An unlikely home in DC

An unlikely home in DC
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Chad Sydnor “never in a million years” thought he would end up in Washington.

Born, raised and educated in North Carolina, Sydnor this month was hired as a vice president at Cassidy & Associates, one of the most succesful lobbying firms in the city and a decidedly D.C. establishment.

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The company counts among its clients defense and technology powerhouses Palantir, BAE Systems, Airbus and Cerner. The last was just named the creator of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ new electronic health records system, a multibillion-dollar undertaking.

Sydnor, 37, cut his own teeth on defense policy on Capitol Hill, serving most recently as military legislative aide (MLA) to Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrLawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program Facebook under fire over Russian ads in election 5 senators call for US to shutter embassy in Havana MORE (R-N.C.). He held similar roles under Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanGOP senator undergoing follow-up surgery next week An unlikely home in DC Lobbying World MORE (R-Ark.) and Rep. Joe WilsonJoe WilsonGOP worries as state Dems outperform in special elections Navy official: Budget, readiness issues led to ship collisions Obama left nuclear waste in South Carolina, Trump can clean it up MORE (R-S.C.).

His experience is sure to be helpful in his new lobbying role amid a particularly decisive time on Capitol Hill. Congressional defense hawks are pushing back at a young administration, saying its proposed budget falls woefully short on military and homeland security spending.

Sydnor sat down with The Hill at Cassidy & Associates’ downtown office to discuss his defense-themed journey from the Tar Heel State to the nation’s capital.

“Through some very fortuitous circumstances” while in law school in his home state, Sydnor, who was also a military police officer in the Army Reserve, wound up on a flight next to an Apache helicopter pilot and was offered a spot in the Raleigh battalion to fly for the Army National Guard.

Sydnor graduated from flight school in 2011 and was working as a prosecutor when he was called to active duty. He was based in Fort Rucker, Ala., when he met his now-wife on a dating website. But she was nearly 900 miles away, starting her own business in Washington.

The two dated long distance and continued to do so when he returned to Raleigh. He held off on returning to his job in the district attorney’s office, deciding instead to move to Washington.

“I knew a grand total of three people here in D.C., one of whom was a friend of mine from the military who was working at Lockheed Martin at the time,” Sydnor recalls. “I said, ‘What do I do? I’ve got this military background, I’ve got this legal background.’ ”

His options were at a law firm job or to try his hand at policy.

Certain offices do advertise jobs, but many times they are filled by word of mouth. Sydnor put his name in the resume bank and was later contacted by Wilson’s then-legislative director, Melissa Murphy.

“She called me up out of the blue and asked, ‘Are you interested in being Rep. Wilson’s MLA?’ I didn’t know what the acronym meant, but I thought it must be good. I Googled it and figured it out.”

Wilson hired Sydnor despite his lack of legislative experience. At the time, the lawmaker was chairman of the House Armed Services subpanel on personnel, “which isn’t the sexiest subcommittee,” Sydnor admits. But Wilson’s professional staff members were Capitol Hill veterans — excellent to learn from.

“I didn’t have any clue what I was doing for the first six months,” he said.

Murphy, who is now chief of staff for Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.), said Sydnor’s military experience caught her eye. The Army National Guard was and still is a huge priority for Wilson, she told The Hill.

“Chad’s a great person. He’s a quick study, he learned military legislative issues very quickly and he’s trustworthy,” she said. “I really enjoyed working with him. Obviously that professional relationship will continue now that he’s at Cassidy.”

Sydnor worked with Wilson for three years before moving to work under Boozman in 2014.

When a job opened up in December 2015 with Burr, North Carolina’s senior senator, he jumped at the chance. Under the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sydnor cultivated a background in national security and cybersecurity.

But after six years on the hill, Sydnor said he needed “a more stable situation than what a congressional staffer allows … a little bit better work-life balance.”

He interviewed for several legislative affairs positions within the new Trump administration, specifically the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security, but nothing fit.

Through his connections on Capitol Hill, Cassidy & Associates emerged as a potential employer.

After seven interviews, he was hired as vice president this month.

Cassidy CEO Kai Anderson called Sydnor a “first-rate addition to our team who strengthens our defense and infrastructure capabilities.”

Sydnor’s new portfolio largely deals with his bread and butter from Capitol Hill: defense, intelligence, cybersecurity and veterans’ healthcare issues.

He says he has his eye on the top lines for defense spending in the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. Trump proposed $603 billion in national security spending, but defense hawks in Congress want a number closer to $640 billion.

In any case, the numbers are still well above the $549 billion set by sequestration in the 2011 Budget Control Act. That must be repealed before anyone gets their way.

“[House Armed Services Committee] Chairman Mac Thornberry [(R-Texas)] is talking about a $640 billion base, $65 billion in [Overseas Contingency Operations]. That would put you at a $705 billion defense bill. It’s never been that high,” Sydnor said.

Thornberry has since changed his top line to $621 billion in base funding and $75 billion in OCO as of Monday.

The House Appropriations Committee, which released their draft of the bill Sunday, wants $584 billion in base funding and $74 billion in OCO for the Defense Department. That budget does not include added dollars for military construction and the Energy Department as the House Armed Services bill does.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.) has said that his side is marking the bill to current fiscal year spending levels.

“The House Budget Committee has said $621 billion, the president has said $603 billion and the Budget Control Act says $549 billion,” Sydnor said.

“I’m very interested to see — we’ve had two bipartisan budget agreements — what does that look like? Is that going to be in the realm of the politically possible?”

For now, Sydnor is focused on navigating his new lobbying role, clients and the defense budget in a new age of Washington.

“It’ not a normal year, and everything is on a very compressed time frame,” he said.

As for the long-distance relationship that brought Sydnor to Washington, the two are now happily married and live in Arlington, Va. Sixteen months ago, they welcomed twin daughters.