WASHINGTON, D.C. — It isn’t often that a childhood pastime leads to a fulfilling, lifelong career. But that’s just what happened to Steven W. Winegardner.
Winegardner, 54, a senior legislative analyst at the Library of Congress, was recently recognized for 30 years of service with the Congressional Research Service. The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections. The Library is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress. The CRS is just one agency within the legislative branch of the U.S. government, which also includes the Office of the Librarian, U.S. Copyright Office, Law Library of Congress, Library Services, and National and International Outreach.
As a senior legislative analyst, Winegardner is charged with turning hundreds of pages of legislation into brief summaries.
Growing up in the western part of Union County, Winegardner found his love of books and reading at a young age. His grandparents owned a general store in Millmont and often took him along antiquing.
“My grandfather was in World War II and collected antiques and I picked up my interest in history from him,” said Winegardner. “I used to read his books on Roosevelt and go to flea markets with them and that’s how I developed a deep interest in history.”
He was so interested in learning as much as he could, he said, that each week he would go to the library and check out volumes of encyclopedias, take them home and read.
As a student at Mifflinburg Area High School, where he graduated with the Class of 1981, Winegardner said he got good grades but still wasn’t entirely sure of what he wanted to do upon graduation.
“I knew I wanted to get to the city as soon as I could,” he said.
Work at Weis Markets
To put himself through college, Winegardner worked part-time at Weis Markets where, he said, he was grateful for the support of his manager, Jim Swineford. He also remains grateful to the late Sue Baird, his ninth-grade English teacher.
“She inspired me and was really tough,” he said. “I appreciated her mentoring because she taught me the way it works in the real world.”
After graduation, Winegardner went on to attend Bloomsburg University, where he earned his degree in political science in 1986. He attended a four-monthlong paralegal course in Philadelphia in 1987. He was then recruited by the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he worked on cases as a paralegal for 18 months. As part of that job, he often went to the Library of Congress.
“I had always wanted to go to the Library of Congress ever since I had seen a documentary on it,” he explained.
He applied for a job, was hired, and has been there ever since.
“It was a dream come true,” he said. “I liked going to college but I worked part-time and commuted to school and I honestly don’t know how I ever managed. Things just fell into place. I’ve been very fortunate.”
Winegardner also earned a certificate as a publication specialist in 1989.
Throughout his years as a senior legislative analyst, Winegardner has developed an intricate knowledge of the law, though he admitted, his job can sometimes prove difficult.
“It can be difficult, especially when it’s an amendment to an existing law because then it becomes more involved,” he explained. “It really is a laborious thing, but (my job) gives me a knowledge of the law.”
Affordable Care Act
One well-known piece of legislation that Winegardner summarized was the social security-related provisions of the Affordable Care Act or ObamaCare.
If it sounds like writing summaries might take awhile, that’s because it does. Winegardner said he has 60 days to summarize one piece of legislation.
“I try to get all the easy ones done first, then concentrate on the harder ones,” he said. “I will sometimes devote a day to the election bills to finish them off.”
Once he has whittled those hundreds of pages down to a mere 250 words, the summary is published on www.congress.gov and all the news agencies and outlets have access to it. It is also then available to the general public.
Outside of work, Winegardner enjoys the hustle and bustle of life in the nation’s capital.
“Washington, D.C., is so diverse and such a fascinating place to meet people,” he said. “I have made a large number of friends from different places and there are all kinds of cultural programs here. There is a rare book group I go to as well as archival forums — I really keep myself abreast of things.”
One of the more exciting facets of life in D.C., said Winegardner, is getting to see, meet and interact with high-profile political figures and celebrities. In the past three decades, Winegardner has met a long list of impressive leaders including, but not limited to, President Gerald Ford, President Jimmy Carter, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court David Souter and Se. John McCain.
He met McCain at a book signing where he received a pat on the back and a handshake.
“He told me CRS does good work,” said Winegardner.
He has also had eyes on President Ronald Reagan, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip and has shaken hands with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
“I’ve met (Gorbachev) three times,” he said.
If that wasn’t enough, he’s gotten a bear hug from President Bill Clinton while visiting Arlington Cemetery and once dined with President George H. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush.
“They asked me all types of questions about my books,” he said. “They really had style and class and I was really impressed with his presence — he is definitely cut from presidential material.”
Personal love of books
When he isn’t rubbing elbows with Washington’s elite, Winegardner tends to his personal love of books. He collects and reads on a daily basis. His own library boasts approximately 2,000 volumes and has run out of room in his home to store them.
“I have to keep them in the oven now,” he said.
His collection is made up mostly of history books and he likes to read about presidents, the Civil War and World War II. He also collects university press books on religion and Christianity.
“I also have a large collection of antiquities including an Etruscan face mask, seal once used on pirates scrolls and bulls head from Persian Empire. I also collect ancient coins and stamps,” he said
Today’s Library of Congress has more than 164 million items, including more than 38.6 million cataloged books and other print materials in 470 languages; more than 70 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.