Thursday, April 10, 2014

Say Hello to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the Nominee for HHS

The Population Health Blog is naturally intrigued by the announcement that Kathleen Sebelius is resigning from her position as HHS Secretary, and that the White House will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace her.

So, who is she? 

After reviewing a number of reports that are summarized below, it seems Ms. Burwell is a widely-liked and experienced Washington insider. She has a Clinton-Lew-Rubin pedigree and possesses considerable economic/budgetary credentials. Most of all, has the best chance of anyone of getting confirmed by a fractious US Senate.

The bad news is that she doesn't appear to have any significant experience in health care or with health insurance.  Whether her past with McKinsey or as a Met-Life Board member will help her collaborate with the state-regulated commercial health insurance business is an open question.

Onto the summary.....

Ms. Burwell is the current Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where she has served since April of 2013. She's described as genial, a liberal who favors social programs, is willing to take on spending-wary Republicans (with government shut-downs, if necessary) but isn't especially ideological when it comes to managing the budget.  Her nomination to OMB also helped quell criticism that the White House was dominated by males.  She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate 96-0.

Her 96-0 vote getting track record makes it far more likely that Mr. Obama's nominee will survive what will likely be an intensely partisan process.

Here's Ms. Burwell sticking to her Obamacare talking points, even if it means glancing at some notes to make sure she's got it right:

Prior to serving in the Obama Administration, she was President of the Walmart Foundation (dedicated to ending hunger). During her OMB confirmation hearings, she was criticized for not distancing herself from the company's anti-union activities. During this time, she also served on the Board of MetLife, which, during her tenure, was criticized for mishandling mortgage loan foreclosures.

Prior to Walmart, she was at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for about 10 years, where she was President of the Global Development Program; she may have been more willing to leave for WalMart when she was passed over to lead the entire Foundation.

And before Walmart, she was in the Clinton White House, where she served in a variety of roles for all eight years of the Presidency. After leading the economic transition team immediately following the election, she then went on to serve in a variety of roles, including Deputy Director of OMB under Jack Lew, Deputy Chief of Staff to President Clinton and Staff Director of the National Economic Council.  When Robert Rubin left the Council to become Treasury Secretary, she followed him as Chief of Staff

It's unusual for anyone to last two terms with any President in modern day Washington.

She also worked as governor's aide to Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.

She has experience in retail politics, having worked in the Dukakis/Bentson and Clinton/Gore campaigns.

She's also former McKinsey Company employee, where she worked for two years after her college graduation.

She's been criticized for using consultant management jargon in White House meetings.

She received an A.B. Government from Harvard University and a B.A. Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar and a rower. 

She's married to an attorney and has two children. Her family is originally from West Virginia. Her dad is a retired optometrist and her mom was a small town mayor who first ran for the office at age 65.

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