Burwell may be new to Obamaland, but she's hardly a novice when it comes to grand fiscal and economic battles between Democrats and Republicans. After all, the 47-year-old mother of two is a veteran of the Clinton administration, where she served as staff director at the National Economic Council; White House deputy chief of staff; chief of staff to then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin; and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget under Jacob Lew, the current Treasury secretary. The native West Virginian is only the second woman to lead the Office of Management and Budget, following in the footsteps of Alice Rivlin.
As if that résumé is not snazzy enough, Burwell arrived in D.C. by way of Harvard University and Oxford, where she studied philosophy, politics, and economics as a Rhodes scholar. After leaving the Clinton White House, she moved into the world of private philanthropy, where she occupied top positions at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walmart Foundation. This private-sector experience, coupled with her deep Democratic ties, made her a natural pick. She has already worked alongside two of the administration's key figures and ex-Clintonites, Lew and Gene Sperling, Obama's top economic adviser.
Burwell learned her trade in the 1990s, when President Clinton and congressional Republicans managed to pass a balanced-budget deal—a hopeful idea that hangs over the past two years of fiscal negotiations. "Sylvia's experience managing billion-dollar global budgets, combined with her leadership on domestic fiscal policy in the '90s, make her a uniquely qualified candidate to lead OMB," said Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.
But Burwell is not approaching the job as focused solely on cajoling Republicans into a grand bargain, or writing the president's annual budget blueprint. "Although OMB is most well-known for its work on the federal budget, the management side of OMB is also critical," she said at her confirmation hearing. "In the current fiscal environment, it is more important than ever that we are operating the government in the most efficient and effective manner."