Press Center

 Remarks of Secretary Lew on the 225th Anniversary of the Treasury Department


9/4/2014

  

As prepared for delivery

 

WASHINGTON - Thank you, Dr. Noll.  Thank you to the Treasury Historical Association for organizing this event.  And let me thank everyone here for coming today.

It is a pleasure to mark this occasion with Douglas Hamilton, a direct descendent of our first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, and my friend, Bill White, former Deputy Secretary of the Energy Department and former mayor of Houston.  And it is a pleasure to be with all of you to celebrate the history of this remarkable institution.

To tell Treasury’s story is to tell one as old as our nation itself.  Two hundred twenty-five years ago — this week — the first Congress established the Department of the Treasury to manage the finances of the United States government.  The man charged with heading this new department, nominated by George Washington, was Federalist Alexander Hamilton.  Despite his significant disagreements with Republicans in Congress, Hamilton was nominated, confirmed by the Senate, and sworn into office—all in the same day.  Clearly, times have changed.

Hamilton once said: “The first duty of society is justice.”  He brought this ideal to bear in his role at the Treasury.  In creating a strong economy, he also sought to create a just economy.  That is why he called for the federal government to assume and repay the nation’s war debt on a dollar for dollar basis.  This, he said, was “the price of liberty.”  Today, we continue his commitment to fostering a just, fair, and equitable economy, an economy where anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules can get ahead.  You can see it in the dedication of the men and women at Treasury.  You can see it in the work we do every day.  You can even see it in the seal of this institution.  The scales of justice are a steadfast reminder of our duty of fairness to the American people. 

In its earliest days, Treasury was staffed by fewer than 50 clerks and accountants in a small office in Philadelphia.  Today, our Department employs more than 100,000 women and men across the country and around the world.  This tremendous growth has been anything but linear, as the Department has evolved to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex, global economy.  Innovation has been a key ingredient in our success.  In remarks during the 200th anniversary of Treasury, President George H.W. Bush favorably observed that this Department — the second oldest in our government — has been “in some ways the birthplace" of a modern federal government y.  In fact, the U.S. Postal Service, the Coast Guard, the Departments of Labor and Commerce, the General Services Administration, and the Office of Management and Budget, which I have had the honor to lead under two different administrations, have all emerged from Treasury. 

Across the Department’s history, the resolve of our committed public servants has proven unbreakable, as we have worked to advance an economy that is the envy of the world.  We help safeguard our banking system and protect our currency from counterfeiters.  We collect the revenue that funds our infrastructure and provides for our national defense.  And in modern times, we confront threats unforeseen by Alexander Hamilton and his contemporaries—such as threats posed by sophisticated financial trading and cyber-attacks.  Without a doubt, the work done by the dedicated men and women at Treasury touches the lives of every American.

This dedication was never more evident than in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Six years ago, we faced an economy in seeming freefall —mounting job loss, rising home foreclosures, and a financial sector gripped by crisis.  Many of you in this room led Treasury’s response to the recession through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and Wall Street Reform.  And as you weathered a federal pay freeze, sequestration, and a government shutdown, your commitment never wavered.  It is a tremendous honor to lead such a talented and devoted group of public servants, and I want to thank you for everything that you do.

With your help, America has recovered more quickly than almost any other advanced economy.  In the last 53 months, the private sector has created nearly 10 million new jobs, adding more than 200,000 jobs every month for the last six months.  The auto industry is thriving.  Manufacturing is rebounding.  And the housing sector is recovering.  With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, health care costs have risen at the lowest rate in almost five decades.  And, we have cut our budget deficit by more than half over the past four years.

Today, our economy is far stronger and more resilient than when President Obama took office in 2009; yet, our work remains unfinished.  We must continue to create more jobs, spur economic growth, and strengthen the middle class.  This means modernizing roads, bridges, tunnels, and electric grids we all depend on.  This means closing wasteful tax loopholes that reward American companies for shipping jobs overseas.  This means raising the minimum wage so no American who works full-time has to raise a family in poverty.  In everything we do, and at every level of Treasury, we must continue to promote economic security and prosperity for all Americans.

By upholding our commitment to the American people, we honor the legacy of my predecessors, whose portraits adorn the halls of this building.  Just outside my office door is a portrait of Secretary Hank Paulson. His and Secretary Tim Geithner’s bold and quick response to the financial crisis saved our economy from unimaginable disaster.  Around the corner rests the portrait of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who served 11 years under FDR and briefly under Truman.  He led the Treasury through the Great Depression and World War II, and helped usher in an era of American leadership in international finance following the end of the war.  By the northwest staircase hangs the portrait of Salmon Chase, President Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary.  Secretary Chase was instrumental in financing the Civil War, while Union troops took up residence in the Treasury building.  And to the other side hang portraits of Albert Gallatin, our longest-serving Treasury Secretary, as well as Alexander Hamilton.  Though ideological opponents, Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin both built the foundations of our economy and our system of governance that endure to this day, which is why statues of both at our main entrances remind us daily  that Treasury’s mission transcends politics.

Reflecting on the work of my predecessors, I am reminded of the profound significance of this institution.  The work we do here matters.  It matters to small businesses in need of a loan.  It matters to workers trying to save for retirement.  And it matters to families struggling to keep their homes.  Going forward, we must continue the work of our predecessors.  We must build on the progress of the last 225 years.  We must labor tirelessly and zealously in the weeks and months ahead, so that on this date, a century from now, a new generation can look back proudly on a century of growth and shared prosperity.

 

Thank you.

 

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