Administrator Samantha Power at the Retirement Ceremony for Counselor Chris Milligan

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, DC

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Leslie, for getting us started.

You know, you can’t contribute 31 years of inspired service without a strong support system, so I want to thank Chris’ loved ones who are with us today, Chris’s mother Ann Milligan, his brother Peter, and his partner, my friend and co-conspirator, diplomatic maestro, Ambassador Dean Pittman. It is truly a pleasure to have you celebrating with us today.

Seeing that video montage, hearing the testimonials from across the Agency, I must state the obvious: this occasion is bittersweet. I want to take a few minutes to reflect on the privilege I have had to serve alongside one of USAID’s very best.

Every so often, there rises through the ranks an individual whose perspective and optimism and leadership leave an impression that long outlasts their service.

Today, we’re celebrating and bidding farewell to an individual who cemented such a legacy.

Chris, when people call you the Agency’s “steady hand,” I don’t know if they are referring to your even-keeled leadership, your marathon tennis matches, or your passion for birdwatching, but I imagine you bring the same kind of unshakeable focus to it all.

One colleague said, “Chris has forgotten more about development than most of us will ever know. He has inspired more people through his leadership than most of us will ever meet. How many of us have gone to him for advice? Have looked looked to him for guidance and wisdom? And yet, he remained the least arrogant, most generous colleague one could hope for.”

Chris has spent three decades making this Agency stronger and more capable of tackling the world’s toughest challenges.

As one of this Agency’s most trusted and strategic diplomats, Chris has been tapped time and again to lead some of USAID’s most delicate assignments, beginning in the late 1990s in Indonesia as the Mission’s Senior Local Government Advisor.

At the time, Indonesia was reeling from a financial crisis amid the fall of President Suharto, whose dictatorship ruled the country for more than thirty years. While the opportunity for democratic reform was apparent, the transition was fragile—there was a chance that a nation of over 17,000 islands could irrevocably fracture.

With a keen understanding of the challenges, Chris worked closely with Indonesian officials to develop constitutional and legislative reforms that established accountability at the highest levels. He helped to guide the decentralization of administrative structures, shaping national policy and providing support to over 110 Indonesian towns and cities.

At an especially tumultuous time for the region, Chris helped Indonesia’s leaders set the country on a path toward local democratic governance and established USAID as a committed and valuable partner to one of the world’s most populous nations and vibrant economies.

From Indonesia, Chris went on and answered the call to develop and lead critical post-conflict and reconstruction efforts in Iraq in 2003, first as the U.S. Government’s Deputy Coordinator for Reconstruction, then as Deputy Mission Director of what would soon become the largest USAID program in history.

Here again, thanks to Chris’ keen understanding of the challenges facing the Iraqi people and his partnership with the interim government, USAID played a key role in ushering democratic and economic reforms, reopening schools and restoring utilities and services, and supporting Iraq’s first post-war elections.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Chris Milligan does not shy away from difficult, dangerous, or complex assignments. He has been a one-man 911, as evidenced also by his leadership in Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake in 2010, where he led a humanitarian race against the clock.

Living out of a tent in Port-au-Prince, Chris worked side by side with civilians and military engineers to help this Agency save tens of thousands of lives in the aftermath.

And because Chris had so ably stood up Missions from scratch in Indonesia and Iraq, he was the obvious choice to reestablish USAID’s presence in Burma in 2013 after 50 years of isolation and crippling military rule. After a long absence, it was vital that USAID engage the situation in Burma with support from our allies, the United Nations, and other international organizations, a coalition that Chris helped assemble as Mission Director.

And while all of us who were hopeful about Burma’s transition now grieve after a coup that has overthrown the will of its people and taken more than 1,300 innocent lives, Chris put USAID in a position that today it could transition swiftly to address the spiraling humanitarian crisis in Burma.

Above and beyond his work in the field, Chris has done what so many of us know is key to USAID’s success: bringing hard-won experience and insights from our Missions to the cloistered halls of the Ronald Reagan Building.

On his watch, USAID has remade itself to confront the challenges of a new era—complex and interconnected challenges like pandemics, climate change, and transnational corruption—challenges that require new ways of thinking and collaborating across government, creative and strategic problem solving, and a firm belief in the good that United States leadership can bring to the world.

Our mission at USAID is bold and ambitious, but we have the playbook to succeed; a playbook that Chris authored.

We also have a new, coordinated Agency structure whose reorganization and formation Chris oversaw, making us more nimble and responsive to the needs of our Missions around the world, and capable of addressing global crises quickly and effectively.

As a result of that transformation, we also have the support systems in place to strengthen our leadership in the field and to better develop talent across the Agency.

Because of Chris’ advocacy and determination, we have the compass to point us in the right direction, adjusted and maintained throughout his tenure as Counselor.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Chris has left his mark on this Agency as a compassionate warrior; someone who is willing to have tough conversations and stand relentlessly in support of the workforce.

One colleague shared about Chris, he has “modeled joy, resilience, and allyship as a leader,” and said his pride in working at the Agency and his joy in the work we do is “indefatigable.”

But as Chris knows, it’s not all rosy. Sometimes we fall short of the changes we hope to make due to constraints not always within our control. And yet, over the years, Chris has made sustained, concerted efforts to advance reforms that make USAID a more equitable, inclusive, diverse, and welcoming place to work.

I’m not sure there is a single employee Resource Group—of which there are many—whose interests and values you haven’t gone to the mat for.

And when these fundamental principles of fairness and equity were not being prioritized at the highest levels, Chris never stopped advocating for them. Indeed, much of the groundwork in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility strategy I signed on my first day was laid by him and his career colleagues long before I was sworn in.

Throughout the process, Chris met with and listened to the needs and concerns of Employee Resource Groups, offering his institutional advice to help shape an effective strategy. As one colleague put it, “Chris lent his voice and unwavering support and was adamant that the staff owned the process.”

One of our greatest strengths as an Agency is the sheer number of Chris Milligan mentees we have among us.

One of our Foreign Service Nationals said of Chris’ support of the FSN Advocacy Council, his “steady mentorship and continuous presence helped individual members of the Council grow.” Another said his “leadership was key to fostering FSN empowerment and wellbeing worldwide.”

I think what makes someone’s leadership truly exemplary is captured in one other colleague’s words: “No matter how busy he was, he made time for everyone, in any time zone. He never once made you feel less than. And he has a unique gift to always make you feel like you are the most important person in the room.”

I’ll close simply by saying what we all know to be true about Chris. Yes, his intellectual prowess and dedication have set USAID up for success. Yes, we are better positioned to engage the world and build a more diverse and talented workforce to support the people most in need around the world. But above all, Chris’ generosity, his patience, and his kindness have left a legacy that will last in all lives of the people he touched.

On behalf of a grateful Agency, thank you, Chris, for 31 years of public service.

Now, In recognition of his years of distinguished, selfless legacy and his extraordinary thought leadership, spirit of partnership, and inspirational management, I have the great privilege of presenting him with the Administrator’s Distinguished Career Service Award.

Thank you, Chris, it’s our privilege to honor you today, and to wish you and Dean the best in the many adventures that surely lie ahead.

Last updated: November 10, 2021

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