I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
These are the words that millions of Americans take when they devote themselves to public service. I’ve had the opportunity to recite this oath twice. I do not take these words lightly, nor do the majority of the people who make a choice to serve this country.
In my career over the last 15 years, I have worked with thousands of federal leaders at all levels and across agencies. I have never met a single solitary federal employee in my work who doesn’t care about the mission of her/his office and agency, who doesn’t take very seriously their role in serving all American citizens. These folks are dedicated individuals who feel a deep sense of connection and responsibility to serve U.S. citizens.
There is the manager in the budgeting office of the National Institute of Health who teared up sharing how NIH saved her friend’s daughter who was diagnosed with leukemia.
There is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) official who felt a deep sense of pride because she ensured that the public had transparency into how the USDA inspects food to ensure the safety and health of Americans.
There is the Foreign Service Institute Transition Center Director and his staff who fought for years to implement resilience training and and support for civil and foreign service officers suffering from post-traumatic stress.
There is the project manager at the Environmental Protection Agency who has made it her life’s work to ensure that the U.S. region to which she is assigned has clean air and drinking water.
There is the Department of Defense officer who teaches others about Islam and breaks down stereotypes and untruths among soldiers to ensure they have a deeper cultural understanding of the regions to which they are deployed.
And so many more.
Often when I engage with friends and family outside Washington, they tell me about the bubble we live in here. They tell me we here in Washington are way too interested in our jobs and what we do, that we are too intense in how we talk about our work, our society, our government. And they are right. We are intense. We do care to an almost obsessive degree about our work. Because we took an oath. We have answered a calling to serve the American people.
Tomorrow, the world watches the next U.S. president recite his oath to become the highest ranking public servant in our land. I hope he takes it as seriously as the millions of us who have recited our oath to serve.