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Remarks by William Smith, USDA Remembrance Ceremony

Speeches & Presentations

Remarks prepared for delivery by FSIS Assistant Administrator William Smith at the USDA remembrance ceremony for fallen compliance officers, June 22, 2010, Alameda, CA.

Good morning, and thank you for joining us to remember four individuals who dedicated their lives to food safety.

Our administrator, Al Almanza, wanted to be with us today. He and our Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, spoke at yesterday's ceremony in Washington. This morning, I speak not only for myself, but on his behalf, and on behalf of our colleagues in headquarters and throughout the organization across the United States. Their thoughts are with us today.

One of the most difficult times to give remarks is in the wake of a tragedy. The weight of the loss speaks louder than words; so, I'll only be a few moments.

Ten years ago, yesterday, 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 near here in San Leandro—the kind of dedicated work that thousands of FSIS and state investigators and inspectors do every day to ensure our food is safe.

As the Assistant Administrator for Evaluation, Enforcement and Review I have the distinct privilege to lead the investigative force in FSIS. Many of the people I work with were colleagues and investigators with Jean and Bill and interacted with them on a daily basis. At the time of this tragedy I was the Executive Director in the Office of Field Operations. The shocking loss of our colleagues Jean, Tom and Bill through this senseless act impacted me and many of us across the agency heavily, especially Earl, whom we also honor today.

I remember distinctly gathering in the hotel meeting room where we were at for a national meeting with all of the Compliance Investigators attending, as well as other Field Operations personnel mourning the loss of our colleagues well into the early morning hours due to this tragic event. Grown men and women sat together trying to console each other and make sense of something that was unexplainable. The entire Compliance investigative organization was in a state of incomprehension and sorrow.

To the families, we offer our unceasing support and gratitude. Know that their service and commitment was not in vain. The message was clear that fateful day, as it is now—we must protect our people, just like we protect the public.

Since that time, FSIS has made workplace violence prevention a priority to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.

FSIS investigators team with Inspector General Special Agents or other federal, state or local law enforcement officials before moving forward with any possible dangerous encounter required to carry out their duties.

The development of an investigative plan that includes detailed analysis and plan of action for the security of personnel is now standard operating procedure before initiation of any investigative action.

Every training course that investigators are required to take includes a section on security and personnel safety.

We have provided investigators and field personnel with help to perform their jobs safely. Two ways are with a 24 hour, toll-free hotline to report threats and a workplace violence liaison/intervention officers at the headquarters and district level.

We emphasized outreach to improve relationships with the regulated industry, so they know we are there not to harm them, but to assist them in enhancing their operations and protect the public.

And to encourage good working relationships and recognize teamwork within the agency, we created the Administrator's Workplace Harmony Award—inspired by the dedication and lives of our fallen comrades.

To honor our colleagues who have gone ahead, each day we must remember that the service we perform is a public service, with risks and rewards that come from representing government and protecting our fellow Americans.

We must remember that our mission to ensure safe food is a noble and important one. And that those performing it—often without thanks or recognition are some of this country's most dedicated civil servants.

Today, we salute Jean, Tom, Bill and Earl as extraordinary examples of professionalism, service and sacrifice. We recommit ourselves to following their example of selfless dedication.

On behalf of the leadership at FSIS, we'll continue to pay tribute to the men and women who stand on the front lines of food safety and security of our nation.

Once again, thank you for sharing this special moment with us.

—END—
Last Modified Jun 12, 2013