Presented by Lapham's Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book

Leon E. Panetta currently co-directs the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, a nonpartisan study center for the advancement of public policy based at California State University, Monterey Bay. He serves as distinguished scholar to the chancellor of the California State University system, teaches a Master’s in Public Policy course at the Panetta Institute, is a presidential professor at Santa Clara University, and created the Leon Panetta Lecture Series.

Panetta first went to Washington in 1966, when he served as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Thomas H. Kuchel of California. In 1969, he became Special Assistant to the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and then Director of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights. His book Bring Us Together (published in 1971) is an account of that experience. In 1970, he went to New York City, where he served as Executive Assistant to Mayor John Lindsay. Then, in 1971, Panetta returned to California, where he practiced law in the Monterey firm of Panetta, Thompson & Panetta until he was elected to Congress in 1976.

Panetta was a U.S. Representative from California’s 16th (now 17th) district from 1977 to 1993. He authored the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988, the Fair Employment Practices Resolution, legislation that established Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for hospice care for the terminally ill, and other legislation on a variety of education, health, agriculture, and defense issues.

From 1989 to 1993, Panetta was Chairman of the House Committee on the Budget. He also served on that committee from 1979 to 1985. He chaired the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Domestic Marketing, Consumer Relations and Nutrition; the House Administration Committee’s Subcommittee on Personnel and Police; and the Select Committee on Hunger’s Task Force on Domestic Hunger. He also served as Vice Chairman of the Caucus of Vietnam Era Veterans in Congress and as a member of the President’s Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies.

Panetta left Congress in 1993 to become Director of the Office of Management and Budget for the incoming Clinton administration. Panetta was appointed Chief of Staff to the President of the United States on July 17, 1994, and served in that position until January 20, 1997.

In addition, Panetta served a six-year term on the Board of Directors of the New York Stock Exchange beginning in 1997. He currently serves on many public policy and organizational boards, including as Chair of the Pew Oceans Commission and Co-Chair of the California Council on Base Support and Retention.

Panetta has received many awards and honors, including the Smithsonian Paul Peck Award for Service to the Presidency, the John H. Chafee Coastal Stewardship Award, the Julius A. Stratton Award for Coastal Leadership, and the Distinguished Public Service Medal from the Center for the Study of the Presidency.

He earned a B.A. magna cum laude from Santa Clara University in 1960, and in 1963 received his J.D. from Santa Clara University Law School, where he was an editor of the Santa Clara Law Review. He served as a first lieutenant in the Army from 1964 to 1966 and received the Army Commendation Medal. Panetta is married to the former Sylvia Marie Varni. They have three grown sons and five grandchildren.

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