Rule-Maker in Chief

Posted February 25, 2009 at 3:06pm

Rule One: “The most important is to remember Peter was elected, not any of us.” In fact, staff members need to know that while they are talented, they are not the ones in the spotlight.

This is just one of several “Rogan’s Rules,” commandments that chief of staff Bob Rogan uses to keep his staff in line. Rogan, who manages the office of Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), said he laid out these rules at his first staff meeting in January 2007.

“I pointed out there to the plaque and said, ‘It’s his name out there, and underneath it, it says Vermont,’” Rogan said.

Rogan first got to know Welch when both worked for then-Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.).

Rogan acted as the governor’s deputy chief of staff and then eventually his deputy campaign manager during Dean’s failed presidential run in 2004. Welch, an adviser to Dean’s campaign, became a friend to Rogan.

“He and his wife would sort of give me a home-cooked meal and give me an outlet to beat my head against the wall privately about some of the challenges we were facing,” Rogan said.

The two kept in touch over the years, and Rogan acted as an adviser during Welch’s successful run for Congress in 2006. Their history made it an easy transition when Welch decided to appoint Rogan as his chief of staff.

“If anything, it’s been helpful and allowed both of us to start our jobs with an understanding of each other,” Rogan said.

Now the two work alongside one another in a cramped space in the Longworth House Office Building. Even though Rogan says he tries to keep the mood in the office light by bringing his dog to work and joking around with the staff, he also insists on a certain sense of order.

That brings us back to Rogan’s Rules. The second one concerns what he calls the “Washington Post test.” Translation: While Rogan says he rewards risk-taking, he doesn’t want to see any of his staff on the front page of the Washington Post or the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press. If this happens, the staffer is not likely to keep his job for much longer.

“It’s a way of sort of setting a boundary,” he said. “Everywhere you go in Washington, and everywhere you go in Burlington, you are Peter Welch, and your actions take on that identity and your actions and behavior are reflected in that.”

The third rule encourages staffers to be entrepreneurial and create opportunities for the Congressman.

“Be situationally aware,” he said. “Open up the newspaper, open up Roll Call. You know, look at it and understand where Peter’s priorities are and then see where you can create an opportunity for him.”

Rogan wants his staff to seize opportunities that will better the office and help it to do more for the Green Mountain State.

Rogan says these rules promote the culture of Vermont and the state’s values. He wants his staff to be collaborative, supportive of one another, hard working and competitive, but not at a co-worker’s expense.

“What we don’t want in this office is an ‘at any cost’ mentality,” he said.

The rules seem to be working. Rogan says he loves his job. He brags that Welch passed more legislation than any other Member of his freshman class in the 110th Congress.

Even with Rogan’s sunny perspective, the role of chief does come with challenges. “Every chief of staff will tell you that working in a Congressional office is like drinking from a fire hose — there’s so much coming at you,” Rogan said.

For instance, managing the district and Washington, D.C., offices is a great challenge, he said. Rogan manages nine staffers in the D.C. office and six in the Vermont office.

While he does his best to keep in communication with both, sometimes people get left out. Some typical examples, he said by e-mail, “include when a district staffer handling housing issues finds out from a housing advocate in the district that the Member cosponsored a major housing bill that he would have recommended against had he been in the loop.” At the same time, “We have been fortunate that, due to our cultural emphasis on maximum communications, the breakdowns have been relatively small.”

In the end, Rogan’s goal is to have the offices operate as one unit.

“We are not two planets orbiting around one sun, we are one,” he said, adding, “Everyone knows that if they’re left out, it is accidental.”

But Rogan quickly returns to the upbeat attitude and says he loves working with young people and helping them grow in their careers. He also finds passing legislation that aids Vermont residents to be extremely satisfying.

In fact, Rogan said, being a chief of staff has been the highlight of his career. “This is probably the best job I’ve had,” he said. “I love this job. I really love this job.”