President Biden delivers remarks to State Department employees on Thursday.

President Biden delivers remarks to State Department employees on Thursday. Freddie Everett / State Department

Biden: Foreign Service Officers and Career Civil Servants Are the 'Center of All That I Intend to Do'

The president says federal employees are "badly" needed and promises, "I'm going to have your back."

President Biden on Thursday praised the federal workforce for its courage and sacrifice, promising to support and empower employees after the “difficult” Trump years. 

Speaking at the State Department, Biden told those gathered and watching remotely that foreign service employees and career civil servants are essential to keeping the country running and to enacting his agenda. He noted that he worked with career diplomats as vice president and while he served in the Senate, where he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee, and personally witnessed their tireless efforts. 

“The main message I want to communicate to you all is whether you're part of the newest class of foreign service officers or you’ve been here for decades in the civil service or foreign service, or you’re locally employed staff, you’re vital and the strength of our nation depends in no small part on you,” Biden said. “You are the center of all that I intend to do. You are the heart of it.” 

Biden delivered his message as part of a campaign building on a theme from his inaugural address, namely that “America is back” on the international stage after years of the “America First” policy implemented under President Trump. It was also part of a concerted effort Biden has launched since his swearing in to reach out to the federal workforce, letting agency employees know he would not take the adversarial approach the Trump administration often pursued. He has undone Trump policies that diminished federal union authorities and threatened to erase civil service protections. 

“In our administration you’re going to be entrusted and empowered to do your job,” Biden said on Thursday. “I believe in you. We need you, badly. I trust you. I’m going to have your back. That I promise you.” 

The president added that State employees are the brightest in America, and are a group with “great personal courage.” He commended the families of foreign service officers for making sacrifices for the good of the nation. He called on federal workers to remain committed to four principles: having integrity in their work; operating with transparency and accountability; putting the interest of the American people above their own; and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“We have a lot of work to do, a lot of catching up to do, a lot of rebuilding to do,” Biden said. “I can’t think of a group of people to do it that are more ready than all of you.”

Later on Thursday, Biden signed an executive order aimed at further boosting the entire federal national security workforce. He tasked leaders from a dozen agencies to form a working group to modernize recruiting and hiring practices, including by identifying all possible hiring authorities and developing retention incentives like child care benefits. The order asked for the officials to propose legislative changes as necessary.

Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke briefly to the employees, offering her gratitude to those who stuck it out during the Trump era. After an extended hiring freeze and other downsizing efforts, the State Department saw the second-largest workforce attrition during Trump’s term in office. 

“As difficult as these last few years have been, you have remained committed to democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” Harris said. “On behalf of our nation, we thank you for your service and for your sacrifice.”

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken thanked Biden and Harris for visiting with and speaking to employees so early in their term, saying it demonstrated their understanding of “how committed the people of our foreign service and civil service are” to serving the country. 

Biden concluded his remarks by repeatedly thanking the employees. 

“You are the heart and soul of what we do as a country,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional details.