor issues per se. And I will also call upon her advice as counsel, as a key policy adviser on my economic team, because, indeed, the economic side of the labor issue is tremendously important.

To the people of this Department: You do touch the lives of virtually every American. And if at times you feel like you're taken for granted, let me just say whether you're the newest clerk-typist who just started or whether, like Jim Taylor -- [laughter]. Now, where is Jim? Is he here? There he is, right there. You've got to see this guy. He's been here since the days of Secretary Frances Perkins -- [laughter] -- and it looks like he's still running about 10 miles a day, too. [Laughter]

Mr. Taylor. It's my second wind.

The President. That's good. But there's something about Jim's being here and new people, as well, to show the continuity of this Department. But let me just say sometimes, I expect, you wonder if people care. I want you to know that this President does not take you for granted and never will. And when people need you, you have been there. And what you do in the Labor Department is a good example of the many different ways in which government serves the American people. From enforcing child labor laws to protecting retirement pension rights, from job training to workers compensation, you look out for the working people of America.

And I want this administration to be about working people. Part of that will come from excellence and responsiveness in government. Part of that will be holding the line on taxes so working people, like you and the people you serve, can keep more of the money that you earn. Part of it will be a new voluntarism: people helping people. And I know a great many of you on your own time do work for your churches and in your communities and for charities. And I want to thank you, and I want to encourage everybody to be involved in this kind of work. From long talks with Elizabeth Dole, I know of her commitment to this whole concept of American helping American.

I believe in government service. I believe that it plays a vital role. But it must complement individual service. And nothing can replace personal commitment, both in our jobs and in our private lives. Many people look to you, the people in government, to do all things and solve all problems. Well, I think as a people we need to renew our sense of commitment, to take greater responsibility not only for ourselves but for one another. John Kennedy challenged us to ask ourselves what we could do for our country. And let us also each day ask: What can I do for another person? How can I make someone else's load a little lighter? How can I help to go a little farther? How can I be a friend to someone lonely or a comfort to someone in pain? Each of us can make this a kinder and gentler nation just by the way we treat one another each day.

I believe in government that is excellent and people who are compassionate. I think of the mine safety experts from this Department who after the Mexican earthquake were able, with their special skills to find people -- still alive -- who had been trapped under the rubble. But I also think of the secretary who after a day at the office takes that time to volunteer and help a child in the neighborhood learn how to read.

Now, the position of Secretary of Labor is a very important one, and our outgoing Secretary, Ann McLaughlin, certainly left big shoes to fill. All of you have been doing an excellent job in so many ways, and there's a lot to feel good about on the labor front. The economy is growing, producing jobs and opportunity. Those of you handling unemployment claims can see those rolls going down, and I want to keep it that way with sound economic policies.

But there are important tasks that lie ahead, and I don't think that the working people could hope to have a greater champion than Elizabeth Dole. She is smart. She is effective. She cares deeply about people. You know, earlier in her career she worked as a lawyer. Her first case -- not exactly profound, nor did it reach the Supreme Court -- [laughter] -- was to defend a fellow accused of annoying animals in the zoo. [Laughter] He was charged with, among other things, patting a lion. [Laughter] Elizabeth won the case -- [laughter] -- arguing that "without the lion in court as a witness there was no way to tell whether or not he was annoyed by that." [Laughter]

Secretary Dole. How did you find out about that?

The President. So, you can see that early on she made a career out of standing up for the little fellow against the lion. [Laughter] And at the Federal Trade Commission, and again at the White House, she showed real leadership and effectiveness. And in her 4 1/2 years in the Cabinet, she distinguished herself. She was our longest serving Secretary in the Department of Transportation and certainly one of the best. And she took the lead on transportation safety, and she made a valuable contribution to her country -- to our country. And I know that she will do a great job over here working with all of you.

America faces important challenges as we prepare the work force for tomorrow. There will be jobs in abundance, but we'll have to make sure that our workers have the skills that they need to fill those jobs with excellence. We have a new generation of workers, a new generation of families, who are finding new ways of balancing the responsibilities of the workplace and the home. And there are new competitive forces in the world economy that demand a commitment to excellence from every American worker so we can continue to lead America into the next century.

I can think of no one better qualified to head the Department of Labor during this exciting challenge than Elizabeth Dole. And, Elizabeth, it will be a great pleasure to have you in my Cabinet. And now, we're going to watch you take the oath of office one more time. Congratulations!

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

Secretary Dole. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. What a joy to see you all here today. Mr. President, thank you for your gracious remarks, for your expression of confidence, and for the opportunity to serve the most valuable resource this country has: its people -- the American work force.

And as Secretary McLaughlin and Secretary Brock, Secretary Usery -- all who made such enormous and positive contributions to our nation -- to Lane Kirkland and other leaders of labor who are here today; to our Members of Congress, who have been kind enough to take time to join us; to my minister, Edward Bauman; my Harvard law classmate, Chief Judge Judith Rogers; and to each of you -- my family; my husband, of course; my friends; my coworkers and colleagues -- I just thank you -- a heartfelt thanks for joining me in an occasion that, of course, is very special to me today.

Like you, Mr. President, I have built my life on the ideal of public service. And this opportunity represents to me much more than a job or a career choice; rather, it's a personal commitment akin to a special calling. The mission of the Department of Labor is well-known and very clear: to foster, promote, and to develop the welfare of working men and women. How we define and fulfill that mission will help determine America's place in the 21st century. The policies, programs, and regulatory responsibilities of this Department are front and center in assuring the continued growth of the American economy and a vital increase in our productivity and the ability of the United States to compete effectively on a global basis.

Demographic projections indicate that our work force will grow at a much slower pace than in the past. In a tight labor market, for American businesses to compete successfully abroad, they must first compete successfully for workers at home. This is good news for U.S. working men and women. It means that issues once defined as social problems will be dealt with more out of economic necessity. In tighter labor markets, employers cannot afford to discriminate. They can't afford to put workers at health and safety risk. In tighter labor markets, they cannot afford to ignore workers' obligations to family. Employers who do will simply lose out to employers who don't. Just a week ago, in my confirmation hearing, I stressed that the goal of the Department of Labor must be to coordinate a strategy of growth-plus; that's continued economic growth plus policies to help those for whom the jobs of the future are now out of reach because of the skills gap or because of family pressures or due to a lack of supportive policies.

With the talents of the outstanding civil servants of this Department, I believe that we can get the job done in five broad areas: first, ensuring that American workers are the world's best trained and most highly skilled, placing special emphasis on the disadvantaged; second, developing policies that make work and family complementary; third, establishing sound and comprehensive pension and retirement policies; fourth, seeing to it that the American workplace is as safe, as healthy, and as secure as we can possibly make it; and fifth, encouraging management and labor to continue to move beyond confrontation and conflict, to work together on behalf of interests held in common.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a chance to fulfill a dream: that every person in America who wants a good job can have a good job if they have the proper skills. We don't have unlimited funds, which means we must make those funds we do have work for us. But it won't be enough to be efficient if we're not effective. If we think big, if we select the right goals, if we target our initiative, if we work smart -- in short, if we redouble our efforts without duplicating our efforts -- we can assure that all of our people get their foot on the first rung of that economic ladder. And what could be more effective in the war on drugs, alcoholism, crime, and poverty, than a good job?

The ideal of independence has always been one of the cornerstones of the American experience. And today we're here to celebrate the independence, the strength, the self-reliance, and the sense of purpose that only meaningful work can provide.

What a joy it was for me this morning to hear a Job Corps graduate and Department of Labor employee, Lois Best, introduce the President of the United States. And to lay my hand and take my oath on a Bible held by Tony Bond, President of the Potomac Job Corps class. And I just might add, Tony, that that Bible is one of my most cherished possessions. It belonged to my grandmother who lived to within 2 weeks of her 100th birthday. Imagine that 2 more weeks, she would have been 100 years old. And she was a beautiful woman of great faith. To have so many students from Potomac and Chesapeake Job Corps Centers with us today brings an extra measure of excitement to Job Corps' 25th anniversary. With over 100 centers nationwide, this partnership of business, labor, and government has touched the lives of well over a million young men and women and made them part of a great American success story.

It's time to add new chapters to that success story. Two-thirds of the work force of the year 2000 is already on the job. Those trying to balance work and family deserve our support. Those who are older and who wish to work, but face barriers to reentry, we must enlist. Those who've been dislocated as jobs change, we must retrain. Our challenge will be to reach more of our people, whether young, old, disadvantaged, dual-career, or disabled, to give them the skills and the support they need so they can seize their share of prosperity and help to create more of it.

Yes, we have within our reach the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream: that every American who wants a good job can have a good job. But this is not a visionary idea; it's a practical challenge, a challenge for each of us in this Department. Our government's strength lies in the quality of those who do their jobs outside the headlines and without great fanfare. As John Gardner has said: "Democracy is measured not by its leaders doing extraordinary things but by its citizens doing ordinary things extraordinarily well." I was told, and I'm convinced, that Department of Labor employees are a strong team of men and women dedicated to doing their job extraordinarily well.

With their help, Mr. President, and by working with a vital new generation of young people like these Job Corps members, by working with the Congress, with labor, with schools, private enterprise and community groups, by coordinating carefully with other Federal departments and State and local government, by working together as people of indomitable purpose and collective will, we can build a culture of high expectations, and we can surely help fulfill those expectations. I'm confident that we can advance from the promise of full employment to the promise of fulfilling employment for every working man and woman in this great nation. And I believe there can be no higher calling as we approach the 21st century.

Thank you, each of you, for being here today, and God bless you all. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:12 a.m. in the Great Hall at the Department of Labor. In his remarks, he referred to Edward Bauman, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church; Lane Kirkland, president of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL - CIO); and James F. Taylor, who had been an employee of the Department of Labor since 1941.

George Bush, Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Elizabeth H. Dole as Secretary of Labor Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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