The Johns Hopkins Changemakers Profile is a monthly feature spotlighting the impact of Johns Hopkins alumni in positions of influence in Washington, D.C., policymaking circles.
As the daughter of a U.S. Army officer father, Laura Friedel spent most of her youth bouncing from state to state and post to post before the family settled in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., in the 1990s.
In a region where military affairs, national politics, and federal policy are the ingredients of even casual conversation, Friedel was a policy wonk in the making. She just didn't know it yet.
When she went to Bucknell University in 1996, she intended to go to law school afterwards. But upon graduating in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in history and political science, Friedel decided to try her luck in finance and moved to Chicago where she worked in financial services for a year.
"I hated it," she said.
She returned home to live with her parents—who stayed in the D.C. area after her father retired. With the help of her mother, an elementary school teacher, and her retired Army colonel father, Friedel figured out her next move.
"I always had an interest in politics," Friedel said. "And a few of my friends' parents worked on Capitol Hill or at the Pentagon and had said it's a great place to work for young people."
Occupation: Partner, Tarplin, Downs & Young
Hometown: Hinesville, Georgia
Education: Master's Degree, International Relations & Government Affairs, Johns Hopkins University, 2003
She connected with former Georgia Sen. Zell Miller's office, landed a job in his D.C. office, and worked her way up to become military legislative assistant to the Democrat who had been appointed to finish the term of his deceased predecessor. Knowing her time was limited with Miller, who announced he would not run for a new term, Friedel moved fast to expand her education to advance on Capitol Hill.
"I knew to get the next job, I had to have a graduate degree," she said.
Friedel enrolled in Johns Hopkins University's master's degree program for international relations and government affairs, taking night classes in Washington to keep the job she needed to pay for school.
"Sen. Miller was very supportive and would let me leave at 4:30 p.m. so I could get to my classes," she said. "I then went back at 9 p.m. and finished my work."
With an accelerated class load at JHU's DuPont Circle campus, Friedel graduated in 2003—just in time to take on a new position with Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby.
"I loved going to Johns Hopkins," she said. "I could specialize in something that I was particularly interested in. There was a great variety of people there, from a lot of different backgrounds, as well as a lot of people from The Hill."
Friedel worked for Sen. Shelby from 2004 to 2011, both as a legislative director and military legislative assistant. The latter position was an obvious fit given her father's 20 years of service in the U.S. Army, mostly in military intelligence.
"When I was growing up, the military was all I knew," she said. "When we would go on vacation, we'd go to other military bases for vacation or to see air shows and other events. My childhood was all very military focused."
The avid reader, runner, and Washington Capitals hockey fan followed Shelby to a position on a subcommittee he chaired for the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. She shifted her focus from defense to health care, education, and labor.
"It was a great opportunity to work on appropriations," she said. "But it was a 180-degree policy change from what I was doing in the personal office."
Earlier this year Friedel had logged a dozen years working on the Appropriations Committee as the staff director of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, whose ranking member was Sen. Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican.
The past three years have been more grueling than any she had experienced before due to the flood of spending bills the committee processed to help the nation weather the pandemic. "It was such a hectic time," she said. "It was particularly difficult for staff on appropriations—and the subcommittee I worked on funded the Department of Health and Human Services. We were in the mix from day one and wrote five bipartisan COVID bills in 2020, in addition to doing our normal jobs. After that year, there was a lot of COVID fatigue.""
"Laura Friedel was an incredible team leader as our committee worked to meet the challenge of COVID along with the great opportunities in health care," Blunt said in an email. "We made greater commitments to health research, mental health, and new ways to look at public private partnerships. Laura understood the programs and was always sure that we were asking the tough questions."
When Shelby and Blunt both retired at the end of 2022, Friedel decided it was time to embark on a new challenge after 22 years of government service. In February, she joined Tarplin, Downs & Young as a partner bringing experience that dovetails perfectly with a bipartisan firm specializing in health care lobbying and government services.
Friedel helps pharmaceutical and insurance companies as well as nonprofit organizations engage strategically with Congress and health-related federal agencies—primarily the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
After 22 years on The Hill, her new job thrust her directly into an issue she was part of on the Appropriations Committee when, last year, CMS refused to provide Medicare coverage of a FDA-approved drug for Alzheimer's disease. The decision—heralded as "unprecedented" by the Alzheimer's Association and others—has "changed the industry quite a bit," she said.
"No one expected it. The FDA has this really innovative process for approving drugs more quickly than traditional approval," Friedel explained. "So to then have CMS come out of left field and not cover this treatment—it rocked the Alzheimer's community and pharmaceutical companies because now the question becomes will CMS do this again, and to which new treatment?"
Many now fear CMS could repeat the action on other future FDA-approved drugs.
With Friedel in the middle of the action, it didn't take long before her Johns Hopkins connections took notice of her new position. It's no wonder: POLITICO and The Hill newspaper both reported on the February news of Friedel's new job.
"Laura Friedel will be a partner at Tarplin, Downs & Young, LLC. She was previously clerk and GOP staff director for the Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee and is a Richard Shelby alum," POLITICO reported.
Not long after the news broke, Friedel got a phone call.
"It was someone I had gone to graduate school with at Johns Hopkins," Friedel said. "She works at Eli Lilly now."
Posted in Politics+Society