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Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Samuel K. Skinner as Secretary of Transportation

February 06, 1989

The President. Well, Barbara and I are delighted to be here. And, Governor Thompson, delighted to see you, sir. But I'm here today to welcome into our Cabinet a man who I believe is destined to go down in history as one of the truly outstanding Secretaries of Transportation: Sam Skinner. He does indeed have big shoes to fill. And I see one of his predecessors sitting over here, Jim Burnley, who did an outstanding job.

And he comes here having made a name for himself as a miracle worker of sorts in transportation. Several years ago, Governor Thompson put him in charge of the Regional Transportation Authority of Northeastern Illinois. And at that time, the RTA, as it is known, was plagued with financial troubles and declining levels of service. And some said that Sam was inheriting an impossible job. But he rolled up his sleeves and set to work, and in short order, he put the RTA on a sound financial footing for the first time in years.

His expertise in transportation doesn't stop there. He's an instrument-rated pilot who has flown in and out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport, one of the busiest in the Nation -- [laughter] -- more times than he can count. And here he is. [Laughter] But when it comes to air travel, he'll bring a pilot's perspective to the highest levels of our government, and that means a perspective that puts safety first, above all other considerations.

You'd think all this would be enough, but I haven't quite finished his qualifications for the job. Besides overseeing the Federal Government's role in maintaining and improving our nation's transportation system, the networks, the Secretary of Transportation has another critical duty: He commands the Coast Guard. And the Coast Guard serves on the front lines of our war on drugs. And I can't think of anyone in America who has Sam Skinner's background in transportation and has been a distinguished U.S. Attorney, prosecuting a number of major cases -- outstanding combination.

And, yes, he is the ideal man for a job that will, in the years ahead, present extraordinary challenges. I'm sure that I don't need to remind anyone in this audience of the high priority my administration places and intends to place on the war on drugs. I pledged in my Inaugural Address that this scourge will stop, and I really mean that. I'm determined to see that happen. Sam will be working closely with Bill Bennett [Director of National Drug Control Policy], and I know that they're going to make a great team.

And let me mention another area in which Sam will face challenges; that's aviation. The U.S. is the safest place in the world to fly, and it is getting safer. And that safety record is your record. This Department carries a great deal of the responsibility for the safety of the skies, and carries it with ability and certainly justifiable pride. And I know that you join with me in saying that we won't rest until every possible step has been taken to make air travel in America as safe as it possibly can be.

By the way, in one area critical to safe skies, Sam is hitting the ground running. Next week he will head a delegation to the ICAO, Montreal, the special session of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization. He has my mandate to do all he can at that meeting to hasten the day when the international community puts an end to terrorism in the sky.

Aviation is not, of course, the only area in which Secretary Skinner and you will work together for a better America. I look forward to his leadership in the other areas: highways and bridges and urban mass transit, intercity rail, and maritime transportation. And I think once you get to know him you'll see why I say that I can't think of anyone I'd rather have in charge than Sam Skinner.

And having said so much about him, let me now say a few words to our new Secretary about how I feel about you all. It would be hard, Sam, to find a more dedicated group of people in the entire Government than the men and women in the Department of Transportation. And thanks in part to their effort, America's transportation is the best system in the world. And they represent a long and proud tradition of reaching back to the very founding of our Republic, for roads, shipping, and protecting our coasts from smugglers have been concerns of our government from the very beginning.

Somebody said of Sam that he's a visionary who thinks big. Well, I expect that you'll find that your new colleagues are visionaries who think big as well. And I know you're as proud to serve with them as I am.

And so, as they say in the railroad business, welcome aboard. It's great to have you on the team. And so, now let's get on with the swearing-in. Congratulations!

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

Governor Thompson. Following the bril-liant career in Federal law enforcement of which the President so eloquently spoke, Sam Skinner has served the people of Illinois for the past 12 years with rare fidelity, integrity, and honor. He made things move, and he got things done. And it is with the high hopes born of that experience that we in Illinois now proudly give him to the Nation. Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary of Transportation.

Secretary Skinner. Thank you, Mr. President, for your kind words and for making me part of your team. I want to personally acknowledge all my friends here, especially Barbara Bush, my good friend for many years; my family, my mother and my brother; the Governor; my good friend Judge Flaum; and all of you. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for your efforts, and I know it.

Mr. President, the Department of Transportation's team is, in fact, made up of many members. Each one plays an important role. I have asked some of these outstanding members of that team to join us, from each of our units, and I would like to introduce them to you now. They're on the left. And maybe to break a little protocol here, they can -- which I think I'm allowed to do, at least at my swearing-in ceremony -- I'm going to ask them to stand forward a little bit. Maybe, Mr. President, you could shake their hands.

Muriel Clarke. Muriel is the financial specialist for the Urban Mass Transportation Administration's New York regional office. She has won many awards for her performance in government and has been involved in voluntary community efforts for over 40 years.

Frank J. Mammano, a 29-year veteran in the Federal Highway Administration, has been a leader in the development of Pathfinder, a cooperative effort by the Federal Highway Administration, the California Department of Transportation, and General Motors that applies advanced technology to solve metropolitan area congestion problems.

Romell Cooks of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has energized a network of health professionals to act as allies with government in the safety belt usage and anti-drunk driving campaigns.

Barbara Schroeder, one of the two female wage-grade employees at the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation -- in a nontraditional job as a labor-line handler and as a single parent with three daughters, she gives freely of her time to numerous volunteer efforts.

Donald Simonds of the FAA, is a full-performance-level air traffic controller and has been actively involved in the recruitment of minority candidates for that critical job.

Anthony A. Schiavone, Superintendent of the James River Reserve Fleet at the Maritime Administration, maintains custody of approximately 125 oceangoing merchant-type vessels that are on ready reserve for national defense purposes.

Susan Hedgepeth, Chief of the Exemption Branch in the Office of Hazardous Materials Transportation, develops special requirements for the transportation of hazardous materials.

Sondra F. Talbert of the Federal Railroad Administration, moved into the Department's Upward Mobility Training Program in 1975 and is the first female inspector at the Interstate Commerce Commission in the Federal Railroad Administration.

United States Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly M. Mogk, was recently awarded the Coast Guard Air Medal for heroic achievement in aerial flight while serving as a helicopter rescue swimmer on January 2, 1989.

Let's give these outstanding employees a round of applause. [Applause]

Mr. President, these individuals' achievements reflect the spirit of this Department. They are our unsung heroes, the dedicated public servants who serve the American traveler, the pilot, the truck driver, the boater, and the commuter.

The Department's team faces many challenges. We must be in the forefront in the fight against terrorism. We must do everything we can to stop the flow of drugs into this country. We must keep our aviation system both safe and competitive. And we must maintain our significant and important presence in the maritime industry. We must also continue to build and maintain our infrastructure. And I want to acknowledge -- as I look on the next step -- are Congressman Martin, are Congressman Mineta, Congressman Coughlin. We must work with Congress, and I will work with Congress to develop a visionary and comprehensive transportation policy for the 21st century, a policy that recognizes the transportation system is the essential lifeblood of our economy and also for our defense.

These goals cannot be achieved without the energy and commitment of thousands of team players like those you have met today. I know already from my brief introduction to this Department that this team is ready, willing, and able to do this important job. The American people have selected you as their President, and you have asked me to be your wing man. I am humbled by your offer. I accept, and I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get the job done.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:42 p.m. in the Federal Aviation Administration auditorium. Secretary Skinner was sworn in by U.S. District Judge Joel M. Flaum.

George Bush, Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Samuel K. Skinner as Secretary of Transportation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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