|Thank you Cathie (Woteki) and Tom (Billy). Secretary Glickman wanted to be here this morning, but he is on his way out west with President Clinton where some of the worst fires in years are threatening lives, livelihoods and property.
I too want to welcome the families of Jean and Tom, and express on behalf of all of us in government service our sincerest condolences.
In June Secretary Glickman and I went to California for the memorial service for Jean Hillery and Tom Quadros and for Bill Shaline, the state official who, along with Jean and Tom, was senselessly gunned down in the prime of his life.
Secretary Glickman read a letter from the President which I would like to share with you today.
We all acknowledge the senselessness of this crime. We all deplore the violence that has come to characterize American society. But we all must ask ourselves, what are we doing to defuse the powder kegs that seem to be growing all around us? How is each of us promoting peace, not on an international level, but in our neighborhoods, schools, communities and, of course, our workplaces?
There is no excuse for the irrational taking of human life that we too often see in our society. In this case, Tom, Jean and Bill were just doing their jobs, the jobs the American people asked them to do.
Food safety compliance officers perform one of the most important functions in public service, protecting the American people where they are largely powerless to protect themselves. Jean Hillery, Tom Quadros and Bill Shaline did the people's work. It is the efforts of these three people — and the thousands of others like them — that ensures the safety of the food we serve to our families.
And though their work is critical, rarely do we think of it as dangerous and life-threatening. Which makes this tragedy all the more shocking and unsettling. We would be remiss if we simply chalked this deplorable violence up to the insane deeds of one gunman without looking at the conditions that lead to such irrational acts.
At an all-employees meeting attended by Dr. Woteki in California just after this tragedy occurred, the moderator, Ray Tsuneyoshi, an employee of FSIS, asked three questions.
First he wanted to know in the course of their work how many people had been verbally abused. Almost all of the more than 150 employees present raised their hands.
Then he asked how many had been threatened. About 40% raised their hands.
Finally, he asked how many had actually been physically attacked. Approximately 15 people, or 10% of the employees there raised their hands.
Dr. Woteki, Secretary Glickman and me all had the same reaction, a lot of rage, anxiety and frustration is festering just beneath the surface, and even sometimes right out in the open.
Secretary Glickman immediately concluded that this situation needs to be addressed immediately. That people can't be afraid of doing their jobs. We need to recognize that all of us have a stake in this system working. Safe food sells and if the public loses confidence in the safety of the food they buy, then everyone will pay the consequences from the industry to the inspectors.
So we need to bring industry, agencies and the employees together to sort out what are the sources of antagonism and how can we best deal with them. Everyone involved in the production of food, regardless of their role must see themselves and each other as an integral part of the team. That is the only way to ensure the integrity of the system.
Shortly, Secretary Glickman will announce steps to begin a dialogue among and between all interested parties on the workplace environment and how to improve working relationships.
It is a sad state of affairs that it takes a tragedy of this magnitude to bring attention and action to such a tense environment. But it would be all the more derelict if we were to ignore the tensions that give rise to words, threats, physical harm and, in this case, murder. That the lives of these heroic public servants were not lived in vain, let us all vow that in the names of Jean Hillery, Thomas Quadros and Bill Shaline, that we will make it our duty to make our world, our workplaces more civil, more tolerant, more respectful and more understanding. Thank you.