It’s been a long time since Chuck Atkins was a 19-year-old Marine on the ground in Vietnam, but it was a life-changing time on which he still reflects, even as he moves into the position of chief of staff of the House Science Committee.
Formerly the committee’s minority staff director, Atkins takes on his new responsibilities with the new Democratic majority.
“I’m looking forward to having some control over the agenda — that’s what it’s all about,” Atkins said last week in his brand-new Rayburn office, which boasts a view of the horseshoe area.
But let’s look back for a moment.
Born in Atlanta, Ga., Atkins joined the Marines at age 18. For 13 months, he served as a field radio operator in some of Southeast Asia’s most dangerous territory: “I didn’t think I was going to make it home alive. I was 19, 20. You’re pretty fearless until it gets so bad that you realize the harsh reality of it.”
Upon returning to the U.S., Atkins thought he’d be a city manager. Instead he moved to Fort Thomas, Ky., to work for a regional planning agency and eventually opened a consulting business that he ran for 14 years.
A former mayor of Lexington, Ky., Scotty Baesler, then asked Atkins to run his gubernatorial campaign, which he lost. A year later, Baesler ran for Congress and handily won. In January 1993, Atkins came to Washington to work as Baesler’s chief of staff. “I was 45 years old when I came to the Hill,” Atkins says, proudly stating his current age: 60.
Baesler eventually ran for Senate, losing to Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.). In 1998, the chief of staff to Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) left and Atkins filled the role.
He insists the Science Committee isn’t too dry. “It’s more than brainy people in laboratories,” he says, explaining that the committee has oversight on the $17 billion enterprise of NASA as well as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s labs and the science and technology component of the Department of Homeland Security. “It underpins the strength of our economy when you think about it.”
Stratman returns after brief stint off the Hill
Some people are destined for Capitol Hill, and Sam Stratman, 44, a former press secretary to International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), may be one of them.
Last week he returned to his former professional staff position at the International Relations Committee after a seven-month hiatus off the Hill. Standing in the Speaker’s Lobby chatting with members and reporters, he looked genuinely relieved to be back. “I missed the Hill,” he said. “This is my home.”
Stratman has worked on the Hill since 1987. He left last year to work as a spokesman for the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation, a government corporation created by Congress in 2004.
Not wishing to dismiss that job, he remarked, “The Hill moves to a pace more to my liking.” He compares his new office to a cave: “It looks like a cheap motel in downtown Tokyo.”