Secretary of Health and Human Services: Who Is Sylvia Mathews Burwell?

Friday, April 11, 2014

President Barack Obama has nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who is currently director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to be Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), replacing Kathleen Sebelius.


Born in 1965 and raised in the small town of Hinton, West Virginia, Burwell is the daughter of optometrist Dr. William Mathews and Hinton Mayor Cleo Mathews. Valedictorian of her class at Hinton High School in 1983, Burwell earned a B.A. in Government from Harvard University in 1987 and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.


Burwell began her career during college, serving as an intern for her Congressman, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia) and as an aide to Gov. Michael Dukakis (D-Massachusetts). From 1990 to 1992, she was an associate at McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm based in New York.


After working on the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign of 1988 and the Bill Clinton campaign of 1992, Burwell served the Clinton Administration in various posts, starting as manager of Clinton’s economic transition team from 1992 to 1993 and staff director of the National Economic Council from 1993 to 1995. She served as chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin from 1995 to 1997, deputy chief of staff to President Clinton from 1997 to 1998, and OMB deputy director from 1998 to 2001.


Leaving government after the 2000 election, Burwell was immediately hired by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to work as its chief operating officer and executive director, posts she held from January 2001 until a reorganization in 2006, when she became president of Global Development. In 2008-2009, Burwell served as Obama-Biden transition agency review lead for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Passed over for the Gates Foundation CEO position when it became available in 2008, Burwell left in late 2011 to become president of the Wal-Mart Foundation, which she led from January 2012 until her OMB nomination.


Burwell was at OMB only about a year, being confirmed by the Senate on April 24, 2013. Her time there was busy, however, and included a government shutdown in October 2013. She also dealt with health policy issues during her tenure, including Medicare and Medicaid, which should help her navigate her new challenge at HHS.


Burwell is a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, the Aspen Strategy Group and the Nike Foundation Advisory Group. She has been a director of MetLife and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company since January 2004.


Burwell is married to attorney Stephen Burwell, with whom she has one child. A lifelong Democrat, she has donated $15,850 to Democratic candidates and causes, including $2,500 to the Democratic National Committee; $3,000 to Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign; $2,600 to President Obama’s 2008 run; $250 to Hillary Clinton’s 2006 U.S. Senate campaign; and $2,900 to Alan Khazei’s two primary campaigns for U.S. Senate from Massachusetts.

-Matt Bewig, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Meet The Nominee To Lead HHS (by Jason Millman, Washington Post)

Walmart Biography

Hinton Native Tapped: Obama Picks Foundation Chief Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Former Clinton Administration Economics Team Member to Head OMB (by David M. Kinchen, Huntington News)

Burwell as Obama's Budget Director: Walmart Wins, Working Families Lose (by Bertha Lewis, The Guardian)


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