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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Presidential Rank Awards Ceremony
Washington, DC
June 21, 2012

Welcome to our 2012 Presidential Rank Awards Ceremony. Today, we honor 13 men and women who represent the very "best of our best" among the ranks of our Senior Executive Service.

For each of them, this ceremony is the culmination of years of hard work, of dedication to the highest standards, of devotion to the well-being of Veterans, and of loyalty to one's fellow workers—peers and subordinates alike. This is a hallmark event, for both these honorees and for the rest of us here at VA.

To their families who have joined us today—thank you for allowing your loved ones to realize their potentials. We have all benefited from their achievement of the bold targets, the enhanced performance, and the unique sense of teamwork and collaboration they fashioned for all of us.

To our honorees—I know, too, the inspiration you provide to your colleagues as role models and mentors. That's important because, in my estimation, you cannot be successful as a leader—nor can we, as an organization, succeed—unless your subordinates themselves also succeed. As leaders, we must assure that VA does two things each and every day: we must train our employees to be fully competent at today's tasks, and then, we must also develop them for their long-term leadership responsibilities here at VA.

Any of you could have chosen to work in corporate America, or at a preeminent law firm, or in a private sector healthcare entity. But you chose, instead to serve Veterans, and, for that, we are grateful. We are all proud beyond measure that the President of the United States has recognized each of your good works to VA and, most importantly, to the Veterans who give both our country and this department a magnificent history.

You've chosen to serve to fulfill the public's trust in the 237-year covenant between Americans and their government. That single professional decision speaks volumes about your values and your caring leadership.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Walter Lippmann, said, "Those in high government positions are the custodians of a nation's ideals, of the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation …." He had it right—you are the custodians of the Nation's trust.

Good government is mostly a reflection of good people—people who devote themselves to the public good. And, as in most high-performing organizations, it begins at the top—with those who, each day, set examples for others to emulate. They become the pistons who drive the great engine that is this country. By their example, they both power and empower our commitment to principles that transcend political affiliation: a government of, by, and for the people, a government that reliably serves its people in the midst of crisis and through changes in national leadership.

Collectively, our honorees are high-performers with both knowledge and know-how—serving principles and ideals borne of more than two centuries of American history.

As we at VA continue to transform our department for what we know are changing requirements, the words of Abigail Adams, wife and mother of Presidents come to mind. In a letter to her son, John Quincy Adams, she reminds the future President: "great necessities call out great virtues."

VA is in the process of responding to a "great [national] necessity" to create a 21st century VA for 21st century Veterans—a VA that is, at once, veteran-centric, forward-looking and results-driven.

That undertaking, now over three years in the making, has demanded commensurate skills, knowledge, and attributes of the senior leadership—outsized levels of initiative, innovation, and ingenuity coupled with plain, old-fashioned hard work.

Our 13 awardees have all proved themselves tough, clear-headed, and agile leaders who can innovate with the best of them and still remain calm and clear-headed in the midst of crisis. They are "do-ers" who generate momentum for operational change and organizational improvements.

Let me share just a few examples of their work:

  • One executive focused on Veterans' employment—a high priority for both President Obama and for VA. In 2010, fully 49 percent of this awardee's new hires were Veterans, almost 30 percent of them disabled Veterans.

  • Another honoree expanded access to VA services by reaching out to Veterans living in rural areas; thanks to his efforts, more than 3,000 new Veterans in need of care are now on our rolls.

  • Yet another developed a program integrity strategy that, since 2006, has saved the government approximately $11 million in fraudulent VA benefits payments.

  • And still another honoree led an initiative to create a full-service community resource center for homeless Veterans, partnering with the state and private sector to build 150 single residency apartments on his VA campus.

Each of these achievements brings into sharp focus the reason for VA's existence: for the welfare and care of our Veterans—first, last, and always.

Through sustained, award-winning contributions, our Presidential Rank leaders have distinguished themselves, again, in Walter Lippmann's words, as the true "custodians of our nation's ideals, beliefs, and hopes," serving our country's defenders on behalf of the American people.

Let me extend my gratitude to each of you. May God bless you and your families. And may God bless our Veterans and this great country.

Thank you.