Leon Panetta

CSIS Trustee

Cofounder of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, Leon Panetta returned to the Institute in February 2013 after serving as the 23rd U.S. secretary of defense. A Monterey native and Santa Clara University School of Law graduate, Secretary Panetta began his public service career in 1964 as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. On discharge, he went to work in Washington as a legislative assistant to Senate Minority Whip Tom Kuchel of California. In 1969, he was appointed director of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, and later he served as executive assistant to the mayor of New York City. He then returned to Monterey, where he practiced law until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976. Serving his Central Coast district for 16 years, he was a key participant in agriculture, health care, marine, and federal budget issues. From 1989 to 1993, he chaired the House Budget Committee and authored a wide range of legislation, including the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988, Medicare and Medicaid coverage for hospice care for the terminally ill, and numerous measures to protect the California coast, including creation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. In 1993, Secretary Panetta left Congress to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget for the incoming Clinton administration. There, he was instrumental in developing the policies that led to a balanced federal budget and eventual budget surpluses. In 1994, he accepted appointment as the president’s chief of staff and brought order and focus to White House operations and policymaking. On leaving the Clinton administration in 1997, Secretary Panetta joined with his wife Sylvia to establish and codirect the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, based at California State University, Monterey Bay. Reflecting Secretary Panetta’s own ideals and personal example, the nonpartisan, nonprofit center seeks to attract thoughtful men and women to lives of public service and prepare them for the policy challenges of the future. In addition, Secretary Panetta developed programs for the Institute, such as its Leon Panetta Lecture Series, Congressional Internship Program, and Leadership Seminar that help to inform Americans about the critical issues facing our communities, states, and nation in the twenty-first century. Returning to public service in the Obama administration as director of the CIA, he ran the operation that brought Osama bin Laden to justice and, as secretary of defense, led the effort to develop a new defense strategy, conduct critical counterterrorism operations, strengthen U.S. alliances, and increase opportunities for everyone to serve in the military. Secretary Panetta chronicled his life in public service in his best-selling memoir, Worthy Fights (Penguin Press, 2014). Over the years, he has served on numerous boards and commissions. He cochaired California Forward, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Council on Base Support and Retention. In 2006, he served on the Iraq Study Group. Presently, he serves on the boards of directors for Oracle, Blue Shield of California, and the Commission on Presidential Debates. In addition, he is an adviser to FleishmanHillard. Secretary Panetta is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the California Teachers Association’s Friends of Education Award; the Judicial Council of California’s Stanley Mosk Defender of Justice Award; the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award; the Sons of Italy Foundation’s National Education & Leadership Award; the Peter Benchley Ocean Award for “Excellence in Policy”; the Intelligence and National Security Alliance’s William Oliver Baker Award; the Italian Community Services’ Distinguished Service Award; the OSS Society’s William J. Donovan Award; and the National Defense Industrial Association’s Dwight D. Eisenhower Award.