Bret Bernhardt, chief of staff to Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, brings to the job a background in accounting and small business as well as two decades on Capitol Hill.
Besides acting as a senior adviser to DeMint, Bernhardt manages the President’s Office staff and day-to-day operations at Heritage. He served as DeMint’s chief of staff in the U.S. Senate from 2005 until January 2013, when the second-term senator from South Carolina stepped down to head the leading conservative think tank.
Bernhardt learned his way around the Hill as an aide to Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) for more than 15 years -- initially as a legislative assistant, then as legislative director and eventually as chief of staff until Nickles’ retirement in 2004.
Newly elected to the Senate, DeMint found his chief of staff in Bernhardt, who identified with the issues DeMint championed in the House. After their close work together during DeMint’s eight years in the Senate, it was no surprise when the new Heritage president asked Bernhardt to take the chief of staff post at the think tank.
Born and raised in Stillwater, Okla., Bernhardt pursued an accounting degree at Oklahoma State University, where he also honed his conservative perspective.
His private sector experience includes operating a small business as co-owner of Party Perfect Rentals in Annapolis, Md., from 1988 to 1990; overseeing fund-raising as finance director of the Oklahoma Republican Party in 1980; and working as a staff accountant for Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. (now KPMG) in Oklahoma City after his graduation from OSU.
Bernhardt and his wife, Ellie, currently reside in Arlington, Va. They have four children who live in the Washington area.