Lobbyist Prepares for Real Battle Far From Capitol Hill

Posted February 5, 2010 at 3:14pm

On Sept. 11, 2001, Patrick Wilson was just another Hill staffer. Wilson, now a lobbyist, was working as legislative director for Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) on the day the Capitol was evacuated and later when Pence received anthrax in the mail. Those terrorist threats made him want to fight back, but joining the military was impossible since he had passed the maximum age limit of 34.

In 2005, though, the Reserves and National Guard, facing recruiting shortfalls, increased the age limit to 39, and Wilson joined the Army National Guard. He hoped to spring into action right away but was told his battalion wouldn’t head to Afghanistan until 2011.

But in December, Wilson was called up to join a different battalion, and today he’s at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Miss., preparing to leave for Iraq in March.

Between enlisting and being called up, Wilson continued his professional climb in the District.

When he applied for his current job as director of government relations at the Semiconductor Industry Association, he was upfront about his military obligations and found a friend in the group’s president, George Scalise. Scalise’s four brothers served in the military, and he volunteered for the Army Chemical Corps when he graduated from Purdue University in 1956. Scalise said he saw Wilson’s willingness to volunteer as “commendable,” and he hired him in January 2006.

“George is an incredible visionary and a really strong guy, and that was an amazing commitment they made,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s job at the SIA is no part-time gig. He’s one of only two of the 14 people on the association’s payroll based in the nation’s capital.

The SIA represents 66 American semiconductor manufacturers and designers, including IBM Corp., Texas Instruments and Intel Corp. The American semiconductor industry made $120 billion in sales and accounted for 216,400 jobs in the United States in 2008, according to the SIA.

Soon after starting at the SIA, Wilson was gone for three months for Officer Candidate School and later nine months for artillery school, during which he was ineligible to deploy. While he was gone, the SIA paid Wilson the “considerable” difference between his National Guard salary and his usual SIA salary and hired outside consultants to help Deputy Director Ian Steff with the workload. The lobbying group’s efforts continue as usual while Wilson is away, Scalise insisted.

“You can adjust for anything,” he said. “You can make it an issue [or] you can make it an opportunity.”

His experiences as a platoon leader in the military don’t compare to his experiences as a lobbyist, he said. Meeting the worried parents of the 30 young soldiers he’ll lead in the Middle East weighed on him heavily.

“That is a responsibility that no person in a normal management environment ever has to think about,” he said.

There is some carryover to his day job, though. Wilson said it’s easier to talk to Members of Congress about the kind of equipment soldiers need when he has been trained on the equipment that they have already. For example, he knows the importance of providing lighter batteries for soldiers already carrying burdensome equipment. The first lieutenant’s new comrades wish he could do more.

“Every time something really sucks, my commander or one of the soldiers will be like, ‘Wilson, can’t you call one of your friends and have them fix this?'” he said, laughing.

The lobbyist expects to return to the District in January 2011. Over the summer, the SIA plans to move its headquarters from Silicon Valley to the District, reflecting technology companies’ growing interest in public policy. One of Steff’s biggest responsibilities is finding new office space. Yet the deputy director is looking forward to having Wilson back in the office.

Wilson “is a terrific leader, colleague, and friend whose commitment to our country is only matched by his genuine sincerity toward people and the mission before him — regardless of where he finds himself,” Steff wrote in an e-mail.