Close Close search drawer

Leon E. Panetta

Leon Panetta poses with a smile in front of the American flag.
Courtesy the Panetta Institute
Public Service

California Connection:

b. 1938

  •  Former U.S. Representative and resident of the Central Coast


Unanimously confirmed in 2011 by the U.S. Senate as the 23rd Secretary of Defense, Leon E. Panetta has had a 50-year career in public service at the highest levels of government. As Secretary of Defense, he established a new defense strategy and expanded service opportunities for women and others regardless of race, creed, color or gender. As Director of the CIA, he successfully led the operation that brought Osama bin Laden to justice.

Secretary Panetta began his public service career in 1964 as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, receiving the Army Commendation Medal, and then served as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Tom Kuchel. In 1969, he was appointed Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, where he was responsible for enforcing equal education laws.

Elected to Congress in 1976, Secretary Panetta represented the California Central Coast district for 16 years and created the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. In 1993, he was sworn in as Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for the Clinton administration and later was appointed White House chief of staff, working to achieve a balanced federal budget.

In 1997, Secretary Panetta returned to his home town of Monterey to establish and co-direct The Panetta Institute for Public Policy, a non-partisan, not-for-profit study center that seeks to inspire men and women to lives of public service.

He chronicles his life in public service in his best-selling memoir, “Worthy Fights,” which was published by Penguin Press in the fall of 2014. 

View more inductees from the 17th class, inducted in 2024.