9 Things You Might Not Know About HHS Nominee Sylvia Burwell

By ABC News

Apr 11, 2014 6:48pm
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(Charles Dharapak/AP Photo)

ABC’s Alina Kleineidam reports:

After facing scrutiny for the rocky rollout of the president’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, Kathleen Sebelius stepped down on Friday as Health and Human Services secretary.

The president nominated Sylvia Burwell, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget, to succeed Sebelius. Burwell has long career in government, but she’s actually much more interesting than your typical bureaucrat.

Here’s nine things you might not know about the woman who is likely to be the next HHS Secretary:

She’s really smart

The West Virginia native graduated from Harvard University cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in government, and then received a second bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She began her political career while still in college, interning for West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall.

Obama is not the first president she’s worked for

Burwell also served under former President Bill Clinton, serving as deputy chief of staff to the president, chief of staff to the Secretary of the Treasury and as staff director of the National Economic Council. She served at the Office of Management and Budget twice, as deputy director under Clinton from 1998 to 2001 and currently as OBM director under Obama since April 2013.

She accidentally ran a half marathon

When Burwell had to travel to England for a meeting during the Clinton administration, she wanted to go for a quick run, but got completely lost. Since she had a meeting later that day and was afraid to miss it, Burwell kept running until she found back to her hotel. When she arrived, she had run 13 miles. “That’s the longest I’ve ever run,” Burwell told POLITICO. “And it was not intentional.”

She was forced to get involved in last year’s government shutdown

Burwell initiated the closing of national parks last year when it became clear that lawmakers were not able to agree on a budget. Burwell consequently wrote a memo that said: “Agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations [...] We urge Congress to act quickly to pass a Continuing Resolution to provide a short-term bridge that ensures sufficient time to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.”

She knows how to handle money — and crises

In the course of her career, Burwell gained skills crucial for her potential new role as HHS secretary. Not only has Burwell managed billion-dollar global budgets and gained experience on fiscal policy, she has also gained expertise in crisis management over the past decades. Burwell became deputy chief of staff for policy in the late 1990′s just as news of the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. Burwell’s main task was to keep the White House focused on its agenda while Clinton fought off impeachment. Last year during the government shutdown Obama called her “a rock [...] who helped navigate the country through a very challenging time.”

Her fifth date was a bit unusual

Sylvia Burwell  married  Stephen Burwell since 2007. On their fifth date, he asked her whether she wanted to go on a 100-mile, two-day bike ride. Burwell told The Seattle Times: “Even though my bike still had the sticker on and flat tires from when I moved from Washington, D.C., I said ‘absolutely.’ It was 10 days off. So I took my bike to the gas station, pumped up the tires, rode it a few times and hoped for the best.”

She engages in charity work

For the past years, Burwell more and more engaged in charity work focusing on issues such as agricultural development, global health and poverty-eradication. She served as president of the Walmart Foundation (a role for which she drew criticism due to the company’s labor policies) and prior to that, as chief operating officer and head of the global development program at the Gates Foundation.

Her neighbor inspires her

In an interview with The Seattle Times, Burwell named her neighbor Margie Hank as one of the people who inspire her the most, telling the newspaper: “Margie is in her 70s. She and her husband, who just had heart surgery, are back at bowling. They try new things. They taught themselves to use the computer. They have one of the biggest collections of National Geographic.”

Even Republicans have praised her

Burwell has not only been lauded by Democrats. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said that “Burwell has led an impressive career in both the public and private sectors [...]. She has first-hand experience in budgeting responsibly. She helped a Democratic president commit to a balanced budget and work with a Republican Congress to get it done.” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tweeted on Thursday: “Sylvia Burwell is an excellent choice to be the next #HHS Secretary.”

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