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Remarks at the Annual Department Awards Ceremony

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Washington, DC
November 30, 2006

10:00 a.m.

DG Staples, honorees, distinguished guests, colleagues and friends.  It is a great pleasure for me to participate in today’s program.  Our honorees have demonstrated their commitment to public service in a variety of ways around the world.  They represent a broad mix of our Department of State family.  Whether Foreign Service, Civil Service, or Foreign Service National, you are our greatest diplomatic asset. 

Secretary Rice wanted to be here today, and indeed had rescheduled this event so that she could attend.  She is instead traveling with President Bush today in the Middle East, and asked me to convey to you all her warmest congratulations and thanks.  All of you have made significant contributions to this great Department and to the advancement of our national interests. 

Last month, I had the pleasure of presenting the 2006 Foreign Service National of the Year awards to the regional and world-wide FSN winners at a special ceremony held in their honor last month.  One of the winners, Amany Osman of Embassy Cairo, actually mentored me in my early career as a Junior Officer.  I am sorry they could not be here today with the rest of our winners.  They are honored again today, despite their absence.

In taking time out to honor achievement among our own, we are not only recognizing excellence in our friends and colleagues, we are also saying something important about what we value and believe in as an organization. 

Being clear about our values and beliefs is as essential to our collective success as budgeting our resources wisely and attracting high caliber employees.  It shapes both who we are in the present and who we want to become in the future. 

In honoring our distinguished colleagues today, we are saying that we value leadership and creativity, effectiveness and efficiency, tireless effort, and a sense of mission that is both unabashedly idealistic and unfailingly pragmatic.

The performance of our award recipients gives testimony to the fact that the men and women of the State Department are committed to serving the national interest in more ways and in more places than ever before.  They are promoting American exports, helping to resolve global disputes over the use of the oceans and regional disputes between borders, improving information services, and monitoring human rights and political developments.

Some of the awards presented today recognize creative dissent.  I can think of no value more important to our Service than a willingness to buck conventional wisdom and argue internally for alternative views.  That is how good policy gets made.  It is also our obligation.

Finally, the group of men and women we are here to honor attests to the diversity of talents, backgrounds, and experiences that come together in the Department of State to make our whole greater than the sum of our parts.

And so on behalf of Secretary Rice, your colleagues here at Foggy Bottom, and over 35,000 more in our posts abroad, including our Foreign Service National colleagues – and also on behalf of the American people – I thank you for a job extraordinarily well done!

It now gives me great pleasure to present our honorees with their well-deserved award certificates.  Congratulations to our winners – you make us all proud.

Released on December 14, 2006

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