Washington, DC – IRI announced five new staff, two of whom are returning to IRI.  Elizabeth Dugan, vice president; Thomas Garrett, regional program director for the Middle East and North Africa; Sonya Vekstein, chief financial officer (CFO); Lisa Gates, press secretary; and Robert Varsalone, country director for Afghanistan.

Elizabeth Dugan returns to IRI from the U.S. State Department where she served as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL).  While at the State Department, Dugan directed the bureau’s Human Rights and Democracy Fund and managed the production, editorial composition and public release of DRL’s report on Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record.  She also represented the U.S. in meetings and negotiations in China, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam, pressing for greater respect for human rights and religious freedom.  From 1995 to 2002, Dugan worked at IRI most recently as regional director for the institute’s democracy-building effort in Asia. During the 1992 election cycle, Dugan was deputy communications director at the Republican National Committee.  Prior to her position with the committee, she served as the director of public affairs for the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration from 1989 to 1991, and as a special assistant for public and intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Labor Department from 1986 through 1989.

Dugan began her career in Washington, DC at the Republican National Committee working on local elections during the 1978 and 1980 campaigns.  She then served as the director of candidate education and training at the National Republican Congressional Committee for four years.  Originally from upstate New York, Dugan received her bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Colby College in Maine.

Thomas Garrett, a native of Oklahoma, has 20 years of professional political and governmental experience including over ten years’ work in democracy building programs outside the United States. Garrett began his career in Texas and Oklahoma where he worked as a consultant on statewide campaigns.  From 1989 to 1993 he served at the U.S. Department of the Interior.  In 1993, Garrett served in the American Volunteers for Overseas Development program of the National Forum Foundation in the Ukraine where he trained first-time candidates in advance of the 1994 parliamentary elections.  When he returned to the U.S. he joined the staff of Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski.  In November of 1994, Garrett joined IRI as resident program director for Ukraine.  He left the Ukraine program in January 2000 to serve as IRI’s resident advisor to the Ikh Hural, Mongolia’s parliament, based in Ulaanbaatar.  In October 2000, Garrett was named resident program director for Indonesia. Garrett took over as regional program director for the Middle East and North Africa in January 2005.

Sonya Vekstein returns to IRI after having served as treasurer and CFO at the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington, DC from 2002-2005.  From 1993-2002, Vekstein worked at IRI as a project accountant, controller and CFO.  Prior to joining IRI in 1993, Vekstein lived in Kyiv, Ukraine where she worked as chief procurement officer for “Stolovie Pribori,” a Ukrainian manufacturing plant and as an analyst for City Information Systems.

Lisa Gates joined IRI in December 2004.  Prior to joining IRI, Gates served as public affairs officer and director of the International Press Center for the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. Mission in Baghdad, Iraq.  From March of 2003 to May 2004, Gates served as special assistant for public affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor.  Gates has also served as spokesperson to Governor Jeb Bush of Florida. From April 2001 to January 2003, she served as deputy press secretary in the Executive Office of the Governor, deputy communications director on the 2002 Bush-Brogan campaign and communications director for Governor Bush’s 2002 transition.  Gates was an account executive at HMS Success Public Relations in Ohio.  Gates got her start in public affairs working in the Communications Office of then-Governor George V. Voinovich of Ohio.  She is a graduate of The Ohio State University.

Rob Varsalone, a native of New Hampshire, will serve as IRI’s country director in Afghanistan.  Varsalone is a former state legislator and a veteran of numerous campaigns.  He ran Governor Craig Benson’s first gubernatorial campaign and later served as senior advisor in the Governor’s office.  Varsalone has also worked for the New Hampshire Republican Party and New Hampshire Citizens for a Sound Economy. Most recently, Varsalone served as executive director of the Republican National Committee’s coordinated campaign in New Hampshire.

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