Remarks by Secretary Robert Wilkie - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert Wilkie

2019 Best Places to Work Ceremony
Washington, DC
February 19, 2020

This is a remarkable day for a remarkable institution. This is the institution, as I have said, that has the most noble mission in the Federal Government, the most noble mission in America—a mission given to us by our 16th President. And what this institution has accomplished in the last two, short years is something that is the envy of the entire government. And the ratings that we just heard about are a validation of that.

Let me just talk about what those ratings mean in the real world.

I have the privilege of presenting to the United States Congress, next week, the largest budget in the history of this department, $240 billion dollars. Two hundred and forty billion reasons to affirm the great service that each of you provides to nine and a half million American Veterans and those Veterans’ families. There is nothing like this in the Federal Government.

On top of that, we have undergone the greatest transformative period, really, of any agency, I think, since the Department of Defense and the Goldwater–Nichols Act of the 1980s. What you all have accomplished—the Colmery Act, Blue Water Navy, the MISSION Act, where we finally put

Veterans at the center of a Veteran’s life, the Veteran’s needs, the Veteran’s family’s needs—you all have done that. But more importantly, you have done it by talking to each other.

I mentioned when I first became part of this family that customer service was the prime directive. And a lot of people in this town just immediately wrote that off as something that was transactional in nature, something that you see when you go to the 7-Eleven. It’s not that. It’s much deeper. When I talk about customer service, I talk about us, each other—talking across compartmentalized lines, walking the post, asking how one another is doing, and making sure that those good feelings are translated and made manifest to those we serve.

And we see that reality in these rankings: six out of seventeen. Two years ago, it was seventeen out of seventeen. But also in those numbers we had a massive increase in the number of our employees who were participating in the All Employee Survey. That tells you that the people who walk through these doors are proud of themselves and proud of their mission.

I’m going to conclude today with a sort of change in what I usually finish with. I usually talk about General Ridgway and the promise that he found in the Book of Joshua. I’m going to turn to General Ridgway’s boss, Dwight Eisenhower.

Dwight Eisenhower was asked by the Army War College students back in the early 1960s what was the key to his leadership style. And he used a simple term. He said, “Walking the post.” All of you know what that means because you do it everyday. But he said that the tactical manuals tell you that you walk the post to raise morale of the troops. He said, “I don’t agree with that. I walk the post to be inspired by the young Americans who have put on the uniform to defend what I and my family believe in.” And as only General Eisenhower could do, he condensed everything that we stand for in just that simple notion. I walk the post to be inspired by those young Americans who defend what I and my family believe in.

That is what VA is. It is an institution that is inspired by young people—some of those young people now in their waning years who have done remarkable things, experiencing the incommunicable experience of war.

So that is what this day is about. It is about you. It is about the people you serve. It is about the new standards that you have set not only for VA, but for the entire Federal Government. And I say to you as someone who has been privileged to be part of your family now for nineteen months, it is certainly the greatest honor that I’ve ever had to be part of this family.

I thank you for everything that you do for your nation and for those who carry the burden of freedom on their shoulders.

You are a testament to what makes America great, and I thank you.

God Bless you all.