Leon Edward Panetta has had a long and distinguished career in public service, ranging from his duty in the U.S. Army to his service as the Chief of Staff to the President of the United States.
Born in Monterey on June 28, 1938 of Italian immigrant parents, Panetta attended both Catholic and public schools and worked on his family's farm in Carmel Valley, where he lives today with his wife Sylvia. He earned a B.A. magna cum laude from Santa Clara University in 1960, and in 1963 received his Juris Doctorate from Santa Clara University Law School, where he was an editor of the Law Review. He served as a First Lieutenant in the Army from 1964 to 1966 and received the Army Commendation Medal.
Panetta first went to Washington in 1966, when he served as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Thomas H. Kuchel of California, the Senate Minority Whip. 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, where he was responsible for enforcement of equal education laws. 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 the Mayor, John Lindsay, overseeing the city's relations with the state and federal governments. 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. As a House member, he was a key participant in 1990 budget summit as well as every other such summit during the 1980's. He authored the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988; the Fair Employment Practices Resolution extending civil rights protections to House employees for the first time; numerous successful measures to protect the California coast, including creation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary; 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, at the beginning of his ninth term, to become Director of the Office of Management and Budget for the incoming Clinton administration. In that position, he was instrumental in developing the 1993 budget package that is widely credited with putting the federal budget on its path to balancing in 1998.
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. He was the principal negotiator of the successful 1996 budget compromise, and was widely praised for bringing order and focus to White House operations and policy making.
Panetta currently co-directs, with his wife Sylvia, the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, based at California State University, Monterey Bay - a university he helped establish on the site of the former military base, Fort Ord. The Institute seeks to attract thoughtful men and women to lives of public service and to prepare them for the public policy challenges of the 21st century. In addition, Panetta serves as Distinguished Scholar to the Chancellor of the California State University system. He advises the Chancellor on national issues affecting higher education and teaches a course at CSU Monterey Bay on the executive and legislative branches of government. In 1997, he was appointed Presidential Professor at Santa Clara University, teaching a similar political science course. Panetta also created the Leon Panetta Lecture Series, now entering its fourth season. The lecture series invites nationally known leaders from the public and private sectors to address issues confronting the nation and the world.
In addition, Panetta was appointed in 1997 to serve on the Board of Directors of the New York Stock Exchange. He also serves on the Fleishman Hillard International Advisory Board. Since June 1998 he has served on the boards of the National Steinbeck Center, the University of California Santa Cruz Foundation, and Santa Clara University Law School Board of Visitors. He also serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for Santa Clara University and as a trustee for the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. He is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center for National Policy as well as Chair of the Pew Oceans Commission. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of Close Up, Bread for the World, Blue Shield California, Power Up, Zenith arid Connetics. He lectures nationally and internationally on the state of the economy, the federal budget and other issues facing our nation.
Panetta's awards and honors include, among others, the NEA Lincoln Award, 1969; the A. Philip Randolph Award, 1984; the Farm Bureau's Golden Plow Award, 1991; the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages President's Award, 1991; the Peter Burnett Award for Distinguished Public Service, 1993; and the Distinguished Public Service Medal from the Center for the Study of the Presidency, 1995.
Panetta is married to the former Sylvia Marie Varni, who administered his district offices during his service in Congress and continues as a partner in his many activities. They have three grown sons and three grandchildren.