At a Glance
- Career History: Staff Director, House Armed Services Committee (2007-2010); Democratic staff director, House Armed Services Committee (2005-2007); Democratic professional staff, House Armed Services (2001-2005); research staff director, U.S. Commission on National Security (1998-2001); Financial Analyst, Salomon Brothers (New York) Almanac of the Unelected, 2008 edition
- Hometown: Rutherford, N.J.
- Alma Mater: Georgetown University, bachelor's, foreign service, 1992; Tufts University, master's, law and diplomacy, 1995 and Ph.D., Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Path to Power
Conaton's hometown is Rutherford, N.J. She left the Garden State for college, picking up a bachelor's degree in foreign service from Georgetown University in 1992.
Three years later, she earned a master's in law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University. She completed fellowships at the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council. Early in her career, Conaton was research staff director for the so-called Hart-Rudman commission, which was charged with fashioning a national security strategy through 2025.
During her 2010 confirmation hearing, Conaton made clear she faces a tough road as Air Force under secretary. "This is a time of great challenges, for the Department of Defense generally and for the Air Force in particular," she told theSenate Armed Service Committee.. "The Air Force has come through a period of challenge with regards to its nuclear enterprise and its acquisition processes."
Conaton added that service officials must balance supporting the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts will also planning for future wars. "There is a need to balance modernization of current platforms and to continue to invest in new capabilities that will be needed in future conflicts," Conaton said.
As a longtime senior House Armed Services Committee aide, Conaton is plugged in with such lawmakers -- and top aides -- as the panel's chairman, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Ranking Member Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.). As a Georgetown University alum, she has plenty of fellow Hoyas in the administration and in other power posts around Washington. Just within the Obama national security community, she will find fellow Georgetowners James Jones, the national security adviser; Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff; and Frank Kendall, deputy Pentagon acquisition chief.
Conaton also worked for the Council on Foreign Relations. That means she is part of an exclusive club of Washington foreign and national-security power players that routinely shuttle between senior government, academia and think-tank posts.
During the 2004 election cycle, Conaton donated $750 to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and $500 to DNC Services Corp. Also in 2004, she donated $250 to Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.). During the 2008 cycle, she donated $2300 to then-candidate Barack Obama.