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Committee Staff

  • Dick Obermann, Chief of Staff
    Dick serves as the Chief of Staff for the Committee.  As such he acts as staff director, administrator, and senior policy adviser to Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson.  He is responsible for managing a team of Committee scientists, engineers, attorneys, and other professional support staff as well as the Minority budget and all administrative operations.  Dick joined the Committee in 1990. Initially, he served as Science Advisor for the Subcommittee on Space, including oversight and budget authorization responsibilities for science, exploration, and the space station program. He later went on to serve as Staff Director for the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, with primary authorization and oversight responsibility for civil space and aeronautics activities. Dick holds a B.S.E. and Ph.D. in Aerospace and Mechanical Sciences from Princeton University, and an M.S.E. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University. He also completed the Senior Managers in Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Dick started his career working on the technical staff at the MITRE Corporation and as a senior program officer on the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the National Research Council. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and of the American Astronautical Society and a Member of the International Academy of Astronautics.

  • John Piazza, Chief Counsel
    John Piazza joined the professional staff of the Committee in March 2006. His responsibilities include legislative, legal, and parliamentary process issues. In addition, he works on oversight for the Committee. John graduated with a B.A. from Columbia University in 1999, where he studied environmental science. He received a J.D. from Washington and Lee University in 2002. John is a member of the Arizona and District of Columbia Bars. Prior to joining the Committee, John was a prosecutor in Tucson, Arizona.

  • Robert Etter, Deputy Counsel
    Robert serves as Counsel to the Committee.  His responsibilities include strategic planning and handling legislative, procedural and jurisdictional matters.  Robert received a J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School in 2005 and a B.A. in Political Science from Vanderbilt in 2000.  Prior to joining the Committee, Robert worked in the Atlanta and Washington D.C. offices of a large law firm, where he practiced commercial litigation primarily involving energy, environmental and antitrust issues.  Robert is a member of the Georgia and District of Columbia Bars.

  • Kristin Kopshever, Administrative Director and Research Assistant
    Kristin serves as the Administrative Director for the Minority.  In this capacity she serves as executive assistant to the Ranking Member and Chief of Staff and as Office Manager for the Minority staff.  She also manages all administrative operations and assists with various Subcommittee projects.  Kristin joined the Committee in April 2010 as the Staff Assistant. She studied Political Science and Philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago. Prior to joining the Committee, she was an intern for Congressman Costello (D-IL).  Kristin is originally from Pinckneyville, Illinois.

     Subcommittee on Energy and Environment

  • Chris King, Staff Director
    Chris joined the Committee in 2002 as Professional Staff. In 2009 he was promoted to Staff Director for the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. Chris handles a wide range of legislative and oversight issues within the areas of the Department of Energy’s R&D management and general energy technology and innovation. He has been responsible for managing a number of the Committee’s legislative priorities in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security of Act of 2007, the America COMPETES Act, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Prior to joining the Committee, Chris worked in the Texas State Legislature for the Legislative Study Group, where his responsibilities included energy, environment, worker's compensation, and consumer protection policy.  He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • Shimere Williams, Professional Staff
    Shimere holds a B.S. in Civil/Environmental Engineering as well as a Ph.D. in Pharmacology. Her doctoral research focused on the role of the dopaminergic signaling pathway underlying the maintenance phase of long-term potentiation (long-term memory). Shimere serves as Professional Staff for the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, where she works on ocean, weather, environmental, energy, and technology issues. Prior to joining the Committee, her path to a career in policy began with a dynamic experience at the National Academy of Sciences. There she completed a graduate science and technology policy fellowship with the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research in the Division on Earth and Life Studies, then succeeded with the Board on Children, Youth and Families in the Institute of Medicine and Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education.

  • Jetta Wong, Professional Staff
    Jetta joined the Committee in March of 2009 to work on the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. She works on a wide range of energy policy issues related to civilian research, development and demonstration programs at the Department of Energy.  Before she joined the Committee, Jetta briefly worked for the Clean Energy Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Prior to her work at UCS she served as the Senior Policy Associate on Sustainable Biomass for the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI).  Jetta’s career in energy started in Uzbekistan where she was a natural resources consultant on an anaerobic digestion development project.  Jetta holds a B.S. in Natural Resources and the Environment from the University of Michigan. She received her MPS in Legislative Affairs from George Washington University in May 2009. Her studies have also taken her to Costa Rica and Brazil.

    Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation

  • Hilary Cain, Staff Director
    Hilary joined the Committee in November of 2008.  Before becoming Staff Director of the Subcommittee in May of 2010, she served as a Counsel to the Full Committee, where she handled parliamentary, procedural, and jurisdictional matters, as well as participating in the development and implementation of legislative strategy.  Previously, Hilary worked as Legislative Director to Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), overseeing his legislative agenda, and as Ways and Means Counsel to Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).  She holds a J.D. and a M.A. in Public Affairs from the University of Texas, and a B.A. in Political Science with honors from the University of Washington. 

  • Marcy Gallo, Professional Staff
    Marcy joined the Committee in December 2008, serving as Professional Staff for the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, where she worked on oversight of the education and research programs at the National Science Foundation. She holds a B.S. in Biology from Marietta College, a M.S. from the University of Toledo and received her Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of New Mexico. Her doctoral research examined microbial community structure and function in relation to leaf litter degradation and the role of photodecomposition in arid ecosystems. In 2007, Marcy was the American Society for Agronomy – Crop Science Society of America – Soil Science Society of America (ASA-CSSA-SSSA) Congressional Fellow in the office of Senator Joseph Lieberman where she handled environmental, agriculture and energy issues. Prior to joining the Committee, she worked at the American Geological Institute on science policy issues of interest to the geosciences community.

    Subcommittee on Research and Science Education

  • Dahlia Sokolov, Staff Director
    Dahlia joined the Committee as an American Institute of Physics Congressional fellow in October 2004 and joined the professional staff in July 2005. For the two years prior to joining the Democratic staff of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee, she served on the Energy Subcommittee working on nuclear energy R&D under then-Chairman Sherwood Boehlert’s (R-NY) leadership. Before coming to the Hill, Dahlia completed a two-year postdoctoral research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in the Radiation Oncology Sciences Program. Dahlia has a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of Washington and a B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of California at Berkeley.

  • Bess Caughran, Professional Staff
    Bess joined the Committee in January 2007.  Bess serves as Professional Staff for the Research and Science Education Subcommittee, where she handles science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education issues.  In addition, Bess manages international outreach activities for the Committee.  Before becoming Professional Staff, Bess was the Research Assistant for the Subcommittee, and also served as Staff Assistant for the Full Committee.  Bess holds a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

    Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

  • Pamela Whitney, Professional Staff
    Pamela Whitney serves as Professional Staff on the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. In her former position as Senior Program Officer at the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council, National Academies, she directed studies and workshops on international cooperation in space, Earth remote sensing, Mars planetary protection, space policy, astronomy science centers, among other space technology and research topics. Pamela also served as the Executive Secretary of the U.S. national committee to the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council for Science (ICSU). She held previous positions as an analyst at the aerospace consulting firm CSP Associates, Inc., and as a researcher and writer for Time-Life Books, Inc. Pamela holds a B.A. in Economics from Smith College and an M.A. in International Communication from American University. She is a member of Women in Aerospace and a member of the International Academy of Astronautics.

  • Allen Li, Professional Staff
    Allen serves as Professional Staff on the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. He joined the Subcommittee in January 2008 after retiring from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in May 2007. As Director of GAO’s Acquisition and Sourcing Management Team, Allen led GAO’s work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and reviewed numerous defense acquisition programs. He also served as the Team’s Director for Operations, managing day-to-day activities of a geographically dispersed group. During his career at GAO, Allen also served as Associate Director in GAO’s Energy, Resources, and Science Issue Area; and Associate Director of the Transportation Issue Area, where he specialized in aviation safety and air traffic control modernization. During his tenure at GAO, he testified numerous times before Senate and House Committee and Subcommittees on civil and military issues such as the International Space Station and the F-22. Allen was selected for GAO’s Senior Executive Service in 1993. He holds a B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland and is a senior member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

    Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight

  • Dan Pearson, Staff Director
    Dan has been with the Committee since 1991. He manages oversight and investigations for the Democratic staff. He served as Staff Director of that Subcommittee during the 111th Congress and from 1993 to 1995 during the 103rd Congress. In the interim, he carried a variety of issues at different times including policy coordination, budget analysis, appropriations work, Member services work, press spokesman and oversight coordinator. Dan started on the Hill as a Legislative Assistant in the office of Rep. George E. Brown, Jr. (D-CA). Before coming to Washington, Dan earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Washington in Seattle and served on the faculty of Whitman College.

  • Doug Pasternak, Professional Staff
    Doug is an award-winning investigative reporter who spent nearly two decades uncovering waste, fraud and mismanagement at various federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Bureau of Prisons and National Reconnaissance Office, before joining the Oversight and Investigations staff of the Committee in September 2006. He came to the Committee from NBC Nightly News where he was a producer on the Investigative Unit. While there, he broke several major stories, including FEMA's mishandling of ice shipments to victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Pentagon's domestic intelligence collection efforts. Prior to NBC News, he worked as an investigative reporter at U.S. News & World Report magazine for 14 years. His cover stories at U.S. News included the exposure of multi-billion dollar cost overruns, mismanagement and bungled technical assessments of the U.S. government's spy satellite programs and the Defense Department's classified development of exotic electromagnetic weapons that stun and disable without killing. Doug has a B.A. degree in Political Science from American University in Washington, D.C. and has studied in Israel and Poland.
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