Commentary: Spirit of Public Service Strengthens the Nation

Tuesday, 05 May 2009

By Janet Napolitano

Reprinted from the Federal Times

Americans have long heard the call for public service. But the national challenges we have encountered in recent years have amplified this need.

As we work together to move our country forward, it has become more apparent than ever that we all share responsibility for our common future. And we all have a role to play in strengthening our nation.

Today, we give deserved thanks and appreciation to the many Americans who perform public service as part of their everyday lives: serving in our military, keeping our communities safe, and volunteering their time to help their neighbors.

The nearly 220,000 people working in the Homeland Security Department exemplify this breadth of public service and its importance to our country. These men and women have made careers of serving the American people. Many of them — 26 percent of DHS employees — served our country in the military and have continued their service in critical roles throughout the department. I thank each of them for their service.

Consider all that the people of DHS do: The military men and women of the Coast Guard patrol our waterways, rescue thousands of Americans each year and serve as part of our nation’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection work together to guard against dangerous people and items trying to enter our country and combating the smuggling of illegal weapons, drugs and cash. The officers of the Transportation Security Administration guard the transportation hubs, while the agents of the Secret Service, among many tasks, ensure the safety of the president, vice president and their families. The public servants of Citizenship and Immigration Services make the American dream possible for people from around the world. The men and women of the Federal Emergency Management Agency assist Americans facing difficult times, helping them rebuild their communities and livelihoods after disasters. Thousands of intelligence agents, security experts and others across our department constantly look out for new threats and develop plans to prevent them. Each kind of service is distinct, but all of them are significant assets for our country.

In addition to our staff, hundreds of thousands of citizen volunteers give time through DHS Citizen Corps each year. More than 175,000 Americans volunteer through the Medical Reserve Corps to provide medical services in the event of a disaster. More than 220,000 Americans give their time to the Volunteer in Police Service programs to aid their local police departments. Nearly 15,000 people aid their local first responders through Fire Corps programs, and an estimated 600,000 people have received training as part of the Community Emergency Response Team program since 2002.

These programs succeed because of the spirit of their volunteers. Indeed, we should admire and look to the many Americans who go home from work, many of whom already work in public service, and then devote their time to volunteering in their communities — coaching children, teaching adults, or serving neighbors struggling in the current economy. For every individual, there is a volunteer opportunity, and in every community, there is a need. To find volunteer opportunities in your community, visit or

The more Americans who perform public service, the more we improve our shared destiny as a country, and the more people discover the strong personal reward in public service — the satisfaction gained from serving something larger than yourself. This is something that I have found throughout my career in public service, and something that has motivated the thousands of great public servants I have met and worked with over the years — teachers, law enforcement officers, military servicemen and women, and others.

The spirit of public service moves us to do great things together. We have relied on this spirit as our nation has encountered past challenges — and it will continue to aid us today as we work together toward a safe and prosperous future.

Janet Napolitano is Secretary of Homeland Security.

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