Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services:
I grew up in a family where public service was revered. When my father returned from military service in the Navy in World War II, he embraced public service. He served as a Cincinnati City Councilman, a Congressman, and Governor of Ohio. And he never stopped serving: when he was 78, he was elected to the local school board.
My heroes have always been the people who served others and worked hard to make a difference in their communities. Today, I’m privileged to work alongside thousands of those heroes at the Department of Health and Human Services.
There is no such thing as a typical public servant. At the Department of Health and Human Services, they are the scientists on the frontlines of modern medicine, working everyday to find new cures and treatments. Because of their work, more Americans can share longer, richer lives with their loved ones.
They are the doctors, nurses, and dentists of the National Health Service Corps, serving in rural and urban communities where critical primary care services are scarce.
They are the men and women who make up our National Disaster Medical System, responding to emergencies around the globe from the earthquake in Haiti to the Deepwater oil spill making sure people get the urgent care they need.
They are the people who make sure the food we serve to our families is safe to eat and who inspect the medicines we take to make sure that no harm is done. They are our colleagues who make sure our buildings are safe and clean.
They are educators leading Head Start programs, giving our youngest children critical tools they will use for the rest of their lives. They’re the skilled health care professionals of the Indian Health Service; experts answering seniors’ questions about their guaranteed Medicare benefits; inspectors protecting our food supply; and counselors at the other end of a suicide hotline.
I’ve seen this same selfless commitment across the government at every level from local law enforcement and first responders putting their lives on the line to protect their neighbors, to state budget officers looking for new ways to reduce costs, create good jobs, and invest in the future.
The last few years have been challenging for public servants throughout government. The economic downturn has made resources scarce and stretched budgets thin, while at the same time, placing greater demand on services than ever before. And, frankly, some of the rhetoric has blamed the people who deliver services and support for problems they didn’t cause and for conditions they didn’t create.
Public servants have always sacrificed for their communities. During tough times, they bear an even greater burden. We ask them to give even more of themselves, to work longer hours and to spend less time with their families.
The months and years ahead will bring new tests for our nation and the men and women who serve it every day. But I am confident that we will be able to face any challenge that comes our way as long as we can count on the talent and experience of our nation’s public servants.
Some of our co-workers here at the Department of Health and Human Services have served for three or four decades. They didn’t come here to get rich or to become famous. They chose public service for a different reason: to make a difference. That’s true for public servants everywhere.
Dr. Martin Luther King said: “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” We all have it within our power to touch people’s lives, to work toward a stronger community, and to build a healthier nation. And it is America’s many public servants who are among those leading the way.