Secretary of State Colin Powell
Remarks to State Department Employees
State Department
Washington, D.C.
October 30, 2001
1:32 P.M. EST

Talk about a ringer operation, when you are told you are supposed to stand up. (Laughter.)

But I do want to take this opportunity to say a few words to you before turning it over to this distinguished panel. Then I have to go up and greet the Ukrainian Prime Minister who is inbound. But I do want to have a few moments just to say first and foremost how deeply appreciative I am of the efforts you have been making, as a family, as a Department, as a group of professionals, since the September 11th incident, especially when this was complicated by the anthrax incidents of recent weeks.

It has been a source of inspiration and pride to me, I think it has been a source of inspiration and pride to the President to see how the State Department has responded, to see how we have been able to work so hard and so effectively to bring together an international coalition, how we have been able to not only see the dangers that we were facing and how to respond to that danger, but also to see the opportunities that exist for us as a nation coming out of this tragedy, how we can create new ways of working with Russia or China or South Asia or so many other opportunities that come our way.

I think the President, every time he comes here and sees you and has a chance to speak to you, he is inspired again with respect to what you are able to do and what you are doing, and not just you here but your colleagues at every one of our missions all around the world.

Today, we are assembled really to talk about what is on the minds of so many Americans, and especially Americans here in Washington and in our government, and that is the anthrax scare. It is more than a scare; it is a reality. There is someone, some group of persons -- we don't know a great deal about where it is coming from. But it is real, and I can assure you we will take every effort we can here in the Department, just as the President is determined to take every effort he can within the Administration, and the Congress and the Supreme Court are acting in a similar fashion, as are businesses and the Postal Service and everyone else who has been exposed to this, will do everything they can to protect the people who work in our facilities.

As you will hear in greater detail, we discovered that some of our mailrooms may have been exposed, that we had some illnesses that are of concern to us. For all those who we believe might have been exposed, they have been put on a regimen of antibiotics. If you catch it early, if you realize you have been exposed early, or if you realize you might have been exposed and you start on that regimen, you are generally felt to be in pretty good shape, but I will leave that judgment to the doctor to make and to explain to you.

I just hope you realize that we really swung into action. We did everything we can to clean those places that might have been contaminated, to make a thorough examination of the Truman Building over the weekend, to make sure that our air handling systems had not moved it throughout the building, and to make sure that we were in every way catching up with anybody who might have come close to an exposure in any one of our facilities, and especially within just the mail system, which is where we think it is contained.

I want to give you my assurance, and I know it is an assurance that I pass on to you from the Deputy Secretary and Grant (Green), Ruth (Davis) and everybody else, that we would not do anything that would put you in danger. We are committed to your safety just as we are committed to performing the mission that we have to accomplish for the American people. We will always keep those two factors in mind and in balance and be committed to both of them, performing our mission but, at the same time, doing it in a way that is safe. If it is ever clear that where we are working now is not safe, then we will go somewhere else to work. But we will continue to perform the mission.

So that is my commitment to you. It is part of a philosophy I think I brought to this Department, that I am committed to making sure that you have safe places in which to work.

At the same time, I ask you to understand that there is a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety about the unknown. I have been in many situations where anxiety goes up in direct proportion to that which is not known. And just be patient; don't respond to every rumor that comes along or every press report that you see. Give us time to sort through, to get to the facts. I think that is the case the American people want to hear from us and from the President as well. I know that he is seized with this matter and he is spending part of every morning getting reports from Governor Ridge and the other members of his Administration who are working on this.

We are in close touch with the Centers for Disease Control, with Governor Ridge, and with anyone else who can bring expertise to this matter. We are also trying to help any of the embassies located in Washington who think they might have been exposed, to make sure that they have access as well to professional assistance to ascertain exposure or to see if anything needs to be done with respect to a cleanup.

So my simple message to you today is, there is a lot we don't know but we are going to try to find out as much as we can as soon as we can. And it is a burden that we have to make sure that you get that information as quickly as we get that information, short of us passing on just raw, uncorroborated data that wouldn't help but would just add to the level of anxiety.

I would just close with one final point. Because we are here in Washington and in the nation's capital, and because we do represent the United States people, the people of the United States and the Government of the United States, I think we have to do everything we can to show that we are functioning, that we can get through this problem, that we are not going to overreact to the challenge before us. We are up to that challenge. We will do that. We will continue our mission. But we will do it in a way that makes sure you are performing that mission in a safe environment, and that your health is uppermost in our mind.

With that, I would now like to turn it back over to Ruth and to our distinguished panel so that we can get to your questions as soon as possible, because that is the real reason you're here, and not just to listen to us.

Thank you very much. And thank you for everything you do every day of the year to support our foreign policy around the world. Thank you. (Applause.)