November 30, 2017
All government officials have an important role in maintaining the public’s trust in the integrity of their government. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk to new Senior Executive Service members about the importance of ethics and their vital role in maintaining the public’s trust.
I reminded them of the “Cloud of Witnesses” who surround them—those in the public whom they serve, those in federal service for whom they are examples, and those who went before them to whom they are indebted.
I concluded my remarks by reminding them how Abraham Lincoln’s timeless words at Gettysburg Cemetery still apply to us today: “We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, and we cannot hallow these grounds.” No, our job is much more difficult. It is rather for us, the living, “to be here dedicated to the unfinished work which they…” so nobly began.
And what is that unfinished work today? The same as it was on that afternoon in Gettysburg. For although we are not “engaged in a great civil war,” we are divided and we are still testing whether this government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” can survive.
I recently sent a letter to the heads of each of your agencies reminding them that the public’s trust is not guaranteed and that its loss would be catastrophic to our republic. I urged them to make ethics a priority in their agencies.
Today I make that same plea to you— because today, what determines whether democracies survive is not the clash of armies, but whether the government maintains the trust of its people. That, my fellow public servants, is on us.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every encumbrance that ensnares us, and let us run with perseverance the race set out before us.”
Let’s run that race like our nation’s future depends on it. Because it just might.