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  4. Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks at Partnership for Public Service Breakfast

Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks at Partnership for Public Service Breakfast

Release Date: May 20, 2024

Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at the Partnership for Public Service’s breakfast announcing the release of the annual "The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" rankings in Washington, DC.

First, a few words about the little, the big, and everything in-between.

When I was serving as the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency in the Department of Homeland Security that administers our country’s legal immigration system, I visited one of our large case processing centers in Vermont. The visit was part of my focus on engaging with our workforce around the country and the world. On that visit, I shared a few of my sweeping, grand ideas of how we could, together, make the agency better and improve the work lives of our personnel.

At one point in the conversation, an employee raised his hand and presented his own idea. He said, “you know, if you could just get our computers to boot-up faster when we turn them on in the morning, our lives would be a lot better.” Applause actually erupted. Emboldened, another employee raised her hand and volunteered, “if we could get a new pencil or pen without having to fill out a requisition form, that would be great too.”  Affirming laughter followed.

Sometimes, the little things can mean a lot.

A couple of years later, when I was serving as the Department’s Deputy Secretary, I focused on engaging with the workforce across the entire Department, seeking to give voice to the employees about building what I termed, “the Department they deserve.” We created the Department’s first Employee Engagement Steering Committee to give them that voice.

Fast forward a few years, to the tenure of this Administration. For the past three years, I have issued Department-wide priorities at the beginning of each year to define and guide our efforts.\ Throughout, employee well-being has been our top management priority.

I and other leaders have hit the road to meet with our personnel in the field, to learn from them, and be responsive to them.

Early in my tenure, I visited one of our facilities at the port of Miami. Colleagues who worked there, the home of Customs and Border Protection’s Seaport Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team, called it the “House of Pain.” Dim lighting, poor internet connectivity, equipment in disrepair, and untenable restroom facilities. We fixed the lighting swiftly, strengthened internet connections soon after, and on April 23rd of this year we held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the improved facility that includes a break room, targeting room, office space, and fitness center with upgrades such as refreshed flooring, ceiling tiles, paint, furnishings, and roof repairs. Our people deserve nothing less, and only the best.

The best sometimes means just being fair. For years, we thought that our frontline TSA officers at airports throughout the country deserved to be paid on par with other federal government employees. As straightforward as that is, it was not the case; their pay was dismally and unacceptably less. We therefore made TSA pay fairness a top legislative mission, and we achieved it. We also gave them collective bargaining rights. We extended to them the respect they deserve and gave their voice the clout it warrants. TSA employee recruiting and retention have drastically improved, with attrition dropping by about half of what it was. A more stable workforce means greater security for the traveling public. That big change means a lot.

Perhaps, though, I am mistaken in using the terms “little” and “big” to describe the measures we have taken to respond to employee needs.

Some might say, for example, that providing a dog to join the workstation of frontline personnel is not that big a deal. Yet, when you consider that the canine is a trained therapy dog for our Border Patrol Agents who responded to the horror of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, you understand how profound it truly is.

Everything matters. It all matters when we are addressing the well-being of our people. That is the bottom line. And there are a few more bottom lines as well.

First, an agency or a department cannot do it alone. The well-being of a workforce requires a community and a community of action. We in the Department of Homeland Security are grateful to, and for, Max Stier and the Partnership for Public Service for everything they have done and continue to do for us and for employees throughout the federal government. We champion the noble public servant together. Max, thank you.

We are also thankful for the support we receive from Congress. Bennie Thompson led the charge to pass the legislation that granted pay fairness to our TSA officers. We look forward to more opportunities to work with Congress to ensure our workforce receives the support and resources they need and deserve.

Second, taking care of people is not a matter of unilateral action. It requires listening, learning, engaging, and responding. We prioritize two-way communication through regular “Pulse Surveys” that enable employees to share their experiences and concerns and their ideas for a better workplace. We have developed “Jump Teams” to solve immediate issues, guide how funding is allocated, and help deliver support most effectively to our frontline personnel.

Over the years, Max has spoken with me about the need to empower one’s Senior Executive Service, or SES, to build leadership that cascades through them to ultimately reside in every employee. We have involved our SES in defining our Departmental priorities and charting our path forward in unprecedented ways.

Importantly, we meet our employees where they are, not just here in the national capital region, but in the field, across the country and around the world.

I have traveled to recognize and meet with colleagues from coast to coast, border to border, and in international locations as far away as Singapore. I have visited with our people during training sessions and graduation ceremonies, at airports and on ships, in patrol stations and at ports of entry, at checkpoints and in cyber centers, at disaster relief sites and during early morning musters.

I believe the workforce of the Department of Homeland Security is the best in the world. It’s all about people, and our people execute an extraordinarily expansive, diverse, and challenging set of missions We recognize them, we champion them, and we are intensely devoted to taking care of them.

I am very proud that, for the second consecutive year, our Department has shown significant improvement in its employee well-being and satisfaction, and that this year the Partnership for Public Service has recognized us as the Most Improved Large Agency in the federal government.

There is a lot more to do, and we are going to do it.  Our devotion to the incredible public servants that work in the Department of Homeland Security is enduring.

Thank you very much.


Last Updated: 05/21/2024
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