Sylvia Mathews Burwell, nominated to head OMB
The director's post at the Office of Budget and Management has been vacant for a year, but on Monday President Barack Obama nominated 47-year-old, West Virginia native Sylvia Mathews Burwell to fill it. The Rhodes scholar is another of the many Clinton administration officials who Obama has appointed to high- and mid-level positions. Of her, Erskine Bowles, of the Simpson-Bowles cat food commission and once Bill Clinton's chief of staff, said
that the day she came to work to work as deputy chief, his "IQ went up 100 points":
(She is) the single most competent person I’ve ever worked with.
She's going to need all her skills. As Matthew Cooper points out
She’s got a brutal job ahead of her as OMB director. The age of austerity is upon us; and while the current round of sequestration is largely out of OMB’s hands--the Budget Control Act mandates the cuts, leaving little discretion to the president to devise an alternative short of amending the law—the upcoming renewal of last year’s continuing resolution will put Burwell in the middle of the action. And, of course, there are the long-term fiscal challenges beyond this year. Whether the genial Burwell ends up as a tough negotiator with the Hill remains to be seen.
After a short stint at the consulting firm McKinsey, Burwell worked as a volunteer in Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, and then filled several budget-related positions in the new administration, including being chief of staff for Robert Rubin when he was secretary of the Treasury. She became deputy chief of staff for Clinton alongside John Podesta, and deputy budget director for Jack Lew, Obama's former chief of staff who just took over as Treasury secretary. He was director of OMB for the last two and a half years of the Clinton administration, and for a year-and-a-half under Obama. So she'll be working with people she's known for a long time.
Although she is unlikely to run into more than token opposition in the Senate—John McCain has already praised her—there are critics.
After 10 years at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Burwell departed 16 months ago to head up the Walmart Foundation. It and its Walmart parent distributed $959 million in cash and in-kind gifts during 2011, $873 million of it in the United States, the rest abroad. The foundation targets hunger relief, environmental sustainability, and, ironically, given its treatment of female employees, women's career opportunities.
Please continue reading what critics and supporters say of Burwell's nomination below the fold.
Dominic Rush at The Guardian writes:
"What better place to plant a partisan corporation heavyweight than as budget chief in the Office of Management and Budget?" said Kenneth J Harvey, a filmmaker and author of the WalmartSucks blog. "Obama is an intelligent and fair man, which makes it highly unnerving to suddenly find him so lovingly in bed with Walmart."
Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy & Research said the appointment was "cause for concern":
Obviously Walmart has a lot of interests in, say, labor rights that are not in alignment with the best interests of the country. If she shares those views that would be an issue.
The Nation reported
last month that Walmart "has wielded [the foundation's] massive budget to expand the retail giant’s influence at all levels of government and to pave the way for store expansions."
A four-page memo obtained by The Nation makes explicit Walmart’s expectations of public recognition from its grantees. The previously unreported document, titled “Recognizing the Walmart Foundation For Its Good Works,” instructs organizations that “we are looking to the grantees that turn to the Walmart Foundation for funding to help us spread the word.”
The question is how much the 16 months at the Walmart Foundation means in the overall scheme of things in a 24-year career.
Alexis Simendinger reports:
"Sylvia has both a hard head and a soft heart, which is exactly the right combination for an OMB director facing an unfortunate mix of elevated unemployment and tight fiscal constraints,” Peter Orszag, Obama’s first budget director and an economist, told RCP.
Orszag, Citigroup’s vice chairman of corporate and investment banking and chairman of the financial strategy and solutions group, goes back decades with Burwell to a time when both were young aides burning the midnight oil on President Clinton’s economic team. “With her previous experience, including her service at OMB, Sylvia is a skilled budget negotiator but also much more than that. She is an outstanding choice to lead OMB,” Orszag added.
At Gates Foundation, she served as Chief Operating Officer from 2001 to 2006, and subsequently as founding president of the Global Development Program. That was designed to create an array of programs to lift the poorest residents on the planet out of hunger and extreme poverty. Among the programs were grants for water, sanitation and hygiene; libraries; financial services for the poor; and "special initiatives program that includes emergency response and urban poverty," according to the foundation's website.
Microsoft veteran Patty Stonesifer and former chair of the Smithsonian Institution told the National Journal:
“At Gates 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.' "