Strong Words From the New Secretary of State to Federal Workers

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed agency workers during his first visit, but many of his remarks apply to all federal employees.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed State Department workers during his first visit to the Department after his confirmation by the Senate.

While his remarks were meant for the Foreign Service Officers and Civil Service workers at the State Department, many of his remarks apply to all Federal workers.

In his talk, Tillerson recognized the political divisions affecting not only voters but also those working for the federal government.

I know this was a hotly contested election and we do not all feel the same way about the outcome. Each of us is entitled to the expression of our political beliefs, but we cannot let our personal convictions overwhelm our ability to work as one team. Let us be understanding with each other about the times we live in as we focus our energies on our departmental goals.

He then laid out what he referred to as three core principles: Accountability, Honesty, and Respect.

First, I believe that any organization runs best when all of its members embrace accountability. From the mailroom to the boardroom, every member of a team has a job to do. I know nobody will always be perfect, and that certainly includes me. But I ask that everyone strive for excellence and assume responsibility for their actions and their decisions.

The New England Patriots have signs posted all over their team facilities that simply say, “Do your job.” It is a brief message, but one with profound importance. If we all do our jobs and embrace a willingness to be held accountable for our performance, we work better as a unit and move closer to attaining our goals. It’s worked pretty well for the Patriots over the years, as I must admit.

Secondly, I want us to be honest with one another. We’re on the same team. We share the same mission. Honesty will undergird our foreign policy, and we’ll start by making it the basis of how we interact with each other.

Lastly, we’re going to treat each other with respect. No one will tolerate disrespect of anyone. Before we are employees of the State Department, we are human beings first. Let us extend respect to each other, especially when we may disagree.

What I ask of you and what I demand of myself — I will embrace accountability, honesty, and respect no less than anyone.

Tillerson also both complimented and challenged his new employees by saying:

You have accumulated knowledge and experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else. Your wisdom, your work ethic and patriotism, is as important as ever. And as your Secretary, I will be proud to draw upon all these qualities in my decision-making.

For federal career employees, both inside and outside the State Department struggling to adjust to the new Administration, these are very strong words.

Now he, and the other Presidential appointees, will be judged on how well they live up to them.

About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.