Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
London, United Kingdom
September 14, 2017
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Thanks so much, Mr. Ambassador. And it is truly a pleasure to have the opportunity to stop by and visit here and say hello to all of you, extend my greetings to you, and first and foremost thank you for what you’re doing. The role you play here – obviously, those of you that are rotating in and out as part of your career, extremely important to the mission. But I also want to acknowledge the very important role that our locally employed staff help us with both here but also our consular offices all around the region as well.
All of you represent the face of America to the British people, the United Kingdom. This continues to be that, quote, “special relationship,” and it is as special today as it has ever been. The ties between our two countries are very, very close. We know that Britain is going through a challenging time right now as it negotiates Brexit; we’re watching it closely with great interest. But we have been clear that we are going to stay very close to one another economically with our trading relationships. Where we can talk about certain issues, we’re going to engage and talk about those. We’re mindful of and respectful of the rules that govern their exit from the European Union. But we’re patient. What we can work on, we’ll work on. Where we need to wait, we’ll wait. We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be right here. The relationship and the partnership between our two countries is just too important.
Also extremely important on the security front. We have very close ties around counterterrorism, those very challenging issues in the Middle East, in Syria, in Iraq, in dealing with Iran. And the UK has been quite helpful, quite forceful in their support for our efforts against North Korea’s development of its nuclear weapons.
So across all the really critical issues that we’re dealing with today, the UK and the leadership here have been just terrific for us. And so it’s an extremely important relationship and it’s why we’re making a trip over here. It is a day trip. We’re going to have a very important session later today on Libya to see if we cannot put a peace process together, a reconciliation process, to put Libya back together. So I’m always ready to make a quick trip over because we get a lot done when we come over here.
Let me talk about – about you a little bit and talk a little bit about what we’re doing at the State Department. And all of you are aware we have a number of initiatives underway.
First, when I first stepped into this role and addressed the department on the steps there at the State Department headquarters, I articulated three things that were really important to me that we as an organization all come together around and agree that this is how we’re going to conduct ourselves personally, it’s how we’re going to conduct ourselves with each other, and it’s how we’ll conduct ourselves with the world with which we engage.
And first and foremost was I said we’ve got to make a commitment to the safety and security of each and every one of our State Department people, our consular people, and to the American citizens. We’ve had some failures in the past; we have to learn from those. But there can never be an acceptable explanation for us ever losing one of our colleagues, and I take that very seriously and I take your safety and security very seriously.
But you also have to own a certain personal responsibility for that as well, so I want you to care about yourself, take care of yourself, and I want you to take care of your colleagues on either side of you and be committed to that, and help the ambassador in his role here as well as he has to take responsibility for the safety and security of all of you in the mission, in the consular offices, and the American citizens here. We’re dedicated to that. If we don’t care about ourselves and care about the safety and security of each other, I don’t know how we care about much else. So let’s start there with a real commitment to one another.
The second is accountability. We have to hold ourselves accountable for what we do, for the outcome, the results. We cannot hold our partners outside, whether it’s our partners in the UK or our partners in the other parts of the world, accountable if we’re not willing to hold ourselves accountable. So that is an important theme that’s making its way throughout what we’re trying to do within the department as well, is be willing – be willing to hold yourself accountable for the outcome. It isn’t going to always turn out the way we want it to. In fact, that’s just the nature of what we do. And that’s okay. That’s okay. If it doesn’t turn out the way we want it to, we’ll learn. We’ll learn something from it, we’ll go back at it, and we’ll take a different tack. But we have to be accountable for not just the successes, but we have to be accountable when things go wrong as well, because that’s the only way we get better, and to be willing to accept that not as a criticism but as a learning moment, an ability to give back.
And the third thing is respect. We have to treat each other with respect at all times. I just simply cannot tolerate people that are disrespectful to their colleagues. And it doesn’t matter what your station is. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the ambassador or whether you’re someone who’s playing an important role in the mailroom or whether you’re a driver of one of our vehicles; everyone is treated with respect because every one of you have a critical role to play in what we do either directly or because you are enabling someone else to do their job.
So I just – I require it of others. I require it of myself. I will not treat others this way and I will not allow myself to be treated with disrespect. And we must respect one another first and foremost. And by practicing that and being that way every day, day in and day out, we will strengthen our relationships externally because we then treat others with respect as well.
So safety and security, accountability, and respect for one another. I really want you to think about that every day and try to practice that. If you do those things, you’ll have a performing organization. That’s what I know. I know that to be true.
And as you know, we’re going through a redesign at the State Department. Part of this was in response to an executive order from the President, but it was also something that I wanted to do from day one. The most important thing I want to do during the time I have – I hope we get peace in North Korea; I hope we can settle the conflicts in Syria; I hope we can settle the conflict in Libya; I hope we can develop a better relationship with Russia. But those won’t be the most important things that I’ll do. The most important thing I can do is to enable this organization to be more effective, more efficient, and for all of you to take greater satisfaction in what you do day in and day out. Because if I accomplish that, that will go on forever and you will create the State Department of the future.
That’s why we started this with a listening tour. We got 35,000 of you responded. If you responded, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And we interviewed over 300 people face to face, and since we started the redesign, which is led by you and your colleagues, we’ve had over 200 people working in redesign teams while they’ve been doing their day jobs at the same time. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with them from time to time and see the work as it’s progressing, and I just can’t tell you how excited I am. You know – you know what needs to be fixed. I don’t, but you do. You know where you’re having problems, where you’re struggling, where things get in the way of you being effective. That’s what we want to get at. And that’s why we call it a process redesign. A reorganization is taking boxes on a chart and cramming them together and moving them around, but nothing really changes. We want to get down to how do you get your work done and how can we help you get your work done more efficiently, more effectively.
So I tell people I’m in the blocking and tackling business. You tell me what you need to run downfield, and let me go do some blocking for you to do it. If we need Congress to change a – make a statutory change, we’ll go after it. If they need to make a change in things that require appropriations, we’ll go after it. And I’m already in conversations with them about that. So with your involvement in this through the portal, a lot of ideas – we’re getting great ideas through the portal. Please, keep those coming. And those things that we can fix on our own right away, I have entire teams to get after it and let’s start fixing some of these things.
So it’s going to take us a while. We’ve got big systems challenges, as all of you know, IT challenges – that’s going to take some investments over a couple of years for us to get those addressed, but we’re committed to address those as well.
So again, for those of you that have been participating, thank you so much. This is yours. This is yours. You tell us what we need to do. That’s how we will create a better functioning State Department for years to come. So again, thank you for your participation there.
And then lastly, thank you for being here. Thank you for taking the assignment. Thank you for bringing your families here. I spent a little time in my old life living on the road in countries. I had to go unaccompanied because Yemen wasn’t a great place to take my family, and Moscow wasn’t a great place to take my family in the early ‘90s, so I’ve been unaccompanied and I understand the sacrifice that each of you are making. I know the family events you miss back home. And so I thank you for that. I thank you for your willingness to serve.
If there’s one thing I learned out of the listening tour, it’s your patriotism. Your patriotism is extraordinary, and it came through loud and clear. All of you are doing this for a reason: You want to serve the United States of America and you want to serve the American people. I have nothing but the greatest admiration for you, and I am inspired by it. It makes me want to be better.
So again, thank all of you for what you do for us. Thank you, Ambassador, for being here. Now, we have an Ambassador Johnson and we have a Foreign Secretary Johnson. What I’ve concluded is, on any given day, a Johnson is going to be to blame. (Laughter.) We’ll let them figure out who. (Laughter.)
But again, thank all of you for being here. It’s a delight to see you. I hope to come back and to be able to stay longer and spend some time walking the halls and getting to meet more of you, but again, thanks for what you do for us so much. (Applause.)