The best offense is a good defense.
When Roger Zakheim was growing up in Silver Spring, Md., the talk around the dinner table was about the defense budget and foreign affairs — not surprising given that his father, Dov Zakheim, was an adjunct faculty member at the National War College as well as a defense department official, whose titles included undersecretary of defense for planning and resources in the second Reagan administration. He also served as an adviser during the 2000 campaign of George W. Bush.
The conversations fascinated the younger Zakheim to the extent that, after graduating Columbia, University of Cambridge and New York University Law School, he was intent on joining the family business. He spent his summers during law school canvassing Capitol Hill for a job on a foreign policy-related committee. Hard work paid off: Now 35, he’s served as counsel in a series of committee jobs, as deputy assistant secretary of defense in 2008, and is now general counsel at the House Armed Services Committee.
“My father’s work had a very strong influence … though it doesn’t mean we agree on everything. The way you earned respect was in your ability to defend and argue and carve out your critique.”
Zakheim is the middle of three sons, but the only one to pursue a government career. His older brother, Keith has a public relations firm in New Jersey, and Scott is a financial consultant.
Zakheim attends hearings on everything from sequestration cuts in military spending to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. Much of his job involves drafting language for the National Defense Authorization Act, one of the few bills signed into law every year. Of particular interest to Zakheim is the Iron Dome and other weapon systems that generate a lot of interest in the pro-Israel community.
“Ninety-eight percent of what we do is non-partisan,” he said. “There is that 2 percent that falls on party lines, but there is that tradition that partisanship ends at our shores. We oversee the military and the military force is not a partisan institution.”
Which is not to say Zakheim, who has three young daughters with his wife, Tamar, a physician’s assistant, is personally non-partisan; he continues in the neoconservative tradition of his father.
“Being a Republican is also part of the family business,” he said. Father and son both served as advisers to Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign last year. But Roger professes no ambition to seek office himself. “There is an important need for policymakers who understand how policy and politics interact,” and that expertise is his civic contribution, he says.
Go Redskins!: On any given Sunday during NFL season, you’ll find him savoring kosher chili with his brothers at their tailgate party outside Redskins games.