Good afternoon. (Applause.) It is so wonderful to be here for this occasion. As some of you know, I’ve been in this room before in the last year expressing a certain level of anxiety and frustration. All of that is behind us as we not only celebrate a new year, but have the great honor and privilege of formally swearing in our new Administrator for USAID.
There are so many distinguished guests here. I know there are members of the Diplomatic Corps, and we thank you and welcome you. There are certainly many members from the State Department and even the White House and other agencies who work with and support the vital assistance that USAID represents. There are two people, though, that I want especially to recognize. One of them is a strong supporter of the State Department, of USAID, someone who has, throughout his public career, in a bipartisan fashion, shown real leadership and understanding of the foreign policy of our country and has been a real champion on so many of the important issues facing the United States. And that is Senator Richard Lugar from Indiana. (Applause.)
I have a fellow Cabinet colleague whom I must thank and acknowledge because I had to make a phone call to him a few months ago. And he’s a dear, dear friend of mine, and it was early in the morning, and it was to ask Secretary Vilsack if he would mind if I nominated Raj Shah to be the USAID Administrator. And there was this long silence on the other end because some of you know that Raj was serving as an Under Secretary in the Department of Agriculture, but Secretary Vilsack gave us, if not his blessing, his understanding. And for that, we are very grateful. And Tom Vilsack is one of the great leaders of our country, and I’m so grateful to you. (Applause.)
There are many people to thank who have helped to make this moment possible. I especially want to thank Alonzo Fulgham. Alonzo – (applause) – served as Acting Administrator of USAID over many months of transition with distinction. We are so grateful for his dedication and service. And I’m especially grateful to the family, the friends, the colleagues in the family of USAID for your patience, for your fortitude, and for your commitment to the work that you do every single day.
It is also a wonderful pleasure to welcome and acknowledge members of Raj’s family. His wife, Shivam, his son, Sajan, and his daughter Amna, along with other relatives, friends and colleagues who are here with us, we thank you for serving with Raj, because it is a family commitment with all that lies ahead of us in the months and years of the Obama Administration.
I know it’s been a long wait to have a new Administrator named, and it took even longer to get him confirmed and sworn in, but it has been worth the wait, because in Dr. Raj Shah, we have a passionate, visionary, experienced development expert at the helm. And I am so thrilled that he will provide the leadership that is needed today as we not only work in partnership on so many of the issues that we care deeply about, but that we continue to elevate the role of development in our foreign policy.
Yesterday, I was privileged to give a speech that I had been waiting to give until we had an Administrator – so I was especially pleased that that day came – in which we outlined our new approach to development, our commitment to rebuilding AID as the premier development agency in the world, bar none. (Applause.) When I finished my speech, someone came up and whispered to me, “Does Raj know what he’s getting into – (laughter) – how much work he has ahead of him?” I said, oh, he totally gets it, and he is more than ready.
There is no doubt that we are going to be taking on an enormous agenda. But we don’t have a choice. We’re working on major initiatives on food security and global health, we’re pursuing new ways and making a greater commitment to women and girls, we’re expanding partnerships not only with governments and multilateral institutions, but with the private sector, the NGOs and civil society and the faith community. And we’re undertaking the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review through the State Department and USAID. Alonzo has been co-chairing that. Raj will now co-chair it.
And it takes an exceptional person to walk into this with his eyes wide open and to embrace the multitude of challenges that we face. Someone who understands the mission of USAID, who understands the courage and commitment of the men and women who we ask to spend long hours, often away from family and home in difficult places serving our country. And it takes a leader who knows that our AID workers make these sacrifices because you too believe in the power of development to improve lives and advance America’s goals and values around the world.
I believe Dr. Raj Shah will be the transformational leader that USAID has been waiting for. One only needs to ask his wife Shivam the lengths to which Raj will go to achieve important goals. After all, this is a man who flew to India for one day to propose to her at the Taj Mahal when she was traveling there alone. (Laughter.) This is also a man – (applause) – who summated the 14,400-foot Mount Rainier, one of the most difficult climbs in the continental United States. And it combines the challenges of an unforgiving glacier with the unpredictability of an active volcano. That may be the best preparation Raj has for working in Washington these days. (Laughter.)
So he brings determination and an unwavering belief that anything is possible. Yet he also brings the humility and quiet confidence instilled by his family. He also carries with him the enduring images of his first trip to India as a boy with his parents, both immigrants from that country, where he saw that nation’s rich history and diversity, but also saw human suffering on a scale that inspired him to action then and continues to inspire him now.
He brings a wealth of experiences – a degree in medicine, a degree in business, his tenure at the Gates Foundation, at USDA. He did groundbreaking work in each place along the way, helping to transform the global system of vaccine financing. And he has the support of those who have worked with him along the way. I received a 10-page, single-spaced, typed list of people who were willing to go to bat for Raj in the Senate with respect to confirmation – names of giants in the field of not only development, but diplomacy, public service, the private sector, the foundation world, here at home and internationally as well.
So it is with great gratitude, delight, and relief that – (laughter) – I welcome you officially, Raj, to this new job. And if you’re ready, I am really excited about swearing you in. If you will join me, and if your family will join us as well.
(The Oath of Office was administered.)