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New Staff Director Honed Juggling Skills in Peace Corps

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa during the early 1980s, Beverly Pheto learned a few skills relevant to her current job as the top Democratic staffer on the House Appropriations Committee.

“In the Peace Corps in Botswana you have to juggle a lot of different things and try to cajole people to get things done,— she said in an interview last month. “In some ways it’s the same [here]. … Everything’s a compromise and everything’s a negotiation, and that’s certainly this job.—

Pheto, 50, has done her share of juggling, cajoling and negotiating since

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) named her the first female clerk and majority staff director for the committee last November. “She is smart, thoughtful, tough and knowledgeable,— Obey said at the time.

In the past nine months, Pheto has helped guide trillions of dollars in federal spending bills to the president’s desk, including the unprecedented $787 billion economic stimulus, a fiscal 2009 omnibus spending measure and $106 billion in supplemental funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s on top of the 12 annual spending bills, which the House finished before the August recess.

She expected to work long hours when she took over for Rob Nabors, the former Appropriations staff director who left to work for the Obama White House, but the demands of the job exceeded even her own expectations.

Catching up on running or a book occupies whatever spare time she can find, but she concedes “there have been few times when I haven’t been working.—

Even the August recess was spent preparing for the House and Senate conference committees that will reconcile the spending bills this month, although she did manage to sneak away last week to take her son to Massachusetts for his freshman year of college.

A Massachusetts native, Pheto joined the Democratic staff on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation in 2001 before moving in 2007 to the clerk slot on the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. Previously, she was budget director for the Department of Transportation during the Clinton administration, chief financial officer for the Peace Corps and an Office of Management and Budget analyst from 1985 to 91.

Topping her list of responsibilities is managing the nearly 100 staffers on the Democratic side of the committee, which she said has undergone a surprising amount of turnover with the change in administration. Much of the rest of Pheto’s time is consumed by policy decisions and responding to information requests from Obey, with whom she stays in constant communication.

As for Obey’s famously mercurial temperament, Pheto noted the occasionally gruff lawmaker holds the distinction of being her boss longer than anyone else.

“He’s a great guy to work for,— she said.

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