WASHINGTON Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., is quickly assembling his team after being formally named head of the Banking Committee just last week, with many current and former staffers for the lawmaker taking top slots.
Former Shelby staffers William Duhnke, Dana Wade and Jelena McWilliams, among others, are expected to resume top staff positions, according to multiple sources. Their fast hires show that Shelby is eager to get moving with an experienced staff already well versed in the issues facing the financial system.
"Shelby once again has put together a very skilled, capable and highly respected staff that's hitting the ground running," said one banking industry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Shelby will take the gavel for two years under caucus rules which allow chairmen to serve for six years total after previously holding the position from 2003-6. The Alabama lawmaker has served in the Senate for nearly 30 years, and has inspired a loyal following among those closest to him.
Many filling out the ranks on the banking panel have either remained on the committee since he last served or moved with him to the Appropriations Committee, where he was lead Republican for the past two years.
"Shelby, by nature, is a guy who likes a small staff," said Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute and a former Shelby staffer. "Having a team that's worked together for a long time, everybody's got a good sense for everybody else and knows what their capabilities are."
Observers monitoring the committee's early days under new leadership say that Shelby is already close to having a solid team in place.
Duhnke, Shelby's longtime adviser, will resume his position as staff director on the banking panel. Duhnke has worked for the Alabama lawmaker for most of his two decades on Capitol Hill and has served as the top staffer on three committees. This will be his second stint leading Shelby's team on the banking panel, and sources noted that he was also an active player during the writing of the Dodd-Frank Act.
"Bill and Shelby have a symbiotic relationship they've worked together so long, they know one another's strengths and weaknesses," said one senior financial services executive, who asked to remain anonymous. "It's hard to get to know Shelby he doesn't have a huge network of people, but the people he knows he's loyal to, and Bill's been his right hand for a over a decade and through some very significant battles."
Duhnke most recently led Shelby's staff on the appropriations panel, and is expected to bring back several others with him, including Wade, who will serve as deputy director. Wade previously worked for Shelby on the banking panel before the move to appropriations.
McWilliams will remain on the banking panel to serve as chief counsel. McWilliams most recently worked as senior counsel under Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who served as lead Republican on the committee for the past two years, after Shelby's term in that position expired under caucus rules. (Lawmakers may serve six years as ranking member, in addition to six years as chairman.) She was initially hired on to the banking panel under Shelby before his term as ranking member ran out, and has previous experience at the Federal Reserve.
Two other longtime banking staffers, Chad Davis and John O'Hara, are also expected to remain on the committee to serve again under Shelby, sources said. Davis focuses on housing policy and O'Hara on sanctions and anti-money laundering issues.
Meanwhile, Beth Zorc, another former Shelby staffer who most recently worked on the House Financial Services Committee, is returning, according to several sources. She's been serving as senior counsel for the financial institutions and consumer credit subcommittee on the House banking panel, and will likely continue her work on those issue areas. Her roles in both chambers could also potentially help coordination between the two banking panels, one source suggested.
Shelby is also expected to retain two more lawyers hired under Crapo Elad Roisman, who came from the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Travis Hill, formerly an analyst at Regions Financial, which is based in Alabama. Chris Ford, another top appropriations staffer with experience on the Intelligence Committee, will join to work on national security issues.
With the team already mostly assembled, sources suggested that the committee is primed to jump into substantive work fairly quickly. Staff began to address some more procedural duties on Wednesday, when they switched offices reserved for the majority and minority parties and started moving boxes and papers.
"With so many veteran staff at hand, I would expect that a vigorous oversight and fact-finding agenda to begin shortly," said Brandon Barford, a partner at Beacon Policy Advisors and former Shelby staffer. "Any future proposals would then be informed by the hearing record, telegraphing areas of focus."
Indeed, sources cautioned that quick action up front is likely to be contained to hearings and oversight, not necessarily legislation. Several noted that Shelby will want to build the record on issues of interest before beginning to draft language for any bills.
That said, the committee has already scheduled its first hearing for next Tuesday roughly a month earlier than the Banking Committee was able to get up and running last time leadership changed hands in 2011.
"It's a real indicator they're serious to move fast and to move smartly," said Lendell Porterfield, chief executive of Porterfield, Lowenthal, Fettig & Sears, who has also worked for Shelby.
The hearing will explore the need for additional Iran sanctions, which one source noted is an issue that cuts across party lines and sidesteps some of the bigger fights that could be to come over Dodd-Frank and other issues.
Dwight Fettig, a partner at Porterfield, Lowenthal, Fettig & Sears and the former Democratic staff director of the Banking Committee, added that the sanctions issue is one that's been on members' radars for some time.
"There's been a push for some time to keep pressure via additional sanctions" among some Democrats and Republicans, while others have agreed with the White House and State Department to hold off to allow for U.S.-led international negotiations with Iran to play out, he said.
"It's a bit of a pent-up issue something that's been bubbling up to the surface for a long time, over the past year or so."