First Lady Visits Interior
April 23, 2013
Willie Taylor: I'm not sure what that was for but thank you.
Willie: Good morning. My name's Willie Taylor. I'm the Director of the Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance here in Interior. I've had the privilege of working for Interior for over 30 years. I can tell you that a lot has changed. When I first started here, we actually had people manning the elevators, taking you up and down and up and down. We also ate the cafeteria food at our own risk...
Willie: ...and we drank bottled water because we couldn't drink the water that was coming up from here. I see people nodding. There are some old-timers out here, just like me, and yes, you can remember that.
Over the years, we've gotten this whole new vocabulary. When I came here in 1979, nobody knew what sustainability was or what that term actually meant. A carbon footprint? That was what you got when you accidentally walked over a campfire that had been put out. Today we know better.
Now the Department of the Interior is at the forefront of sustainability in the federal government. We now have a LEED Platinum dining hall, and we have a green roof. We've done good. I consider among the highlights of my career that I've been able to be a small part of that.
Today I sense great excitement in this building and throughout the department at the arrival of our new Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. She brings to the department a depth of experience in energy development, in banking, in business as the head of REI, and as a conservationist and an outdoor enthusiast. She has worked and cares deeply about Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
Above all, she has an abiding passion for what we do at this department and that is evident for anyone who talks to her. In particular, she's demonstrated her passion for sustainability. I trust that over the next few years the department will become even more greener than it already is.
Of course, I can't do an introduction without noting that the Secretary routinely climbs the highest peaks in North America. She recently climbed the tallest mountain in Antarctica. Cold. After that, I don't think she's going to have any trouble climbing the steps of any of our monuments or Capitol Hill.
I am confident she is going to lead us to new heights and help us accomplish great things for the American people, whether we're talking about developing the full variety of energies on public lands or reconnecting to the American people, especially the young people and our great outdoors.
My colleagues, my friends, ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the 51st Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell.
Secretary Sally Jewell: Thank you all, very much. Boy, I feel really short back here.
Secretary Jewell: The First Lady's wearing heels, so she will be able to see you better than I can over this giant podium. What a warm welcome you've been giving me, giving me standing ovations when I get places. I hope I continue to earn those over time. I know that I'm on the honeymoon. Thank you for the warm honeymoon that I'm on.
Willie, I really appreciate the...Where did Willie go?
Audience Member: He's out in the audience.
Secretary Jewell: Oh, there he is, down there. Thank you for that introduction. Thank you all, not just here but around the country, for the warm welcome that you have extended to me over the last few days. It's been incredible.
This is week seven on the job. I'm having a lot of fun. I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I'm drinking in a lot of information and learning a lot of wisdom from you, so thank you. Wherever I've gone, it's been incredible to me, the dedication to the mission of the Department of Interior that each of you has had. Thank you very much for that.
I couldn't be more pleased this morning than to welcome the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, to Interior. You'll meet her in just a minute. She did this four years ago. We're delighted that she's chosen Interior as the first place that she is visiting on this circuit of visiting the various departments.
I'm sure it is a nod to the great work that all of you do around the country, particularly in connecting young people to nature and the outdoors and our public lands, which is something that the First Lady shares a deep commitment to, as do each of you.
There are 70,000 plus of you. You do things that are very visible, like the rangers I greeted as I enjoyed the cherry blossoms here a couple of weeks ago that are very visible and out in front, but most of you will work behind the scenes on so many areas day to day caring for our lands, working alongside Native Americans to help build a better future within their tribes and their governments, helping to ensure our nation's energy security and conserving endangered species and other wildlife.
Of course, that's just naming a few. This afternoon, I get to go and visit Reston and our geological survey colleagues out there. I know that's just the beginning.
There is no higher calling than public service. You heard me say it at the beginning. You heard me say it if you watched the web chat yesterday. I think that it's very clear the First Lady appreciates the work that you do. That's why she's chosen to come and honor us with her presence.
I wish that all Americans would have a chance to meet the likes of Willie Taylor or the likes of the folks standing behind me, who I know feel a little bit conspicuous up here on the stage. Many of them have been around for decades. Many of them are new. Not quite as new as I am. I think you've all had more than seven days on the job. They represent all of us in the breadth of experience that we have within the Department of the Interior representing the American people.
Willie, in particular, he's a rock star. You may not know that. If he was wearing a uniform, it would have medals all over it -- Department of Interior's Meritorious Service award, Distinguished Executive Rank award, two Meritorious Executive Rank awards from the president of the United States.
What does all that mean? It means that he's been instrumental in doing some really, really important things for our lands and our people, like making sure that anyone that dumps pollutants into wetlands and other natural areas not only cleans up the mess, but pays reimbursement for it. Thank you, Willie, for that on behalf of the American people.
Secretary Jewell: We have Willie to thank for being more environmentally sensitive ourselves. I encourage you to do your part to do even more. I've got some ideas for you, Willie, because we've been working on this at REI for a long time, as well. We can all do a better job of reducing our waste and eliminating carbon emissions.
I have to say that I'm just getting started here. I'm learning the ropes. I hope to learn a lot more from each of you, but I know that we jointly share a commitment to the mission of this organization, to the mission of making this world a better place for the people that live here.
That is something that the First Lady does day in and day out through her volunteer work on behalf of all of us as the American people. She's got a deep commitment to youth, something we care a lot about, and to military families, which is also something that we care a lot about in our employment and in our outreach.
I'm really proud the Department of Interior has been a great partner of the First Lady in her Let's Move initiative. Even happier that it was Let's Move Outside as of 2010 and now Let's Move in Indian Country. The First Lady's going to maybe talk just a little bit about that, but I know that we share her commitment to the importance of connecting children to nature in a way that sustains their lives and helps them grow and prosper, not only emotionally, but also physically.
It's hard to imagine that there is a more important calling for all of us than the engagement that we have with this next generation. How can we expect folks like Willie or folks like the people behind me to devote their lives to the Department of the Interior and our public lands if they've never had exposure to them.
Our urban parks, our national parks, the vast lands of the BLM, the community playgrounds that people play in are really, really critical. I know that my predecessor, Ken Salazar, shared that commitment. The First Lady really gets this. She gets the importance of connecting people to nature, to physical exercise, to eating right, to taking the stairs. How many of you are now taking the stairs out there?
Secretary Jewell: All right, if you're on the C Street side, you don't want to go in those elevators, so you should all be taking those stairs. Our First Lady is using the power of her position to get people moving, to recognize the importance of the health of our young people, the emotional well-being of our young people.
She's willing to stand up for federal workers. She's willing to stand up for our veterans. We are enormously privileged that she's chosen to join us today. Please join me in a very warm welcome for the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.
[applause and cheers]
Michelle Obama: Good morning! Good morning! Thank you so much! Thank you so much. It's great to see you. It's great to be back. You all can rest yourselves. You work hard enough. Hard enough. It is a real pleasure to be back here with you guys.
As Secretary Jewell mentioned, I was here four years ago when we first came into office. One of the things that I wanted to do was to visit the agencies and learn more about what you all were doing to shine a spotlight on the work that you all were doing; to make sure that the people of this country understand what it means to be part of Interior, the work you do; to make sure people understand what the federal government is doing; but most of all, to thank you for the work that you've done.
Now that we're starting this second term, what better way to begin than revisiting all of you, because now, as I mentioned to Secretary Jewell, we have real, meaningful partnerships. Over the last four years, we've done some incredible work together.
I'm not going to talk long because I'm really here to say hello and to thank you, but I want to start by thanking Secretary Jewell, not just for her very kind introduction, but agreeing to serve as the 51st Secretary of the Interior.
Mrs. Obama: That's right. I know that she hasn't been here long, but she's already making an impression. We are so proud to have her. We hear glowing reports. She is an example of everything that this agency stands for. We're grateful for her leadership. I'm looking forward to seeing all the wonderful things she's going to do to expand on the partnerships, to build on the efforts that have been going on.
We are grateful to Ken Salazar. We will miss him, but in Secretary Jewell we have a wonderful replacement. We're thrilled to have her. I also want to recognize Willie for his tremendous service. You're over there somewhere.
Mrs. Obama: I'd like to see that uniform with all the buttons and medals and all that stuff. You seem very mild-mannered. I didn't know you were a superhero under that suit. Thank you so much for your tremendous service.
Most of all, I want to say thank you to all of you for everything you're doing every single day on behalf of this country. Thank you for putting us on the path to energy independence, which helps grow our businesses and create wonderful jobs. Thank you for building strong nation-to-nation relationships with tribes across Indian country. Thank you for protecting our most precious natural resources and preserving our parks and monuments for the next generation and generations to come.
I want to add that one of the neatest things that we get to do is to travel around to the national parks. We've tried to make it a point as the first family to visit many of the parks when we're on vacation or when we're driving through a country or a community. I will reiterate what this country already knows. We have some of the most outstanding national parks in the world. Absolutely.
Mrs. Obama: I would encourage everyone to travel to our parks this summer, in particular. It's a wonderful way to spend time with your family. It's a great way to learn about the history of this country. The rangers are amazing. Their stories, in and of themselves. If you ever talk to a national park ranger, they're fascinating people. They've done something interesting, and then they wound up in a park. They're very neat people. We've been honored to get a chance to get to know them.
We do this because of our kids. It's so important to us to expose our kids to the many resources that are right here in this country. You don't have to travel abroad to see some of the most beautiful, gracious places that the world has to offer.
I want to thank you because more than anything else, that's really what I think about when I think about what you all do. I think about our next generation. I think about everything you're doing to ensure that all of our children have safe, clean, beautiful places to learn and grow and explore. When kids develop that appreciation and that connection early, what you all know is that it's lasting. It's enduring.
It's something that they can have for their lifetime and hopefully can pass on to their own kids, as well. What you all are doing here isn't just vital for our economy. That's important to note. It's not just the key to preserving our environment. What you do here at Interior is absolutely critical for our children's health and well-being.
As Secretary Jewell mentioned and as many of you know, this is an issue, children's health, that is near and dear to my heart. Not just as First Lady, but as a mother. That's why I was so thrilled and am so thrilled to work with so many of you to launch Let's Move Outside to help our young people enjoy the great outdoors and to find that that's a very inexpensive, accessible way to get active and moving and to do things as a family and to learn.
I also am very proud to have worked with you to launch Let's Move in Indian country. Through this initiative, together we are working to ensure that the American Indian and Alaska Native children get the nutritious food and physical activity that they need to grow up to be healthy and active individuals.
Ultimately, we know that being active and enjoying the great outdoors isn't just good for our children's physical health. What you all know is that it's also good for their emotional health. It can affect their success in school and ultimately their success in life. So what you all are doing here at Interior couldn't be more important. Couldn't be more important to me personally, but couldn't be more important to this entire nation.
I also know that the work that you do isn't easy, especially right now during these times. I know that budget cuts mean that you all are juggling even more responsibilities with fewer resources. I know that many of you are stretched thinner than ever before. That's one of the reasons why it's just as important for me to be here at the start of this term as it was to be here four years ago. I want you to know how much Barack and I truly appreciate everything that you do. I know you don't hear that. People don't even know you exist.
Mrs. Obama: It's so true. Federal workers are this invisible face. No one knows what they do, what it means, how much they benefit us. On behalf of myself, the President, and the First Family, I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you.
I want you to know how proud we are of all that you do. We want you to know how grateful we are to your families for the sacrifices that you make oftentimes to do what you do. Hang in there and know that what you do is extremely important. Hang in there. We need you. This country needs you. Our children need you.
I want to end it the same way that I started, by just saying you guys are terrific. Don't get tired. You can get a little frustrated.
Mrs. Obama: But just keep doing what you do every single day, because it means the world to the millions of kids who may not have access to some of these places if it were not for the work that you do. Just think about all the kids who will never get to see a mountain or a freshwater stream or get to camp outside and see the stars.
The resources that you provide are open to every child in this country. Because of the work that you do, they will have those resources for the rest of their lives. Know that it is critical and we are grateful. With that, I'm going to stop talking, come down and shake some hands. You all, take care.