Remarks prepared for delivery by FSIS Administrator Al Almanza, at the USDA remembrance ceremony for fallen compliance officers, June 21, 2010, Washington, DC.
Good morning, and thank you for joining us to remember four individuals who dedicated their lives to food safety.
One of the most difficult times to give remarks is in the aftermath of a tragedy. The weight of the loss speaks louder than words; so, I'll only take a few moments here.
Ten years ago, today, FSIS compliance officers Jean Hillery and Tom Quadros; California special investigator Bill Shaline; and California inspector Earl Willis were working as a team to investigate a sausage plant in San Leandro—the kind of quiet, sometimes thankless work that thousands of FSIS and state inspectors do every day to ensure our food is safe.
But after June 21, 2000, we would never be the same.
Jean, Tom and Bill were killed in the line of duty when the plant owner turned violent. Earl escaped the incident, but not the pain of witnessing their murders. He recently passed away.
We were all shocked by the tragedy—by the loss of members of our food safety family. And 10 years later, we haven't forgotten this tragedy and our commitment to make sure that it
never happens again.
We've done the hard, necessary work, to learn the lessons of the past so we don't repeat them and to find some meaning, however we can, from what feels like a senseless tragedy.
We made workplace violence prevention a priority at our agency.
We provided investigators and field personnel with help to perform their job safely. Two ways are with a 24 hour, toll-free hotline to report threats and a workplace violence liaison/intervention officer at the district level.
We emphasized outreach to improve our relationships with plants, so they know we are there not to harm them, but to protect the public.
To encourage good working relationships and recognize teamwork, we created the Administrator's Workplace Harmony Award. It was inspired by the dedication and lives of our fallen compliance officers.
Though that day started off like any other, it changed the way we operate. The message was clear that we must protect our own, just like we protect the public.
Today, we remember Jean, Tom, Bill and Earl.
We remember that the service we perform is a
public service, with both the risks and rewards that come from working for the government on behalf of and to protect Americans.
We remember that our mission to ensure safe food is a noble, important one. And that those performing it—without thanks and under the radar—are some of this country's most dedicated civil servants.
We remember June 21, 2000, and use this occasion to rededicate ourselves to never allowing this type of violence to happen again.
Thank you all for being here today, and, as always, for what you do and your commitment to protect public health.