January 5, 1988

I appreciate this opportunity every year to honor and reward a special group of individuals who provide the creativity and energy that ensure the people of the United States the Government they deserve and the Government they pay for. Well, each of you is a tribute to the fact that throughout our government we've got top quality professionals getting the job done.

Thomas Jefferson once said that one of the toughest tasks of any President was finding the right person for the right job. Well, I'm grateful that those of you we honor today are people who worked your way into positions of responsibility and have taken that responsibility seriously.

Now, there's a story I'd like to tell. You knew I'd have one of those. [Laughter] There's only one thing: I'm standing here very uncertain right now, because I'm hoping that I haven't told you this one before. [Laughter] It's about a young fellow. He had a great feeling for animals and wanted to work with animals. And then one day in the help wanted ads he saw an ad from the zoo. They were advertising for someone to come and work in the zoo. Well, he went down, and he found out that his first job was going to be -- if he took the job -- to get into a gorilla suit and enter the cage to replace their gorilla who'd died until the one they'd ordered could arrive. But then there would be a regular job for him after he had done that and the real gorilla arrived. Well, he took them on. And he got in the cage, and there he was in the suit and -- couldn't just sit around. And when the kids, particularly, were in front of the cage, he started doing tricks and everything he could think of for them. And one day he was swinging on a rope, and he got so enthused he swung over into the lion's cage. And the lion came roaring at him, and he started screaming for help. And the lion jumped on him and said, "Shut up, or you'll get us both fired.'' [Laughter]

I guess whoever was running that zoo was certainly employing innovative problemsolving. [Laughter] Seriously though, I know that many of you've saved the Government -- and that really means the taxpayers -- considerable money. You've done it by your diligence and your intelligence. But you've also done more than that: You've provided leadership. And more often than not, that's worth more than money. Today's awards are designed as a way of saying thank you and letting you know that you are appreciated.

This is my seventh year of being part of this ceremony, and I believe your service warrants my personal congratulations, and I want each of you to know that. This year there are 58 distinguished and 267 meritorious winners, almost double the number that was approved in prior years. Large and small agencies are represented, from civilian executives in the military service to executives in the National Science Foundation.

Thirteen award winners this year come from outside the Washington area. I want to welcome all of you to the Capital, which in so many ways is a company town. But none of us should ever forget the real business of the company takes place in the far reaches of our country and even the world. In fact, 88 percent of the Federal work force is located outside the Washington area.

If I were the CEO of a giant corporation, I couldn't find a better group of executives to run my operation than the nearly 7,000 members of the Senior Executive Service whom you represent here today. America's lucky to have men and women such as yourselves, and I'm proud to have worked with you over these last 7 years. I look forward to a productive year ahead.

So, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and God bless you. And now, Connie Horner, who worked with me at the Office of Management and Budget and has been doing a fine job as Director of the Office of Personnel Management, and Kirke Harper, our Director of Executive Personnel, will help me present the awards.

Note: The President spoke at 1:32 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.