Administrator Karen Tandy's Speech at her Swearing-In Ceremony
September 16, 2003
Arlington, Virginia

Thank you. It is so great to have you here with me today, my friends, my supporters, my colleagues. Thank you so much. You will never know what this means to me and especially to my family.

It's a great country and we are facing and have been facing some of the greatest challenges, greater than some of our challenges over the past 50 years. I want you to know that Attorney General Ashcroft made it clear to the Department of Justice not only before September the 11th 2001, but after September 11th, what a critical priority drug enforcement is to the Department of Justice and to the security of this great country. He is the right man at the right time to lead this country.

I am so grateful for his leadership. He is a true patriot, a tremendous supporter of the Drug Enforcement Administration and a wonderful leader for me personally. And John Walters: I so admire you personally and professionally for your dogged determination, your stewardship and your fierce passion for healing and protecting America from illegal drugs. You are an inspiration to all of us here today and especially those of us who serve in all walks of enforcement.

To my dear friend, Jack Lawn, my mentor. Thank you. Jack Lawn is a man of great character who led the Drug Enforcement Administration through some of its toughest times in history. It is such a privilege to have a mentor like Jack Lawn. You are a true hero, Jack, to the men and women in the Drug Enforcement Administration.

I am the product of two terrific, loving parents. Unfortunately they are too ill to be here today. My father was a blue collar worker. My mother, a secretary and a hero and role model of her own, for she was a working mother at a time when society frowned on working mothers. Together my parents instilled in my sister and in me a love of God, a love of our country and a real value system of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

Together from that humble background they ensured that my sister and I achieved the higher education that eluded them. They would have loved this ceremony and seeing you here today. Aside from my parents, the one person who has done more to enable me to stand before you today is my dear partner and sweet husband who, after 27 years of glorious service with the FBI, retired as an assistant director.

A friend of mine in DEA gave my husband a pair of DEA cufflinks. I'm still working on him. He hasn't worn them yet. I thank my husband and our beautiful daughters who every day remind me what we're all fighting for. I am so honored and humbled to have been selected for this position by President Bush. America has entrusted DEA with a formidable responsibility, and as Administrator I can assure you that I undertake that responsibility with relentless determination.

We face many challenges, and certainly there is much work to be done. Although our accomplishments are many, the American people will expect more from us. And we will deliver in the months and years to come. There are always those, of course, who relish doom and gloom, who would say that we have been defeated by drugs. They are so wrong-wrong on the facts, wrong about what freedoms the decent men and women in this country really want.

We don't have to look far to move beyond the naysayers in this country. The cocaine wars of the 1980s, where it was violence that so often ruled in our streets, have abated. Among middle and high school students drug use is at its lowest level in years, and we are right on track to meet President Bush's goals of reducing drug use by 10% next year and overall by 25% in 2007.

But these numbers are scarcely the measure of our success. Our success is seen most clearly in the lives of the men and the women here and your collective efforts to save and redeem lives from illegal drugs. There's one such example. I could cite so many. A special agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration in our Chicago office and his wife who is a special agent in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Chicago. They adopted two babies - one addicted to crack cocaine and one addicted to heroin. That was nine years ago.

Today both of those babies are no longer addicted. They are happy and healthy children. Those agents and people like you live our mission, giving children a chance to grow up into a lifetime of hope and opportunity. Of course we can't all do what those agents did. But as public and private leaders in this great country neither can we remain silent or leave to the lonely voices of a few, the people on this dais, to leave to those lonely voices the duty of unmasking drug legalizers for who they truly are.

At the end of the road that legalizers would have us travel lies the dead hand of lost opportunities and addiction. At the side of that road lies real and palpable danger. When you go on the road today there will be reckless drivers on the road with you. Of those reckless drivers who are not impaired by alcohol, more than half are impaired by marijuana.

The youth in this country are receiving treatment for addiction to marijuana more than all other drugs combined, including alcohol, and at a heavy toll and price on our families in America. Yet many Americans are unaware of this cold and hard reality, unaware that the pure evil of drug trafficking can be seen in our communities across America where the traffickers actually prey upon those who are seeking help at drug treatment centers and unaware that drug traffickers have sunk to new lows. They are no longer just trying to sell drugs to children at dance parties but also defiling our most sacred religious symbols by imprinting a crucifix on the pills that they parade under the misleading name of Ecstasy.

We must all be more informed. Illegal drugs are a stacked deck from which the hand dealt is one of family disintegration, of crime and violence, of despair and broken dreams and premature deaths that each year tally six times the number that we lost in this country on September 11th, 2001.

DEA can focus on smarter targeting of these drug organizations, and we will. We can work harder to disrupt and dismantle them, and we will. However the fight to shield our children and America from the scourge of illegal drugs is one for which there is no silver bullet. It is a shared responsibility that knows no politics. It is a fight which this administration shares with the leaders in Congress and our communities, in addition to those of us in law enforcement.

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the men and women of DEA are unwavering in their courage and their resolve to protect this country and our children. But it is our partnerships in DEA that are essential to that success - ones with our foreign and our federal colleagues, with our state and local law enforcement, with elected leaders, with private industry and with our ordinary citizens.

To ensure the safety and security of our future generations we all must hearken to our nation's call to duty. At DEA we will do our share, and then some. We will work hard to track down the $65 billion each year in blood money that supports the evil operations of these trafficking organizations. We will bring a new strategic and global vision to the drug enforcement fight.

Individual turf wars and the pursuit of agency credit will be replaced by team building. We will hunt down the drug trade no matter where it seeks to hide and no matter where it spreads with a singular focus on achieving maximum impact of reducing our country's drug supply. President Bush and the American people expect real results, and we will hold ourselves accountable at DEA for measuring our true impact in reducing the drug supply and drug use, rather than simply the collection of empty statistics.

We have so many examples of passion and commitment to duty right here. These examples inspire me and inspire so many of you. Each day when I come into this building I look out of my window and I see the Pentagon. It is a sobering daily reminder to me of what so many have given their lives for and what the rest of us still owe. There are agents and employees throughout DEA who are fighting their own greatest life battle, and yet they come to work each day after receiving chemotherapy.

Every day when I walk into DEA headquarters I see the names on the Wall of Honor - of 71 very brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the battle against drugs.

These 71 heroes served DEA in many ways. Yes, they were special agents, but they were also tech support, professional support employees, pilots, and diversion investigators. Twelve of them were our partners from state and local law enforcement. These 71 all represent the heart and the soul and the greatness of our country, and I know that there are similar roles among our other many police departments represented here today and elsewhere across this country

Less than two weeks ago we paid tribute and our final respects to Justin Williams, who was the Chief of the Criminal Division in the Eastern District of Virginia in the U.S. Attorneys Office. Justin was a hero among U.S. Attorneys and a hero to all of law enforcement. He gave me my start as a prosecutor. He taught me how to be a prosecutor. He stood with me in my confirmation hearing to support me on that day.

It was a very sad and tragic loss to this country to lose Justin Williams among our other heroes. I'm so honored that his widow, who just retired as a federal probation officer, could be with me here today. It is a mournful but noble truth that hundreds have given their all to carry the torch that is now ours to hold aloft. It is our collective obligation to keep the faith with them.

As my dear partner and friend, Michele Leonhart, and I embark upon the task that President Bush has entrusted us with, I pledge to all of you so help me God, Michele and I will keep the faith with you. Thank you.


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