Remarks at the Department of State Foreign Affairs Day (May 3)
Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
May 3, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good afternoon. It wonderful to be with you today. It’s the 54th Foreign Affairs Day, a great celebration.Frankly, I’m a little bit intimidated. You all in this room have hundreds, if not thousands of years of combined diplomatic experience. I’ve got one – one and a week now, I think. (Laughter.)
I remember, too. I remember the warm welcome I received on last year’s Foreign Affairs Day on only my second week as Secretary of State. A lot’s happened in that year, and I look forward to sharing this with you.
But first I want to say welcome home. I’ve said this a lot this first year, and I meant it. We are a State Department family. Our doors are always open to you. I know that you, as career diplomats, share a passion for public service and that did not end on the day that you retired.
You’re out there helping younger diplomats be better, finding new ways to strengthen our community, advocating for what is, indeed, the finest diplomatic corps that the planet has ever known.
This day wouldn’t be possible without the people and organizations that make it possible. I want to thank AFSA and the Senior Living Foundation of the American Foreign Service for their generous support that makes this annual homecoming possible.
I also want to thank Director General Carol Perez for hosting Foreign Affairs Day, for awarding the Director General’s Service Cup to Judy Ikels – excuse me, Ikels – and the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup to Ambassador William Brownfield. Bill, where are you at? Is he somewhere? He had to leave. All right.
Thanks as well to Ambassador Tom Shannon for his participation in today’s – as today’s luncheon speaker.
And finally, congratulations to Ambassador Jacques Paul Klein, recognized this morning with the DACOR Foreign Service Cup. Pretty cool.
A week ago today, I hit my one-year mark as Secretary. When I entered the job, I think it’s fair to say that there was a lot going on here. And I knew that I needed to do some things that would revive spirit and excellence of the State Department, for which we’ve been known for 230 years. So let me run down just a few things which we’ve accomplished as a team, getting as close to full strength as we can and building our organization for the future.
First thing was I reaffirmed the value of our family members. It’s hard work what we do. Diplomacy is hard work. Our diplomats depend mightily, just as I do, on our loved ones to get through long hours, a demanding travel routine, and, frankly, tough deadlines to meet.
I know I can barely comb my hair in the morning without Susan’s help – don’t have as much as I used to. (Laughter.) But these family members don’t get a paycheck, yet make enormous contributions to what it is we all do. I’ve tried to reinforce that message from day one.
In keeping with that, we quickly lifted a hiring freeze on eligible family members, those who actually do get a paycheck. And we’ve now got nearly 3,000 of them coming off the sidelines –3,000 coming off the sidelines – into positions that make a real difference at every post. (Applause.) I’ve said this. I’ve been criticized, but this was easy. This was a slam-dunk of a decision.
Second, I wanted to truly make sure that I did everything I could to open up the lines of communication inside the organization. I knew that the team needed to hear from me directly often. And I needed to hear from them as well.
I hold meetings, open to every single employee, called the “Meet with Mike” sessions. It’s not very originally titled, but you get the idea. I use these times to – I’ll talk for a couple minutes, but I use this time mostly just to take questions from people. We literally invite – I think the room holds 65 or 70 – the first 70 people who respond to an email are those that are included.
I do the same kind of thing when I travel to each of our facilities overseas. I don’t think I have missed meeting with our team at any of the embassies to which I’ve visited. I do this not because it’s the right thing to do – although it is. I do it because it’s of enormous value to me.
I was in a Middle East country a few months ago, and one of the staff there presented Susan and me with milkshakes from Dairy Queen. Indeed, they were still cold. And if you can pull that off in a desert climate, you’re doing great, great work. (Laughter.)
After my trips, I send out emails. It’s another way to try and communicate. I talk about what we did, how we did it. I thank the team for the work that they did on the ground to help make the trip successful. Or in the case it wasn’t, the things they did to make sure that we did all we could to have made it successful.
And I’ve also traveled some – the last point. I’ve also traveled some here in the United States, telling the State Department’s story. I’ve done it on trips all around the country. I’m going to keep doing it. I want to make sure that we have individuals from all across America who understand the importance of what we do, why we do it, the good that comes to America from the work we do, and they need to know this. They need to know how the State Department brings value to their lives.
And I talk about what we do on energy, our economic mission, our national security mission. I talk about all the work we do in Consular Affairs, the work we do to keep – help keep Americans safe when they travel abroad. And I also want to talk to them about a life as career public servants and why that’s of real value to our nation and could be of real value to them, if that’s the path they choose to take.
I knew when I came here that I needed to get the team back on the field, that we were a bit depleted. Things are going in the right direction now. There’s still more work to do. But promotion rates in the Foreign Service, which in 2017 were cut between 40 and 50 percent across the board, are now growing significantly again. New Foreign Service officer and specialist classes are being admitted on a regular basis and in good size.
Dozens of senior leaders have been confirmed by the Senate since my first day. About two dozen more, I think, are on the cusp of making it across the line. If you have friends that are senators, please urge them to get the other 25 or 30 across. We need them. These are all highly qualified, talented people. Many are career Foreign Service officers; some are politicals. We need all of them to make their way onto the team.
I wanted, too, to reaffirm the value of diplomatic expertise. So at my recommendation, President Trump and the Senate recognized four individuals Career Ambassadors: David Hale, Phil Goldberg, Michele Sison, and Dan Smith, who is now running FSI. The rest of our team now knows these are senior leaders that they can truly look up to.
My poor staff will tell you I love to work. I love what I’m doing every day, but I can’t do it all. We’ve brought on a group of special representatives, who have truly helped us in some of the most difficult challenges, the ones that President Trump has placed his priority on. You know many of them. They all have strong Foreign Service officer, Civil Service teams filling out their staffs.
I’ll close with this today. Many of you would have seen that we’re positioning the team for success in the years to come by strengthening our organizational culture. It’s something that I believe with all my heart. We created an Ethos. It reaffirmed that we’re the only institution in the United States Government dedicated to and capable of leading American foreign policy. And when we get our various missions right, we know that our brothers and sisters in the Department of Defense breathe just a little easier, as do those who are in the private sector. They know that they can count on their security.
One of the challenges we face here, frankly, is that there’s a lot of different categories to the State Department. We have Foreign Services officers, Civil Service, political appointees. But there’s good reasons for those divisions as an organizational matter, but we can never let that hinder the idea of our mission and the fact that we are truly one team. Our work is of the absolute highest importance.
I just left the White House. We were meeting with the Slovaks, and I got a chance to see the great work our team has done to help keep that country as a partner for the United States.
And last week, we unveiled what we’ve called this Ethos. It’s simply a code of professional conduct. It sets out the attitudes, behaviors that we expect of every single team member here at the State Department. We’re making it the basis for our organizational culture. I want it to be a part of everyone’s DNA. It’s already there; many of you know it. Some of it’s not particularly new.
But for those who are coming onto our team, I want them to understand that there is a professional culture that is the center of everything every one of us does – everyone who gets a paycheck from the Department of State. They have to have that same Ethos of professionalism. It’s simple: it’s integrity, it’s respect, it’s taking responsibility whether you’re successful or not, and an idea of service, public service on the mission for our nation.
I must say, I’ve seen this in my first year – so many team members who already embody this. But we need to get that number to 100 percent of the people who are working here.
The centerpiece is an Ethos statement. It’s totally unique to the State Department. It sets forth the attitude that we should all be cultivating not only of ourselves, but by everyone around us. I’ve talked often about the need for each of us to lead. And we’ll also soon have a common set of trainings, new awards, and other HR procedures that are aligned with this initiative.
All of these activities, these modalities, will help us better achieve the vision of being one team on one mission with a single future. And if we do that, American cabinet agencies will all see that this is the crown jewel of the United States Government. And the American people, too, will be better off for it.
I hope my team and I are making you all proud in what we’re trying to accomplish here. So many of you gave your adult lives to this mission, and the best that way that I can honor that is to make sure that the State Department is able to win the mission every day for years to come.
And as we look towards the future, it’s important to stop and honor those who came before us – it’s what we’re doing here – especially those who paid the ultimate price so that American people can live free.
As soon as I finish here, I’ll take part in AFSA’s Memorial Ceremony just down the hall to pay tribute to all the members of the Foreign Service who lost their lives in service to America. Our nation owes them, as it does you, an enormous debt of gratitude for always putting the country first.
Thank you for that. Thank you for coming home today. I hope you’ve enjoyed the program and that you’ll stay in touch. May God bless you and God bless the United States of America and this Department of State. Thank you all. (Applause.)