Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for Margaret M. Heckler as Secretary of Health and Human Services

March 9, 1983

The Secretary. Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Madam Justice, and my family:

Today, sharing in a very special moment, I say that the glory and honor of this moment belongs to the Lord who made it possible for me to be here and to experience it. And, indeed, the strength that I will call upon in fulfilling the oath that has just been expressed, again, will be His strength.

This is an exciting day for me, Mr. President, and for my family, especially so because on my first day as a new Member of Congress, two colleagues stood behind me and one said to the other, ``How did this secretary get into the Congress?'' And the other colleague said, ``She was elected. She defeated Joseph Martin.'' And now I find that from being called a secretary that I will have the great honor in my life to be Madam Secretary, the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Mr. President, I cannot express my gratitude to you and my desire to, indeed, symbolize the compassion and caring I know you feel for the American people. In a sense, as a Member of Congress, I saw your prescription for America and, indeed, I could call you ``Dr. Reagan,'' because I believe the medicine is working. Indeed, although we enjoy spring in Washington, in a sense we are enjoying as well the beginning of a harvest of the economic wisdom that you have so wisely shared with our government and with the American people.

But there are still people in need, and they will be my special concerns as Secretary of the people's department of the government. I want to say, Mr. President, that my loyalty to you is not exceeded by any other concern, but it will be expressed in loyalty to the people. In serving the people in the Congress for all these years, I will draw upon that congressional experience and will serve you and the Nation with that same spirit. I will do everything in my power to make you and the Nation proud that a woman has been nominated to head this important department. As awesome as the task is, the resources of the good Lord and your own leadership are unlimited. I draw upon them and thank you for making this moment possible.

The President. Mr. Vice President, Justice O'Connor, today I'm pleased to say that we welcome aboard someone that I know will be a valuable member of this administration. Now, some have charged that Margaret Heckler was offered the job because this administration is partial to a certain ethnic group in our society -- [laughter] -- and that I want to keep their favor. [Speaking with an Irish brogue] Now, let me be telling you -- that Margaret Heckler being an Irish colleen has nothing at all to do with this appointment. [Laughter]

Seriously, Margaret is the daughter of Irish immigrants, and her first ambition was to play the concert piano. Lucky for us she chose a political career instead, where she might add harmony in a much more difficult place to create it. [Laughter] And during the 16 years in Congress, Margaret had been known for her boundless energy, her enthusiasm, and she'll need it in the job that she takes on as of today.

And, Margaret, as Secretary of Health and Human Services, I know that you'll oversee the Federal department with 142,000 employees and an annual budget of $274 billion. Only two budgets in the world are greater than that -- the entire budget of the United States Government and the budget of the Soviet Union. It's a tough job, and I'm happy that a hard-working, dedicated, and thoroughly decent individual has been named as Secretary of that awesome job. And I'm delighted and grateful that Margaret Heckler has accepted this responsibility.

So, welcome to the team, and good luck. And I say that with all my heart.

The Secretary. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor of the Supreme Court of the United States administered the oath of office to Secretary Heckler at 10:05 a.m. at the ceremony in the Oval Office at the White House. The remarks of the Secretary and the President followed the oath of office.