Edwin J. Feulner’s leadership as president of The Heritage Foundation transformed the think tank from a small policy shop into America’s powerhouse of conservative ideas and what the New York Times calls “the Parthenon of the conservative metropolis.”
Under Feulner, Heritage grew from a nine-member staff on a shoestring budget working out of a rented office in 1977 to a 250-person, $80-million-a-year institution with a worldwide reputation for rigorous research and innovative policy recommendations, occupying three buildings near the U.S. Capitol.
"Ed Feulner has made Heritage not just a permanent institution on Capitol Hill, but the flagship organization of the entire conservative movement,” Board Chairman Thomas A. Saunders said in December 2012.
As Feulner wrote in the introduction to one of his books, The March of Freedom: “This has been a conscious goal of The Heritage Foundation—to be a permanent Washington presence. We have set out to make conservative ideas not just respectable but mainstream. To set the terms of national policy debate. To offer not a lament for a lost America, but positive, practical, free market alternatives to the failed liberal policies of the old order.”
Feulner’s work in the conservative movement throughout his life has earned him praise from a range of individuals from Heritage donors to U.S. Presidents.
“By building an organization dedicated to ideas and their consequences, he has helped to shape the policy of our Government. His has been a voice of reason and values in service to his country and the cause of freedom around the world,” read the citation of the Presidential Citizens Medal, given to Feulner on Jan. 18, 1989, by President Ronald Reagan.
Feulner’s leadership has been internationally recognized. The Daily Telegraph (UK) named him one of the 100 most influential conservatives in America in 2007 and 2010. In a 2009 Forbes magazine article, Karl Rove ranked Feulner the 6th most powerful conservative in Washington. That same year, he was featured by the Fox News Channel on Fox News Sunday as host Chris Wallace’s “Power Player of the Week.” In July 2010, he was included in Townhall magazine’s list of “the 100 Americans the Left hates most.”
In April 2009, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) conferred upon Feulner the Charles Hoeflich Lifetime Achievement Award. In June 2012, he received the Bradley Prize for extraordinary talent and dedication at Washington’s Kennedy Center.
Feulner first joined The Heritage Foundation as a founding Trustee in 1973. He later became President in 1977, Heritage’s fourth in four years. After accepting the job, Feulner was determined to chart a new course for the struggling think tank.
He did not want to lead a group of academics that would write studies, place them on a shelf and hope someone important would read them. Instead, Feulner decided that Heritage would operate like a business that expected progress from its analysts and results from their policy studies. Heritage would achieve these results by creating timely, concise studies and aggressively marketing them to Congress, policymakers and the media.
This “briefcase test” concept became a model for other think tanks to follow. In fact, Heritage’s success has led many liberals to try to create a “liberal Heritage Foundation” to counter the think tank’s influence. “[Conservatives] worked on it for 30 years and they’ve got it,” former President Bill Clinton complained in a 2003 appearance on NBC’s Today show. “They’ve got everything from The Heritage Foundation, the sympathetic newspapers, to sympathetic cable programs …”
This didn’t happen by accident. Feulner works tirelessly. He travels more than 150,000 miles a year, crisscrossing the United States and the globe to meet with leaders and help spread the ideals of individual liberty, economic freedom, rule of law, and family values.
“Although his ways are entirely unassuming, one pauses … to wonder how Ed Feulner manages as he does,” wrote National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. in an introduction to The Power of Ideas, a 1997 book on Heritage’s history. “It helps that he disposes of the requisite biological and temperamental attributes—the capacity to go many hours without sleep, to travel endlessly attending to caseloads of work, to endure a day of meetings that begin at breakfast and end at midnight.”
Feulner’s schedule is often full because of the many hats he has worn over the years: He is the former President and was the long time Treasurer of the Mont Pelerin Society; he has served as a Trustee and former Chairman of the Board of ISI; a Board Member of the National Chamber Foundation; a Board Member of the Institut d’ Etudes Politiques; a life member of the Board of Trustees of Regis University in Denver; and twice a past President of the Philadelphia Society, of which he has been elected as a Distinguished Member.
Feulner is a member of the Advisory Board of the Public Diplomacy Collaborative at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is past Director of the Sequoia Bank, the Council for National Policy, the Acton Institute, the Aequus Institute, the International Republican Institute, the American Council on Germany, the Lehrman Institute, and George Mason University.
He is a longtime officer and director of two grant-making foundations: the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Thomas A. Roe Foundation.
Feulner formerly served as a member of the Gingrich-Mitchell Congressional U.N. Reform Task Force (2005) and on the Congressional Commission on International Financial Institutions (“Meltzer Commission”) from 1999-2000. He was the Vice Chairman of the National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform (“Kemp Commission”) from 1995-1996. As Chairman of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (1982-91), he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on three occasions.
He served as the Public Member (Ambassador) of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations Second Special Session on Disarmament in New York, as a consultant for domestic policy to President Reagan, and as an adviser to several government departments and agencies.
Feulner speaks frequently both in the United States and abroad, and has been awarded honorary degrees from 10 colleges and universities. He has been declared a Benefactor of the University of Edinburgh, and has received honors from the governments of Taiwan, South Korea, and the Czech Republic.
But his heart belongs to Heritage – and to the thousands of colleagues and supporters he has worked with over the decades. “I can’t stress it enough,” Feulner said in 2002 on his 25th anniversary as president. “If you don’t have the right people, you won’t have the success Heritage has had over the years.”
After serving as president from 1977 to 2013, Feulner served as president again on an interim basis from 2017-2018. Heritage's influence grew immensely that year. After President Donald J. Trump's inauguration there were a number of conservative policy victories, and The Heritage Foundation played a role in all of them.
Edwin John Feulner Jr. was born Aug. 12, 1941, in Chicago to Helen Joan Feulner and Edwin J. Feulner Sr., who owned a real estate firm. After growing up in suburban Chicago, Feulner attended Regis University in Denver. There he read Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater’s best-selling manifesto, The Conscience of a Conservative and Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, which influenced his thinking and the direction of his life.
He graduated from Regis University with double majors in English and business, and received an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1964. He later attended Georgetown University and the London School of Economics, and then earned a doctorate degree at the University of Edinburgh in 1981.
Feulner began his Washington career as Public Affairs Fellow for the Center for Strategic Studies (now the Center for Strategic and International Studies) and at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where he wrote on subjects such as economic trade embargoes with the Soviet Union. He later became a confidential assistant to Rep. and later Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird (R-WI). Afterward, Feulner became Chief of Staff to Rep. Philip M. Crane (R-IL). Before joining Heritage as its President, Feulner was Executive Director of the Republican Study Committee.
Feulner is the author of nine books: The American Spirit (2012), Getting America Right (2006), Leadership for America (2000), Intellectual Pilgrims (1999), The March of Freedom (1998), Conservatives Stalk the House (1983), Looking Back (1981), Congress and the New International Economic Order (1976), and Trading with the Communists (1968).
He was the editor of U.S. – Japan Mutual Security: The Next Twenty Years, China – The Turning Point, and a contributor to 10 other books and numerous journals, reviews and magazines. Feulner also was publisher of Heritage’s Policy Review magazine from 1977 until 2001, when Heritage transferred the publication to the Hoover Institution. He was the co-founder and Chairman of the Web site Townhall.com, which was established to coordinate online activities of dozens of conservative organizations and columnists.
Feulner also pens a weekly column that appears regularly in dozens of newspapers and Web sites across the country.
He and his wife, Linda, have two grown children, Edwin J. Feulner III and Emily V. Lown, and three grandchildren. They live in Alexandria, Va.