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Hill Climbers: Senate Commerce Gets New Counsel

The majority office of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has seen a number of staff changes this year, with at least five newcomers joining the team.

[IMGCAP(1)]Jana Fong-Swamidoss worked closely with Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) before becoming Democratic counsel to two subpanels in March: the Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Insurance and Automotive Safety and the Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade and Tourism. She had worked as a staff assistant and legislative assistant in Inouye’s Senate office for seven years.

Fong-Swamidoss, 31, a native of Honolulu, advises Inouye and the 11 other members of the committee on trade, transportation, consumer protection, Internet commerce, antitrust, insurance and tourism issues.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., Fong-Swamidoss moved east to Washington and earned a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.

Working for Inouye’s personal office was her first job after she received her undergraduate degree.

“Sen. Inouye is a great boss, generous and fair,” she said. “He cares deeply about the people of Hawaii and our nation, and it is a privilege to work for him.”

Outside of work, Fong-Swamidoss likes to spend time with her family and enjoys jogging and reading, favoring Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

“I never tire of reading it,” she said.

She is also something of a chef — her mother instilled a love of baking in her as she was growing up.

“My mom is great in the kitchen, and she always encouraged me and my sisters from the time we were very young to experiment with new recipes,” she said.

Melissa Porter, who joins Fong- Swamidoss as transportation counsel to the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, admits to being a bit star-struck when she first started on Capitol Hill. One of the first big events upon her arrival was a vote for an amendment to the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.

“When the Senators began streaming in, it felt like a red-carpet event, which only a Washingtonian could truly appreciate,” she recalled. “It was amazing to have such close access to these incredible decision makers.”

Porter, 32, also received her law degree from Georgetown. She holds bachelor’s degrees in business administration in economics and Spanish from Cleveland State University.

If she wasn’t working on the Hill, Porter joked that she would be “getting a lot more sleep.” That’s hard to believe, though, considering that she keeps herself fairly busy outside of work, too.

Porter runs on a relay team that has competed in New Hampshire, Oregon and California and is gearing up for a race in D.C. in the fall. She is also active with the Girl Scouts and has led an Arlington, Va., troop for the past five years. She said it has been rewarding to watch the girls develop. After a Capitol tour this past spring, one of the scouts even decided she wanted to work there one day.

“It reminds me of when I was that age, and looking back, how I was similarly influenced by my Girl Scout experiences and how important those experiences were,” Porter said.

Rich Swayze is also new to the committee. He became a professional staff member to the Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security in mid-February.

Swayze, 36, has been in Washington for seven years and worked with the Government Accountability Office before taking a job with the Commerce Committee. He received his bachelor’s degree from Cortland College and a master’s in public affairs from Binghamton University, both in New York. He earned his doctorate from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Originally from Rochester, N.Y., Swayze said his favorite neighborhood in Washington is Glover Park because it’s a great place for his dogs. Although he enjoys D.C. because of its festivals, concerts and museums, he said if he wasn’t working on the Hill, he’d be “out West somewhere — I love Colorado and Oregon.”

He’s not the only new Democratic professional staff member. Kris Sarri has joined the team as well. She’s followed her original passions to her current position, where she can work toward creating effective policy in a hands-on way.

“I wanted to work on national and international policy to support community development and environmental protection,” she said of her decision to come to Washington. As a professional staff member, she works on issues including climate change, ocean policy, coastal resource management and NOAA’s weather and satellite services.

Sarri holds a master’s in science and master’s in public health from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She went to Washington University in St. Louis for her undergraduate studies.

Before working with the Commerce Committee, she worked as a fellow in the office of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), as legislative director for the Northeast-Midwest Senate Coalition, and as a senior policy adviser to Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Sarri has lived in Washington for 11 years — and it’s not just the restaurants and artists in Eastern Market that keep her here (although she says those are some of her favorite features).

“The great people that I get to work with and have as friends is the reason I have stayed here so long,” she said.

Should she ever decide to go back to Michigan, though, she already has a plan in mind. If she wasn’t working on the Hill, Sarri said she would be “back home in Ann Arbor interviewing for a job coaching Michigan football.”

Anna Crane rounds out the list of new hires on the Commerce Committee staff.

She began working as a staff assistant in early February, after having interned in the press office for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). She was able to combine her political science and journalism backgrounds there, which she hopes to do throughout her career. Crane double-majored in political science and journalism at Northwestern University.

“I have not given up on my journalism background and hope that someday I may use it again, but the press internship just really opened my eyes to what types of things I could do within the policy process,” she said.

She also praised Eastern Market as one of her favorite places in Washington. But this seems to be the right city for her for another reason.

“I am obsessed with the Supreme Court,” she admitted. “I guess I’ve always been impressed by its decisions and the magnitude of impact that one court decision can have. It’s really just a fascinating institution where the personalities and philosophies of the justices play as big a part as anything else.”

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