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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Pentagon's Edge on the Hill

Nearly every Democratic and GOP member of the Armed Services committees has a career military officer working as a fellow — whose salary is paid by the Pentagon — to help craft legislation, unravel the department’s labyrinth of offices and sub-offices and decipher acronyms.
“Imagine if we had bankers serving as fellows for the Financial Services Committee. Would we do that?” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has been pushing the military for years on sexual assault.
Plus there are Capitol Hill liaisons, members of the military who regularly meet with key Hill staff to make the Pentagon’s case on a variety of issues. And three- and four-star generals also have little trouble securing meetings to make their own personal appeals to key senators when necessary.
One of the military’s best assets is unheard of for any other special interest or agency: office space right inside the building. Each of the service branches has space in the basement of the Rayburn Office Building — across from a popular barber shop and food carryout and just one floor below the House Armed Services Committee’s offices and main hearing room. They also have offices a floor down from the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Russell Office Building.
The setup inspires close friendships between Hill staff and military staff. The Air Force Liaison Office holds a monthly happy hour in the Rayburn building. The aides and military lobbyists have even collaborated on a cookbook, titled “Savory Secrets of Congressional staffers … and their Dangerous Liaisons,” according to a recent email invite.