Capitol Hill is where ideals are reified as public policy, says Patty Sheetz, who has been named chief of staff to Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. "It's where the rubber meets the road."
Sheetz served as chief of staff to former Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., in 2006, and before that held the same position with former Rep. Don Ritter, R-Pa., from 1989-92. She was most recently director of legislative and intergovernmental affairs for the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration.
Sheetz grew up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and attended Smith College. Early in her political career, she worked as a media producer with the National Republican Congressional Committee.
"It was an interesting experiment," Sheetz recalls. "The NRCC felt that they could pick up seats, but the candidates didn't have enough money to pay bona fide media consultants. They quickly trained six media producers in their 20s and just loosed them on the country."
Sheetz and a camera crew traipsed across the United States for about a year, shooting ads "with very little oversight" from NRCC headquarters. "It was a lot of fun."
Upon returning to Washington, Sheetz worked as press secretary for former Reps. George Wortley, R-N.Y., John Rousselot, R-Calif., and Bill Lowery, R-Calif. She later returned to the NRCC as a field representative, before being named Ritter's top aide in 1989.
Her experience as a top adviser to Republican lawmakers, along with 13 years as a consultant with the Congressional Management Foundation, affords Sheetz "a breadth of knowledge about Hill offices, effective and otherwise."
Capitol Hill is the redoubt of industrious, inquisitive minds, she said. "I like the personalities who gravitate to work on the Hill - the kind of citizen-of-the-world, questioning, hard-working people who populate Hill offices," Sheetz says.
As to whether chief of staff is an especially grueling job, Sheetz says that "everyone in a Hill office, because their job is a calling, leads a frenetic lifestyle."
Away from Capitol Hill, Sheetz engages in historical writing and travel. "I have my own historical travel tour of Alexandria and Virginia that I'll foist on innocent bystanders."
This article appears in the Aug. 7, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily.