Sylvia Mathews Burwell: Obama’s Pick to Head OMB

Here's a quick rundown of what you need to know about Burwell.

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Larry Downing / REUTERS

President Barack Obama nominates Sylvia Mathews Burwell to become director of the White House Office of Management and Budget in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 4, 2013.

President Obama today announced Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be the next director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), replacing acting administrator Jeff Zients.  Burwell, 47, runs the Walmart Foundation, which focuses on helping end hunger in America.  If the Senate confirms Burwell as OMB director, she will tangle with an economic and political climate that is much different than the one she saw in the budget-surplus days of the Clinton administration.  Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know about Burwell:

Fast Facts

  • A Harvard University graduate (’87) and a Rhodes scholar, Burwell consulted for McKinsey & Company (1990-1992) until she found work in the public sector.
  • After working on the 1992 Clinton-Gore presidential campaign in Arkansas, Burwell became Staff Director for the newly created National Economic Council under Robert Rubin. In 1995, Rubin was confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury, and Burwell was chosen as his Chief of Staff. When President Clinton asked Erskine Bowles to be his Chief of Staff in 1997, Burwell moved over to become Bowles’ deputy, and later served under recently sworn-in Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. 
  • After the Clinton years, Burwell moved on to philanthropy, working in the Gates Foundation and the Walmart Foundation.  She also serves on the board of directors for MetLife and the Council on Foreign Relations.
  • Burwell is from Hinton, W.V., and married to attorney and outdoorsman Stephen Burwell.

Quotes About Burwell:

Erskine Bowles, to Bloomberg News:

(She is) the single most competent person I’ve ever worked with.

Patty Stonesifer, a Microsoft veteran to National Journal:

At (the) Gates (Foundation), Sylvia was known for keeping her eye on the ultimate goal–she always reminded her team that they  were not working for the glory, or for the media, or for the grantees and not even for the Gates family. She would hold up a picture of a small girl in Africa that hung in her office who she had affectionately named “The Boss”–and … repeated, hundreds of times, that we were ALL working for “The Boss.” Now the American citizen is ‘the boss.’

Quotes By Burwell: 

On why she left government after eight years:

I was ready to move on, in terms of just the sheer physical ability to go at that speed. I made a rule in my last year, unless it was an extraordinary circumstance that I would try to leave by 9 or 9:30. And when I was Deputy Chief of Staff, our first meeting was at 7:15. It’s weekends as well. It is a very rare occasion you would have a weekend off. (Seattle Times)

On if she fears failure:

Yes, and I think that’s often a good motivator. Healthy fear. You don’t want to be deer in the headlights, but it is healthy to think about the responsibility that one has been given. Usually what that does is make you focus a little more and question yourself a little more deeply. (Seattle Times)

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