|October 5, 2008|
Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao
Remarks Prepared for Delivery By
Thank you, Howard [Radzely, Deputy Secretary of Labor]. Isn't he doing a wonderful job as master of ceremonies?
Good morning, everyone. I'm delighted to participate in this very special occasion for Neil and his family.
Let me welcome the members of Neil's family. You'll remember this moment all of your lives. This ceremony is dedicated especially to Neil and his family. So let me welcome Neil's wife Barbara, and their daughters Bianca and Christina. I also want to recognize a very special friend, Sally Atwater, Executive Director of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, and her fellow committee members.
And, let me welcome the representatives from government, advocates for people with disabilities, employers, nonprofit organizations, and just plain old friends of Neil.
This hall is a very special. It's called the Great Hall, and it's where we hold the most memorable of our Labor Department celebrations.
Participating in this ceremony is especially poignant and meaningful because this is likely to be my last swearing-in ceremony for an assistant secretary. We've seen a lot of joy and exaltation in this room. We've seen a superb team of assistant secretaries and other key personnel serve America's workers over the nearly eight years I've been here. And we are so fortunate that Neil has agreed to join us in the final stretch to help us finish strong on behalf of Americans with disabilities and all of America's workers.
As many of you know, the Office of Disability Employment Policy existed as a sub-cabinet level agency only after the President proposed and the Congress authorized it in FY 2001. So I have had the honor of swearing-in the first and last assistant secretary for ODEP in this Administration. Neil is yet another significant person of importance to the Department's history.
Through ODEP, we've built on the Department's progress in helping Americans with disability fully access the abundant opportunities you and I know America offers. This includes helping those who want to work find meaningful employment and helping employers make their workplaces more accessible.
On February 1, 2001 just two days after I came on board President George W. Bush committed the federal government to taking real, concrete steps to increase employment for Americans with disabilities when he announced the New Freedom Initiative. And since the Department is the lead agency on this initiative, we want ODEP to have strong, effective leadership to carry out its mission.
And that's where, as we continue on this mission, Neil comes in. Many of you know Neil as a consummate professional in marketing communications and advocacy. He's an entrepreneur, so he can do anything! He knows how to advocate the business case for tapping the skills and talents of people with disabilities. And Neil's work with the White House Office of Drug Abuse Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services yielded some of the most recognized public awareness campaigns.
The root of his tremendous energy, optimism and advocacy can be found, in part, in his own battle to overcome dyslexia, which was not a very recognized condition 40 years ago. And this condition, dyslexia, impacts many, many Americans.
Neil believes that expanding freedom for people with disabilities in the next great frontier of freedom. He believes that by demonstrating the skills and talent of people with disabilities, employers will, can, and must take note of this largely untapped pool of talent. And, Neil is confident that people with disabilities on the job will cause the development of new products, systems and programs that will enhance America's competitiveness in the global economy.
Neil's strong belief in the mission of ODEP is intertwined with his own personal faith and upbringing. And he takes great inspiration from his brother Bob, a heroic Vietnam veteran who suffered paralysis due to his own service. Unfortunately, Bob cannot be with us today due to his inability to travel. But Neil, please let Bob know that he is with us in spirit and we salute him for his courage and the sacrifices he has made to protect our country's freedom.
Now, let me take a moment to thank Neil's family. And, I know how much Neil loves his family. Public service is a full-time commitment, and our families serve with us. Our families journey along with us during our service to our government. Their love and support will be essential to Neil's success as assistant secretary. He cannot do it with their love and support. You, Neil's family, are about to embark on an important journey with Neil. And, I'm sure he knows he can count on you!
Neil's contagious enthusiasm will be a great asset in strengthening ODEP and helping it fulfill its mission. And so, at this time, I am pleased to administer the oath of office to Neil.
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