The White House

Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady during U.S. Trade Representative Agency Visit

General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.

11:19 A.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thanks, all.  Thanks so much.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  It is really a pleasure to be here.  This is a nice, good, small group of real hardworking people.  I really appreciate you all taking the time to welcome me here today.

I want to thank Ron Kirk for not just that kind introduction but for his support to this administration -- not just him alone but his entire family.  I’ve had the pleasure to meet that magnificent, smart, beautiful wife of his, and he is a lucky man -- (laughter) -- for sure.

But I think that it’s safe to say that Ambassador Kirk took this job a year ago and he probably knew that it wouldn’t be easy.  He knew that the scope of the economic challenges that we face would be tough.  He knew that a lot of families and businesses and communities in this country were struggling. 

But he embraced that challenge and he has done a phenomenal job.  And it’s not just him who is embracing this challenge, but every single one of you here in this room has done so, as well.  All of you have answered that call, and we are incredibly proud of you.  That's one of the reasons why I’m making these visits, because so often the people who really do the work behind the scenes do not get thanks or recognition.  And we know it wouldn’t be possible without all of you.

Now I’ve heard that when this agency was founded by President Kennedy back in 1962, it only had 14 employees.  So even though you’re small in numbers, you’ve really grown a bit since then.  But you’re still a very tight-knit family, and I’ve heard that, and I can tell.  So I want to take some time to recognize some of the members of this family, some of your colleagues who are on stage with me today -- people who have devoted huge portions of their career to this agency.

People like Charlotte Brown, who has -- (applause) -- she has 42 years of government service.  Now, that's something.  (Laughter.)

But then there’s also James Murphy, who has 40 years under his belt.  Where’s James?  (Applause.) 

And we also have our longest-serving couple -- (laughter) -- and Don -- do I get -- is it Don Eiss?

AUDIENCE MEMBERS:  Eiss.

MRS. OBAMA:  Don, where are you?  Don Eiss. 

MR. EISS:  Right here.  I’m right here.

MRS. OBAMA:  And Betsy Stillman.  (Applause.)  Between them they have devoted 50 years to the USTR -- and they still seem to like each other.  (Laughter.)  But that is very impressive, and it gives us all a reason to give them all a round of applause.  (Applause.)

It’s important for this country to see people who have dedicated decades of service to working on behalf of this country.  But whether you’ve been here for 40 years or 40 days -- because we have a lot of wonderful young people who are making that same commitment, beginning their careers working for the federal government -- but no matter how long you’ve been here, each of you gets up every day and you go to work for the American people.  That's what’s first and foremost on your minds. 

And that's why it has been such a privilege as First Lady for me to come and make these visits and get to meet you all, and to thank you -- to thank you for the long hours that you put in.  Everybody talks about the President and how hard he works -- and believe me, he does -- but everybody knows that.  People don’t realize that you all are making the same sacrifices, too; that you’re missing time with your families to get your job done, and you’re often doing it without any recognition whatsoever.  So I just want to let you know how much this administration values everything that you do. 

These visits also help me because I get a chance to listen and to learn more about the work that you’re all doing, and to help actually spotlight, because we always bring with us a wonderful group of cameras.  (Laughter.)  But we help to spotlight the difference that you’re making in the lives of so many Americans.

And that's especially true here at the USTR.  People need to know about the work that you do, what does it mean.  The fact is, is that folks across this country depend on trade to put food on the table and to pay the mortgage and to send their kids to college.

And as Ambassador Kirk likes to point out, 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the borders of this country.  And that’s a pretty big market. 

And that’s why here in America, we are the biggest exporters on the planet –- with about one out of every nine dollars earned in this country coming from exports.

But what a lot of people don’t understand is that your work isn’t just about boosting GDP or negotiating billion-dollar trade agreements, which is what we hear about in the papers.  But it’s about keeping the American Dream alive for hardworking folks in every corner of this country who depend on the work that you do, even if they don’t always realize it.

Because of you, our small businesses are able to grow and to thrive.  A manufacturer in Kansas can sell machinery in China and hire more workers in America to make it happen.  And because of businesses that export tend to grow faster, create jobs faster, pay higher wages, that business owner can afford to expand even further and hire more people in the community.  Because of your hard work, communities everywhere are stronger, they’re more resilient –- even in the face of these tough economic times.  What you do is maintaining some kind of stability in this country.

Right now, more than 6 million Americans in cities and towns all across this country owe their jobs to manufacturing exports alone.  And I know you all work hard to try to make those numbers even bigger.  I know that through the Ambassador you’re working to get those numbers up.  Every time I see him he’s talking about job growth and making sure that we’re doing everything in our power to expand job creation here.
 
Because of the agreements you’ve reached, working families can stretch their budgets even further.  Parents can afford to put food on the table, they can buy things like computers and cars, and save a little for retirement or for a rainy day. 

And because of your vision, the next generation of entrepreneurs hard at work in their garages and basements and college dorm rooms all across this country will be able to market their ideas around the world –- secure in the knowledge that they will get a fair shake in this international market.

It’s important for everyone to see the human face behind the work that you do -– that real people who depend on you to protect them; to guide them; and to give them the opportunity to reach their potential.

And it’s important to recognize that every market that you reach and every agreement that you enforce means that someone somewhere can come home to their family at night with their head held high and a newfound sense of purpose.

In the end, everything that you do here at the USTR is part of our commitment to protect and preserve what is best about this nation -– the ability of every American to find a decent job; to be treated fairly in the marketplace; and to follow any idea or dream that they have and take it wherever they think it can.

And for that reason alone, you all deserve our admiration and our thanks, again not just because you’ve been here for 40 or 50 years or 20 days.  We are very proud of the work that you do.  And we’re going to need you working hard every step of the way. 

We are seeing some stabilization in the economy, but there are still a lot of people hurting out there, so the work that you do continues to be important.  But we are grateful to all of you. 

And we hope that you keep an eye on this man -- (laughter) -- and make sure that he stays out of trouble. 

But I want to thank you for taking the time to come see me today.  And I’m going to shake a few hands, say hello to these folks back here, and I'll be out there in a second.

So thank you all.  Thanks for your work.  (Applause.)

END
11:29 A.M. EDT

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