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Doan Stresses Public Service at Close-Up Foundation Student Seminar

Remarks by
 Lurita Alexis Doan
Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
Close-up Foundation Student Seminar
Washington, DC
January 28, 2008


Thank you very much; it’s great to be with you today.  I am Lurita Doan, the Administrator of the General Services Administration.  I was a college professor, a mom, a business owner, and now I am a public servant.  I’m from New Orleans; I went to college in New York and graduate school in Knoxville, Tennessee.  I’m married to a Californian; I live in Virginia, and I work in Washington, DC

I know the Close-Up Foundation’s mission is to “educate, inspire, and empower individuals to become active citizens in our democracy.” What I have learned in my 18 months as Administrator is that the 12,123 men and women who work for GSA are among the most dedicated, patriotic and civic-minded individuals I’ve ever met.

My niece participated in Close-Up last year, and I had the opportunity, when she came to Washington with her high school, to learn about the program. So when I was asked to speak, I jumped at the chance.  I think that Close-up is an incredible program providing an incredible opportunity for you to see all the different facets of government.  I don’t know how aware you are of the GSA mission, so I’ll tell you a bit about us.

So what is GSA?

  • We are the nation’s landlord—we manage over 340 million square feet of office space, with approximately 8,700 buildings and almost 500 historic properties;
  • We handle $56 billion in IT purchases for various government customers;
  • We run accredited childcare centers in numerous federal buildings;
  • We are one of the largest providers of telecommunications  – GSA just awarded the $60 billion Networx contract for telecommunications support and bandwidth in the federal government;
  • We are the largest credit card provider – GSA brokers over $26 billion in transactions each year;
  • GSA is the nation’s furniture store in that we provide furniture for most federal agencies;
  • GSA is one of the largest commissioners of original art and sculpture. We provide for original works in every federal building.

GSA is government at work.  Our job is to make it possible for other government agencies to do their jobs.  For example, our federal buildings provide the office space that other government agencies need to fulfill their core missions. We provide office space in every state in the United States.  GSA also builds the federal courts that exist in each state so that the Judiciary can ensure justice and fair play.  GSA builds the Land Border Ports of Entry for the 6,900 square miles of the U.S. northern and southern borders, and we keep government agencies talking with each other and the world through the nationwide telecommunications contract I mentioned, Networx. And that’s just a little bit of what we do each day at GSA.

GSA also leads by example:

  • Fiscal discipline is really important to GSA, and so we are very careful to make sure that we use taxpayer dollars wisely and keep our agency running in the black.
  • Mentoring is one of the ways that GSA ensures that a new leadership team is always ready when needed. Our mentoring program also provides opportunities for individual advancement within the agency.
  • Telework is one of the ways that GSA helps with the environment. Reducing the amount of people in traffic each day in turn helps reduce the amount of gas emissions.  Further, we increase the nation’s productivity when we have people working instead of being stalled in traffic. Lastly, it’s one of the ways we can be prepared for any kind of national disaster or emergency because our folks will be trained to work from wherever they are physically located. At GSA, we are leading the nation by example.  We set a really ambitious goal of 50 percent of eligible employees teleworking by 2010.  And now, other agencies are following our example and also setting ambitious goals.

Why is public service important?

Each of us has a responsibility to keep our nation running smoothly, to preserve our freedoms for the next generation.

We live in a great country.  I have lived all over the world and I can tell you, this is an incredible country that we live in.  I have been privileged to live the American Dream.  Public service makes it possible for me to give something back to our country.  It’s a way for me to use the skills I developed in business, so that others, who follow me, will have that same opportunity to live the American Dream.

We live in a great nation—there is, truly, no place like it in the entire world.  Now, I know you have all studied American history and Civics, so you’ll remember that ours was a country forged from nothing to become the greatest power in the world.  I’m sure for your classes you are reading newspapers and following current events, and some of those are undoubtedly very troubling for you.  They are for me also.  Now there are some who might say that our days of greatness are past, but I do not believe it.  I simply do not.  And, I’ll tell you why. 

It’s because it wasn’t brawn or even brains alone that helped create our nation; it was the release of a special kind of spirit, a spirit that lives inside of each one of us—a spirit that says: “I deserve to have the opportunity to do exactly what I want, to get exactly what I want, to live exactly where I want and with whom I want.  I deserve a chance to achieve my best destiny.”

That’s what makes our country different and special. The opportunity to have opportunity.  It’s the belief, held by each of our founding fathers and passed down generation to generation to each one of us, a belief that we are individuals, a belief that each of us is special, and a belief that each of us has a true, best destiny that lies ahead.

The gift of our country to the world is that of the belief in the importance of opportunity, and the belief that it is the government’s role, not to provide handouts or entitlements, but opportunities to make choices.  And, to me, there can be no greater gift than the freedom to choose.

I love our country, and I hope that as you live and grow and have a chance to experience its incredible bounty, that you too will learn and live the beauty of those famous words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, because, guess what?  There’s no place else in this entire world that believes that equality is self-evident—no other country like ours that believes it so strongly that we are willing to die for it. 

So as you go around Washington, DC this week, please look around in wonder, as I do every day, at the incredible legacy dreamed of and created by our forefathers and implemented each day by our nation’s public servants. This is one of the many things that make our country special.

Thank you very much.