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Foley Highlights GSA's Commitment to Childcare

As prepared for delivery

Remarks by
David Foley
PBS Deputy Commissioner
U.S. General Services Administration
GSA Child care Conference
Las Vegas, Nevada
July 14, 2010

Thank you, Jeff, for that kind introduction, and thank you all for allowing me to join you today.

I am honored and delighted to accept the invitation to address you all on behalf of General Services Administrator Martha Johnson who regrets that she couldn’t be here.

I’m also here because the work that you do every day – building the citizenry of tomorrow and enabling our federal families to continue to the work -- is of the highest importance to GSA and to the Obama Administration.  In gratitude for your constant and vital service, I would like to read a letter from the president. He writes,

I send greetings to all those attending the 21st Annual General Services Administration Child Care Training Conference.

Each day, parents on their way to school or work bring their children to child care centers in communities across America. Quality child care can mean a quality work environment for many Americans, and I commend your dedication to serving the needs of federal employees and citizens alike.  As you meet at this forum to share new ideas, discuss best practices, and strengthen the services you provide, I hope you take pride in the impact you have on the lives of countless children and families.

I wish you all the best for an enjoyable and productive conference.

 Barack Obama

The president is clear: child care is of paramount national importance.  As the government’s landlord, it is one of GSA’s great honors to provide the space and services to keep our child care centers open, safe, and secure. You and your colleagues around the country ensure that our children learn in a safe, sustainable, and healthy environment, and I speak on behalf of Administrator Johnson and the GSA leadership team when I say: thank you.   

The pressures on today’s families are immense and growing. Two-thirds of American families with kids are headed by two working parents or a single working parent. Parents are increasingly working longer hours, and are having less time to spend raising their children.  In times of tightening family budgets, America’s parents – both in the private sector as well as the public sector – face the difficulty of trying to do more with less.  It is therefore commendable that you provide tuition assistance at some level at every child care center – to over 1,700 families nationwide.  This has a big impact on parents with multiple children or low-income employees.  

Despite this impressive statistic, however, the impact of decreasing family budgets on American family life is great: increasingly, parents have to juggle home and work obligations, and they are torn between raising their children and pursuing their careers.  I’m sure many of you in the audience feel these pressures yourself.

This is why your work is so important.  In the face of these challenges, you stand at the frontlines every day, providing federal parents with peace of mind that their children are being cared for, watched over, and educated while they work hard doing the work of the nation.

And you should know that you ARE appreciated: in a parent survey, 91% of respondents reported being “highly satisfied” with the quality and level of care that their child receives.  You are, quite simply, among the best child care providers in the country, and your service provides the stability and the pillar upon which our federal families rely: they can do their jobs because you are doing yours.

At GSA, we are proud to help support the work of child care providers across the federal government.  You should be proud, too.  Since your inception over two decades ago, you have helped create 110 centers in 32 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.  You care for over 8,200 children every day with a level of professionalism unrivaled by the private sector: GSA’s child care centers have an 85% accreditation rate compared to only 8% in the private sector.

We’ve seen the great work that you have done over the last two decades, and GSA’s leadership stands ready to help you move forward into the next chapter of your work.  Three new centers are about to be added to the overall inventory, and as your portfolio expands we are delighted to see that you are embracing healthy-child initiatives that go hand-in-hand with GSA’s new sustainability mandate and the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative.

You may have heard Administrator Johnson speak about the bold new vision for GSA: creating a zero environmental footprint for the federal government.  As the interface between government and industry, GSA sits in a unique position, touching the river of federal consumption at all levels and impacting over $90 billion worth of goods and services each year.  Noticing GSA’s ubiquity, President Obama has tasked us with helping to lead his so-called “green team” along with the Department of Energy and the Council on Environmental Quality.  We are honored to be part of this important work, and we have risen to the occasion, pulling change and sustainability throughout the federal government, building by building, contract by contract.

I mention this because of what sustainability means and why we are pursuing such an ambitious agenda.  Sustainability – and ultimately creating a zero environmental footprint – is both the smart thing to do and the right thing to do.  It’s the smart thing to do from a climate change perspective, from a national security perspective, and from an economic perspective.  And, perhaps most importantly, it’s the right thing to do in terms of our roles as stewards, parents, and educators of tomorrow’s leaders, our nation’s children.

We have an obligation to future generations to be good stewards of our natural resources so that they may benefit from them as we have.  It is thus with great pride that I see sustainability built into the core of your operations, from toxin free paint to measurable systems and standards of green evaluation, from healthy food to bio-friendly playgrounds. It is clear that today’s federal child care centers are ahead of the curve in terms their own operations as well as teaching children the value of sustainable living.

But it should come as no surprise that you are ahead of the curve because GSA has a long history of being a first-mover when it comes to employee wellness and quality of life.  GSA was the agency to restrict smoking in federal buildings, implant fitness centers in many federal buildings, and move towards telework and flexible schedules as a viable option for employees.

The President and First Lady have made childhood health and wellness a key part of the domestic policy agenda, and the First Lady has spearheaded a new initiative called Let’s Move, a nation-wide program aimed at dramatically decreasing childhood obesity by increasing exercise and healthy diets.

The statistics on childhood health and obesity are stark.  Nearly one-third of children in this country are now overweight or obese.  Think about that; take three children you know, and one of them will be at risk of obesity-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke.   Last year we spent nearly $150 billion – billion -- treating conditions like these.  If we don’t act now and act fast, that number is going to continue to rise as we see these children reach adulthood at an unhealthy weight and pass unhealthy habits on to their children.

I am proud that GSA’s child care centers are designed to make it as easy as possible to get children outdoors every day and give them opportunities for large muscle activity.  When weather makes it impossible to play outside, most centers have indoor play areas. At this year’s conference, I know that there is a special emphasis being placed on physical activity, and one of the featured speakers, Hap Palmer, is at the cutting edge of integrating music and song into childhood learning and activity.  It has become a core part of the child care curriculum, and from Alaska to Puerto Rico and everywhere in between, the message is clear: GSA’s child care centers take physical activity and childhood health seriously.

This commitment extends to good nutrition, too.  Not only do the centers work hard to provide nutritious snacks and meals, but the kids get involved too.  Centers in California, Missouri, and West Virginia have all planted gardens to teach about good food and share the produce with their communities. Their efforts should be applauded, and best practices that they’ve learned should be spread, adapted, and adopted by your colleagues around the country.

This administration is committed to starting a healthy child movement, and it will take innovative efforts and dedicated professionals like you to spread the word and make the difference.       

I’ll close by simply saying thank you.  You know all too well the long hours and the constant demands on your time and your energy.  You also know the deep importance of the work you do.  As you go to the workshops and sessions at this conference, please know that you have the thanks and appreciation of a grateful nation.   

Thank you.