Remarks by Administrator Samantha Power at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Erin McKee, Assistant Administrator to the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia

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Friday, April 29, 2022

Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Isobel, for getting us started; for reminding us of the stakes of all that is going on in the region that we are so pleased to welcome Erin to preside over.

On behalf of all of us at USAID, it is really just a privilege to welcome Ambassador Erin McKee back to USAID, to get to swear her in as our Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia.

There are a few things that always make these ceremonies really special. One is the opportunity to meet loved ones, many of whom also make really big sacrifices in support of our mission.

And so I want to thank Sean, Erin’s husband who I’ll come back to; their daughter, Caitlin who’s joined us today from William and Mary where she’s a sophomore; Erin’s brother, Devin who’s come all the way from California; her aunt and uncle, Susanne and Carl; Erin’s Godparents, Anne and Jonathan; and Erin’s friend, Susan Reichle—our former USAID Counselor—who first met Erin in 1999 when she arrived to USAID’s Mission in Moscow.

I also understand there is a sizable contingent of family members tuning in virtually, including Erin’s father, Stewart “Stu” Kinder as well as several cousins, in-laws, aunts, and uncles.

Thank you all so much for joining us, and for being in Erin’s corner every step of the way throughout her incredible career. Along with some heartfelt memories from his trips to visit Erin, Sean, and Caitlin over the years, Stu shared with us just how proud the entire family is of your many achievements.

What also makes these ceremonies so special is having an opportunity to bring back to the Agency somebody who has already given it so much, in Erin’s case, almost 25 years of service.

Erin is coming back to us after serving as the United States’ Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, where for two and a half years, she modeled the spirit of partnership that underpins all of USAID’s work around the world. We were talking earlier about USAID’s ambition to think in terms of development objectives that we have in the world and to go beyond our programming in imagining the toolkit that we have in order to meet those development objectives. Well, Erin has been doing exactly that in running an embassy and mobilizing a country team as well as the private sector and other stakeholders.

Leaving an embassy is not easy, but Erin left in her wake some really, really substantial accomplishments. Erin, I just want to say, I’m grateful to you for working so assiduously to put yourself in a position to be part of this team now, of all times, when the most important events of our lifetime are unfolding. Again, I know it was not without family sacrifice, family cost.

Congress can always surprise us in the positive. To be confirmed between hearing and confirmation, for only three weeks to elapse - I don’t know if it’s Carl Lewis, or who the modern version, emblem of speed is, but I’ve never heard of anything so fast happening up on Capitol Hill in recent years. But it’s just a tribute to you and to what people really understand is the importance of this role, at this Agency, at this time. And it is absolutely no surprise that President Biden chose you to lead this Bureau for Europe and Eurasia at this moment.

We say this a lot, and anytime any of us look back on our lives, we can see dotted lines and say everything inevitably led me to this moment. But in Erin’s case, it is actually destiny. It is actually true.

After graduating first in her class at the University of Washington, and getting a Masters and an MBA for good measure, Erin had her sights set on USAID.

Having read War and Peace in both English and Russian—probably more than once—Erin aced a phone interview, conducted entirely in Russian, to join USAID as a Private Enterprise Officer in 1995.

These were the “shock therapy” days, when Russia was in the midst of a transition from a command economy to a market economy, and USAID was working with the Government to develop best practices for supporting small businesses.

And quickly Erin proved herself a rising star. She knew the best shashlik spots and bars, had the sharpest presentations and the quickest wit.

At the first USAID private sector conference in the lakeside town of Valdai, between Moscow and St. Petersburg, Erin, with her mastery of the language and private sector experience, served as Master of Ceremonies.

Her confidence and command of the subject matter caught the attention of everyone in the room… and in particular, one conference attendee… a young man who worked at the University of Alaska Anchorage program, establishing business centers in the Russian Far East. The young man asked a colleague of Erin’s, “Who is that?” as she rehearsed on stage prior to the start of the conference.

Well, I don’t know about other deals, but Erin closed one deal fairly soon after that day. That man was Sean McKee, her husband—again, Sean, thank you for the partnership of public service that you and Erin have embodied and all the impact that you have made traveling around the world, always dedicating your talents to the causes of the countries in which you’ve been posted.

Erin and Sean went off for tours at USAID Missions in the West Bank and Gaza, where Erin was a force of nature in helping establish programming during the second Intifada; then later to Bolivia, Peru, and Iraq, where she served as a supervisory contracting officer.

Each stint gave Erin another opportunity to develop and deepen the kind of private sector partnerships that spur economic growth and enhance the quality of life for the people we serve.

Her versatility and commitment to bolstering USAID’s responsiveness to the needs of local communities allowed her to seamlessly switch between Economic Growth and Contracting Officer roles… eventually rising through the ranks to manage programming across all of Central Asia as the Regional Mission Director.

Someone at USAID headquarters had the good sense to bring Erin’s skills to Washington where she would help shape Agency policy and priorities as Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for our Bureau of Policy, Planning, and Learning.

And she was tapped once again to serve in our HCTM Bureau where she was, according to one colleague who now serves in her former role, “exceptionally effective” in strategic planning for the Agency’s workforce, delivering on a master plan to boost our Foreign Service recruitment, something we are still benefiting from today as these tremendously talented Foreign Service Officers join USAID and grow and rise through the ranks.

Erin’s list of performance, honor, and management awards is too long to tick through, but in each role, she showcased what became a trademark of concern for others.

One colleague said of her time in the West Bank/Gaza Mission: “Perhaps the thing I will most remember about Erin in this role was her humanity, empathy, and willingness to help others. It was not uncommon to have locally employed colleagues face challenges related to safety and security during what was a particularly violent period. Erin was always there for her team.”

That approach has delivered time and again, most recently for the people of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, where, as Ambassador, she grew the size and impact of our Embassy team as America worked to deepen ties, expand opportunity, and promote democracy in the Pacific.

And, just a mere three-days of plane flight from Port Moresby, Erin is now back in D.C. She was giving me the ratio of recovery time to jet lag, trying to lower expectations so that she can overperform in these early days. But I have confidence that, just like confirmation, she can do recovery from three day flights faster and better than anybody.

In the understatement of the year, her ascension to the role of Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia could not come at a more critical time, as we grapple with the war in Ukraine, the need to urgently support the people of Ukraine, but also the fallout; the fallout worldwide and the fallout across the region in which Erin will be working again.

Russia’s belligerence toward peaceful neighbors and its desire to turn back the clock on decades of development and democratic progress across Europe and Eurasia, as Isobel said, must be met by concerted, united response. That’s what we have done up to this point collectively, but the sky's the limit I think on where we take these partnerships in the days ahead.

No one knows this better than Ambassador Erin McKee, and I am confident that her leadership of this critical bureau will allow USAID to mount an urgently needed defense of values that we hold dear, the same values that Ukrainians are fighting for right now: a desire for deeper economic integration, a commitment to fairness over corruption and greed, and a profound desire to live freely and self-govern.

Throughout her meteoric rise, from Moscow to Lima to Jakarta, Erin has demonstrated an ability to work closely with our partners and allies—and most importantly, with local communities, civil society, and the private sector—to strengthen the institutions and solidify the democratic principles that Putin sees as such a threat.

Last updated: November 26, 2022

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