First Lady Makes a First Visit to Homeland Security Department
The Washington Post's Richard Leiby was the pool reporter for today's visit to the Department of Homeland Security by first lady Michelle Obama. His report:
Security was tight at the Department of Homeland Security Tuesday at 10 a.m -- maybe because it's a secure facility? -- as about 300 employees of DHS lined up for the visit of the First Lady. Your pooler was sniffed by two different dogs, one black and one brown. Neither was a Portuguese Water Dog, unfortunately.
And for those who haven't been keeping track, but should be, the threat level today was yellow -- "elevated...with significant risk of terrorist attack," per the DHS.gov advisory.
Mrs. Obama arrived at 11:13 to deliver remarks to the excited crowd in a wood-paneled gymnasium in the Upper Northwest Washington headquarters of the hydra-headed agency. Moments earlier -- at 11:10 -- DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano introduced Mrs. Obama, and noted that it was the first time in the department's 6-year history that a first lady had visited the headquarters. Mrs. Obama described Napolitano as "always one of my favorite people to see" on the campaign trail.
Boilerplate: The visit was Mrs. Obama's ninth on her "thank you tour" to various Cabinet agencies. So far she has been to HUD, DoT, Education, Agriculture, Energy, Interior, State and EPA, always receiving adoring welcomes from the often unsung bureaucrats who labor for the Common Weal under the great Wheel of Government. As in the past, a group of 15 agency employees assembled on the stage behind the podium, some selected for their long service to government. At DHS, two members of the Coast Guard were in uniform, as was an officer for ICE. They had to stand on stage for probably a half hour under the glare of bright lights, embodying and enduring one of those fabled hurry-up-and-wait occasions that are required by a position in the bureaucracy, as well as membership in the FLOTUS Agency Visit press corps. (Forgive that long sentence but while waiting we crafted it as clever B-matter and just couldn't bear to edit it.)
"Thank you for coming out on this cold, rainy day," Mrs. Obama said, warming up the crowd. She wore a striking bright green outfit, the exact description of which we sadly cannot provide because we didn't have a good view from the floor.
FLOTUS described one of the president's "greatest concerns and priorities" as protecting the American people. "He couldn't do it without you."
The remarks were largely a recitation (with suitable recognition) of the work carried out by various DHS components, including border security, airport security, port security, and immigration services, the Coast Guard, FEMA and the Secret Service.
For you air travelers still griping about removing your belt and shoes, and turning on your laptops while trying to make a plane, Mrs. Obama noted that TSA now estimates that the average passenger waits 13 minutes to be cleared through security, which isn't too bad.
DHS has 218,000 employees, a press aide told us. Said FLOTUS: "If you do your jobs well, nobody will know what you do," because so many work behind the scenes or in sensitive positions. Mrs. Obama said she visited to "ensure that you, as true public servants, don't get lost behind the numbers."
See specific remarks in the transcript for a count on the words "thank you," but FLOTUS expressed gratitude many times in her remarks, which ended at 11:19. Then ensued the traditional hand-shaking and picture-taking with the employees while U2's "Beautiful Day" -- a campaign favorite -- blared from the loudspeakers. She departed the gym at 11:27, to a rousing round of applause.
N.B. for context: In touring the agencies, Mrs. Obama is also fulfilling a pledge to reach out to residents of her new hometown, since these people live in the region.
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY TO THE U.S.DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
11:12 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. Thank you for coming out on this rainy, cold day. I know how D.C. people don't like bad weather. (Laughter.) So I really appreciate it.
I want to thank Secretary Napolitano for her kind introduction and for the strong leadership that she's bringing here to the Department of Homeland Security. We are thrilled to have her. I got to meet Janet on the campaign trail, and she was always one of my favorite people to see. She's a fighter, she's a hard worker, and she cares tremendously about each and every one of you, and doing a tremendous job here. So I want to give her a round of applause. (Applause.)
Well, one of the President's greatest concerns and priorities is the safety and security of the American people, and the more than 180,000 employees of this Department are at the heart of fulfilling that mission. He couldn't do it without you.
While the Department of Homeland Security may be one of the newest cabinet departments, its agencies have served the American people for generations. And some of you right here on this stage behind me have been doing a great job at that, as well, and we're grateful for your work.
You all stand watch every day over our borders, and our skies, our ports and our transportation systems; you dedicate yourselves to preventing, preparing for and responding to our disasters all over this nation; and you ensure that the nation's first responders are well-equipped and well-trained.
Many people don't know what this Department does each year. They hear the initials, but they don't know what happens here. And this year alone, DHS will award more than $3 billion in grants to states, urban areas and transportation authorities to better prepare our nation and protect our infrastructure. That's just one of the many things that's happening. And the budget for next year calls for additional funding in critical areas like border security and immigration services, transportation systems and research and development.
And for many of you, your work takes place behind the scenes. The truth is, is that if you do your jobs well, then few people will ever know about anything that you do. For others, the hope is that you never have to execute much of what you work so hard to prepare for.
But this shouldn't mean that your services don't go unappreciated, just because we don't always know what you do.
Today, for example, the Transportation Security Administration will screen approximately 2 million passengers and their 1.8 million pieces of checked baggage -- and the average customer will wait no more than 13 minutes to have that done. Now oftentimes we complain, but the truth is 13 minutes is pretty impressive.
Today the U.S. Customs and Border Protection will process more than 1.1 million passengers and pedestrians and inspect more than 70,000 truck, rail and sea containers.
Today the United States Coast Guard will save 14 lives, assist 98 people in distress and monitor the nation's 15,000 miles of inland waterways.
And an additional 600 Coast Guard personnel are supporting the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by patrolling the region, protecting Iraq's oil platforms in the Persian Gulf and training Iraq forces.
Today the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will naturalize 3,000 new citizens, including 27 who are serving in our military, and then welcome 3,200 new baby citizens to our nation.
And when natural disasters strike, we're going to rely on the men and women of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond and help us begin to repair our communities and put our lives back on track.
The President is committed to ensuring that FEMA has the leadership and resources needed to fulfill that very important mission. And the administration is also committed to helping New Orleans and the Gulf Coast finish the job of rebuilding and becoming stronger than ever in those regions.
Today the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will assist the dedicated men and women of this Department in securing our country while preserving our freedoms and our way of life.
And today I want to personally thank the men and women of the United States Secret Service. See, a lot of people don't even know that they operate under DHS. But it is those men and women who are responsible for the safety and security of the President, the Vice President, me, and our families.
Every day I see how hard they work. Every day I see how much time they spend away from their own families to keep mine safe. And it has been an honor to get to know each and every one of them throughout the course of the campaign, and our day-to-day interactions. They represent the utmost of excellence, and we are so honored to have them serving alongside of us.
But I'm here not just to thank them but to thank all of you. That's one of the things I've been doing over these first few months, is thanking you all for your service to this country, and to ensure that you, as true public servants, don't get lost behind the numbers and the magnitude of the mission that you have to execute every day -- because it's the employees of this Department who help a family sift through the debris in search of a beloved doll or a teddy bear. It is the employees of this Department who put their lives on the line to protect our borders. It is the employees of this Department who educate our newest citizens. It's all of you who risk your lives to rescue someone at sea, and who miss Easter or Passover or birthdays or anniversaries with their own families to spend time watching over mine.
So once again my job here is simple: Thank you. Thank you for your service to our country. Thank you for your dedication to keeping America strong. We're going to need you working harder than ever each and every day in the coming years, and we are grateful for everything you've done.
So I'm going to stop now and come down and shake some hands. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
Web Politics Editor
April 14, 2009; 2:19 PM ET
Categories: The First Lady
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