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Phelps Leads GSA 9-11 Commemoration

As prepared for delivery

Remarks by
John Phelps
Chief of Staff
U.S. General Services Administration
September 11, 2006

Good morning, everyone. I’m John Phelps, Chief of Staff for Administrator Lurita Doan. Please join with me in a moment of silence for the victims of September 11, 2001.

Thank you very much. Administrator Doan is attending another event commemorating the memory of 9/11 this morning and asked me to say a few words in her stead.

I know that many of you, like me, are parents.

Once, mid-September was a time that simply marked the end of summer. Fall was when leaves began to change color, when we started to anticipate the world series, and when we sent our kids back for the start of another school year.

So it was until five years ago.

In the early hours of September 11, 2001, as we first began to fathom what had occurred in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania -- as the horror unfolded on TV before our disbelieving eyes -- it seemed like time had stopped.

Of course it didn’t.

And now five years have passed.

The moment of silence we just observed took place at 9:37 a.m. at that time on this day five years ago, American Airlines flight 77, hijacked by five men armed with knives and box cutters, slammed into the west side of the pentagon. One hundred, eighty-nine people died – 125 at the Pentagon and 64 on the plane.

Our dismay and our anger over these tragedies still feels fresh. But so does our pride in this great nation.

We were attacked in the most hateful way imaginable. The events of 9/11 continue to hurt, particularly for those who have had to go on without loved ones who perished in the trade towers, at the Pentagon, and aboard the jet that crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

We can only imagine their suffering.

Five years later, I believe our nation is stronger, more unified, and more determined than ever to win the war against terror while preserving the freedoms that we cherish.

As President Bush has said, history has put the spotlight on America. We're the beacon of freedom, we're the bastion of freedom, and we're the protectors of freedom …

America continues to be the land of opportunity. It is what makes us distinctive, what the founders of this nation fought for more than two hundred years ago. 

And no one will take away that which makes us unique.

Rather, under President Bush:

- America remains on the offense against the terrorists.  We are using every element of national power to confront Al Qaeda, those who take inspiration from them, and other terrorists who use similar tactics.

- America has made it clear to all nations: if you harbor terrorists, you are as guilty as the terrorists, you are an enemy of America, and you will be held to account.

- And America has launched a bold agenda to defeat the enemy's ideology by supporting the forces of freedom in the Middle East and beyond.  Americans believe that all people have the right to determine their destinies, and we know, by history and by logic, that promoting democracy is the surest way to build security. 

On a personal note, I'd like to say that though I've only been here a short time, I was extremely proud to join all of you who serve this country as employees of GSA.

And I'm pleased to announce that on October 1, we’ll be standing up a new office of emergency response and recovery. Our objective is to increase GSA’s capacity to help our nation in times of disaster.  As we’ve seen from the aftermath of 9-11 and, more recently, Hurricane Katrina, GSA plays a critical role in helping citizens and our fellow agencies recover from catastrophic events.

Never were the commitment, dedication and expertise of the GSA workforce more evident than after 9/11.

On that day in Manhattan, GSA immediately activated the New York region continuity of operations plan. Our employees, like those in many agencies, began working around the clock to mitigate the impact of the attacks.

Once the towers were struck, Federal Protective Service officers were among the first to help evacuate the buildings and lead people to safety. Within two hours of the first collision, GSA had set up an emergency command center in New York.

GSA began coordinating with the private sector for the replacement of destroyed telecommunications lines and switches, and worked to help provide: hundred of vehicles, security services, computers and servers, protective equipment and masks for the rescue workers, and hauling equipment and tractors.

Within two hours of the twin towers’ collapse - while much of the nation was still coming to terms with the reality of the crisis – GSA’s Northeast and Caribbean regional operations were up and running. 

The GSA command center became the hub of activity as various regional employees made their way there.  Initially a staff of 25 individuals, augmented by other employees who worked from home and at other field locations, began the massive task of reestablishing federal operations in New York City.

In Washington, Department of Defense officials asked GSA to locate, make ready for occupancy and totally equip nearly 850,000 square feet of space. These facilities were needed for DoD employees who had to relocate from many areas within the Pentagon.

By 7 a.m. Wednesday, September 12th, our Firstgov team, working from home on Tuesday night, had assembled critical lists of more than 60 web sites and telephone numbers of official government services, critical care facilities, and emergency centers.

This was the first time anyone had harnessed the power of the internet’s web base information during a national tragedy.

Let me remind you of a few other things. By September 17th, less than a week after the attacks:

- Six of GSA’s Lower Manhattan Federally-owned buildings were reopened for essential personnel of the tenant agencies.
-  GSA had negotiated 14 leases totaling approximately 1.3 million square feet of space in New York City and New Jersey. This included space acquired to house FEMA operations and several displaced agencies.
-   GSA had located, outfitted and prepared for occupancy 850,000 square feet for the Defense Department in Northern Virginia. This process usually takes months in either the public or private sector.

Ladies and gentlemen, this nation and this agency never asked to be tested as we were that terrible day. But tested we were. 

We responded to the urge to destroy with the determination to rescue, recover and rebuild.

Administrator Doan and I are proud of America and proud of GSA. The challenge ahead is to remain vigilant, to take the renewed unity and patriotism forged in the ashes of  9-11 and keep our country safe and moving forward.

We must never forget, but we also must look to the future.

This century is still young and exciting change is all around us.  You at GSA will be a big part of the changes still to come.

Thank you for your service, thank you for your patriotism, and god bless America.

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