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Defense: Five Hill Aides to Know

It’s been five decades since Congress ended the year without finishing a defense authorization bill, and there’s every expectation that trend will continue in 2012 — despite the politically and strategically tough choices military-minded lawmakers are confronting in light of mandated deep cuts in defense spending. Less clear is the fate of long-debated proposals to bolster cybersecurity.

Doug Bush

Minority professional staff, House Armed Services Committee

After joining the House Armed Services Committee staff five years ago, Bush cut his teeth on Pentagon acquisition policy while overseeing the Army’s Future Combat Systems. As a 1993 West Point graduate who led tank and scout platoons during his five years on active duty, he was well-qualified to help panel Democrats dig into the $200 billion modernization effort, a sprawling program that was viewed skeptically by Members of both parties — and that the Pentagon ultimately canceled in 2009.

“You can only really go after a major program if Members want to do it,” Bush said, underscoring the adage that all staff authority derives from the lawmakers. “I was able to be aggressive on their behalf.”

Bush, who has worked on Capitol Hill for a decade, said his experience in the Army made his job easier. “I knew which end of the tank was the shooting part,” he said. “And just having some experience conducting military operations gives you a lens into what’s possible and what’s not.”

With the heyday of Pentagon spending over for now, Bush’s experience in procurement oversight will prove particularly valuable this year, when the committee will be taking a close look at the Pentagon’s acquisition plans with a keen eye toward keeping programs on budget and on schedule. He’s the lead Democratic aide on the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, and many of the biggest programs — including the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — fall under its purview. But Bush also knows to look beyond the Pentagon’s priciest weapons, spending much of his time reviewing midlevel programs with price tags that still add up to billions of dollars annually.

Every program, he said, must answer two questions to have a chance to survive: Is there a valid need? And is the program meeting cost and schedule goals? Those that get a “no” answer on either front will have a tough road to continued funding because the Democrats whom Bush works for, as well as many Republicans, are looking for ways to clear the budget of unnecessary spending while making room for programs that they consider priorities for the military.

— Megan Scully

Pablo Carrillo

Minority investigative counsel, Senate Armed Services Committee

As one of the most trusted aides to Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.), Carrillo will play an instrumental role in many of this year’s debates over defense policies and programs. His expertise in weapons systems procurement will be particularly important to Republicans who are agonizing over which hardware to discontinue in light of recent demands for flatter military spending.

In working for McCain for the past decade, Carrillo has been at the forefront of two major investigations into scandal. He helped lead the probe into the Boeing refueling tanker scandal, which resulted not only in jail time for a senior government official and a top Boeing executive but also in the sidetracking of a multibillion-dollar procurement. Later, when McCain chaired the Indian Affairs Committee, Carrillo conducted the investigation of superlobbyist Jack Abramoff that led to 17 guilty pleas and convictions.

Carrillo has been one of McCain’s top experts on the Pentagon’s troubled acquisition system, which the Senator has consistently criticized. He helped write a 2009 law that was one of Congress’ most sweeping attempts in years to solve some of the cost, scheduling and performance woes that too often plague weapons programs.

Carrillo has special expertise in several military aviation and ship initiatives. The highest-profile of these — and one that will occupy much of his time during the next few years — is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapon ever and one that continues to experience technical woes. “It may arguably be unexecutable at the end of the day,” he said of the program.

Before landing with McCain, Carrillo had a brief stint at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee when Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) served as chairman. Born and raised in New Orleans (and so, naturally, a music lover), Carrillo received undergraduate and law degrees from Tulane University and practiced law in New Orleans for about three years before coming to Washington, D.C.

— John M. Donnelly

Tommy Ross

Senior defense and intelligence adviser, Senate Majority Leader

His path a decade ago from Union Theological Seminary to the Capitol, where Ross is Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) military and intelligence guru, was not as counterintuitive as it sounds.

“National security policy has a long tradition of being informed by theological and ethical debate,” said Ross, who earned a master’s in theology and ethics in 2002 after studying topics such as just war theory. “It’s a way of approaching the world through a lens of trying to confront and solve ethical problems. That’s what we do in Congress, in the national security arena, for sure, with a lot of the intelligence and defense programs I’m involved in.”

His first job on the Hill was in the Senate Majority Leader’s office under Tom Daschle
(D-S.D.), who then made Ross a national security aide to the Democratic Policy Committee. He then spent three years in the House working as a top legislative adviser to fellow North Carolinian David Price (D), which meant plenty of work on the national security issues Price dealt with on the Appropriations Committee.

When he returned to the Senate leadership staff three years ago, Ross was taken aback by his first assignment: cybersecurity.

“I rolled my eyes and thought this would be totally boring and geeky and not what I wanted to be doing,” he recalled, “but the more I learned about it, the more interesting it became.”

Its cross-agency nature — policy is shaped in places as diverse as the Defense, Commerce and Energy departments and the National Security Agency — was part of the appeal. But so, too, was the blank-slate nature of the debate, which he said was the way policymakers approached nuclear weapons at the start of the Cold War.

“In the 1950s, there were a bunch of really smart people trying to figure out what to do and there weren’t any answers,” he said. “That’s sort of where we are with cyber.”

Three years later, Ross is at Reid’s side in the search for a legislative package that tightens cybersecurity while still maintaining support from the myriad federal agencies, big businesses, trade associations and Congressional committees with a stake in the outcome.

— Tim Starks

Betsy Schmid

Majority clerk, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense

The defense budget is on course to decline in the next several years, and politically difficult choices will have to be made. Every military base and weapon has Congressional allies, and each niche camp will work to make its voice heard. At the quiet center of the Senate’s version of this policy hurricane is Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who chairs the Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense. And Schmid is Inouye’s principal guide for navigating the best way through.

Once a gymnast at Pennsylvania’s West Chester University, Schmid will be called on to be extraordinarily flexible and nimble as she works to balance the myriad demands on the military budget — from the armed services, the Pentagon brass, weapons makers, other defense lobbyists, think tanks and lawmakers of both parties.

Last year, her first on the job, Schmid won plaudits for paring defense spending $23.5 billion below President Barack Obama’s request by trimming 775 programs. Saving that much money without eliminating an aircraft carrier, a brigade or a mission for the National Guard is no small feat.

Schmid assumed her post when Charles Houy, who had run the subcommittee staff for 15 years, was promoted to staff director for the full committee. But she has been at Appropriations since 2002 and has worked on nearly every account in the defense budget, from weapons investments to maintenance spending to personnel.

Schmid grew up in Ellicott City, Md., and graduated from West Chester in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations. She then got her master’s in national security studies at Georgetown

Schmid joined the Appropriations staff as a presidential management fellow after working in that same capacity in the Defense secretary’s office. She’s also done stints at the U.S. Commission on National Security and the Nixon Center foreign policy think tank.

— John M. Donnelly

Roger Zakheim

Deputy staff director and general counsel, House Armed Services Committee

As the No. 2 Republican aide on House Armed Services (after Chief of Staff Bob Simmons), Zakheim is positioned to play a profound role in the panel’s oversight of President Barack Obama’s new military strategy, defense spending reduction plans, the drawdown from Afghanistan and detention policy. While he doesn’t have a particularly specialized policy portfolio, he said, “I am responsible for developing strategy and priorities for the committee and implementing them.”

He’s also the lead aide on Pentagon oversight matters and as such will help to shape Chairman Buck McKeon’s (R-Calif.) examination of the president’s new military strategy, including his controversial decision to move away from a planning structure that required the military to be able to fight and win two major conflicts simultaneously. (A series of hearings are now being planned.)

Zakheim also will take a lead role in Republican efforts to scrutinize the troop presence in Afghanistan, possible force reductions in Europe and the administration’s handling of suspected terrorists and the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

All this puts Zakheim plainly in the middle of what he calls “the family business.” His father, Dov, was a senior official in the Reagan and George W. Bush Defense Departments and is now Middle East adviser to Mitt Romney.

Zakheim, a native of Silver Spring, Md., and former Hill intern who first joined the committee as counsel in 2005, left to spend 2008 as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for coalition affairs.

He’s been in his current post for a year. After graduating from Columbia University, he earned a master’s in international relations at the University of Cambridge and then a law degree at New York University. He’s a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

He and his wife, Tamar, have three daughters younger than 7.

— Frank Oliveri

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