- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Every two years, newly elected lawmakers arrive in Washington, replacing their retired or defeated predecessors, and every four or eight years, a new president takes office.

Over the last 25 years, Edwin Feulner, the president of the Heritage Foundation, and Philip Truluck, the executive vice president, have seen off four U.S. presidents and dozens of lawmakers. And tomorrow, the two men are marking their 25th anniversary with the foundation.

What's the secret to the conservative think tank's longevity? It is all about changing the way think tanks operate in Washington, the two men said in an interview last week.

"We're not content to study an issue, write a paper on it and then put it on the shelf," Mr. Feulner said. "We tell everybody involved what we think about the subject and explain what should be done next and why."

That was a new concept when Mr. Feulner and Mr. Truluck came to Heritage in 1977. The two met while working with the Republican Study Committee on Capitol Hill and decided to leave the life of politics to jump-start the struggling 4-year-old foundation.

In its first four years of existence, Heritage had a staff of nine persons, a negligible impact on House Speaker "Tip" O'Neill's Congress and President Carter's White House, and a shaky financial standing.

Even Mr. Feulner concedes he had doubts and considered Heritage a "chancy" proposition.

"I did not know whether Heritage would be around in two years," Mr. Feulner said. "But I believed that if it was properly managed with clarity of purpose it could develop into something really important."

Mr. Feulner, 60, and Mr. Truluck, 54, decided to look at Heritage as a major business enterprise, not just a policy think tank. "We realized we had to manage growth," Mr. Truluck said. "We basically said, 'Let's stop thinking about Heritage as a think tank. Let's think about it as a business.'"

As a result, they would form a management partnership, with Mr. Feulner as the chief executive officer and Mr. Truluck as chief operating officer. They also knew they had to get accurate data out.

"We knew that coming from the right perspective, we couldn't afford to put out inaccurate information," Mr. Feulner said.

Their approach paid off. By 1979, Heritage's staff had doubled and its annual budget had tripled, from less than $1 million to $2.8 million. Soon afterward, Heritage expanded from a small two-floor suite of offices in a converted movie theater into a half-block of townhouses near Capitol Hill. In 1983, Heritage bought and renovated an eight-story building on Capitol Hill, its current location.

The conservative foundation also began to get its name out to lawmakers. In 1979, Heritage published "The SALT Handbook," providing what was reportedly the "intellectual underpinnings" for arms control talks with the former Soviet Union. That same year, Heritage Middle East expert James Phillips warned of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan two months before the actual invasion.

The following year, Heritage called for the creation of "enterprise zones" to revive blighted urban areas, an idea championed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. In 1982, Heritage offered one of the first detailed proposals to "privatize" Social Security.

That same year, the foundation published "High Frontier," the first independent proposal for a comprehensive missile-defense system, which later became the basis of the Reagan administration's Strategic Defense Initiative.

"If you're not here to influence policy, you shouldn't be a think tank," Mr. Feulner said. "And you particularly shouldn't be a think tank in Washington."

Heritage remains one of the most respected think tanks in Washington today. Its Web sites (www.heritage.org and www.townhall.com) log almost 2 million user sessions each month, most of which originate on Capitol Hill.

Keeping Heritage in the forefront among policy think tanks and getting the foundation involved in the international market are just a few of Mr. Feulner's long-term goals.

"We want Heritage to be a model source for public policy information around the world," Mr. Feulner said.

Will Heritage be around for another 25 years?

"Heritage will stay on long after we leave and go far beyond what we've ever imagined," Mr. Feulner said. "We're not in it for the battle. We're in it for the war."

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