Sylvia Mathews Burwell

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Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Sylvia Mathews Burwell official portrait.jpg
22nd United States Secretary of Health and Human Services
Assumed office
June 9, 2014
President Barack Obama
Deputy Bill Corr
Mary K. Wakefield (Acting)
Preceded by Kathleen Sebelius
Director of the Office of Management and Budget
In office
April 24, 2013 – June 9, 2014
President Barack Obama
Deputy Brian Deese
Preceded by Jeffrey Zients (Acting)
Succeeded by Brian Deese (Acting)
White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy
In office
January 20, 1997 – October 21, 1998
President Bill Clinton
Preceded by Harold Ickes
Succeeded by Maria Echaveste
Personal details
Born Sylvia Mary Mathews
(1965-06-23) June 23, 1965 (age 51)
Hinton, West Virginia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Stephen Burwell
Alma mater Harvard University
Worcester College, Oxford

Sylvia Mary Mathews Burwell (born June 23, 1965) is an American executive who has been the 22nd United States Secretary of Health and Human Services since 2014. Previously she was the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget from 2013 to 2014.

She was president of the Walmart Foundation beginning in January 2012,[1] and she was previously the president of the Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, her program focused on combating world poverty through agricultural development, financial services for the poor, and global libraries. She was Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of the Foundation before its reorganization in 2006. She came to the Foundation in 2001, after serving as Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C., since 1998.

She was nominated by President Barack Obama on April 11, 2014, to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services after the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius. Burwell's nomination was confirmed by the Senate on June 5, 2014 by a vote of 78-17.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Mathews was born and raised in Hinton, West Virginia. She is the daughter of Cleo (née Maroudas) Mathews, a former Hinton mayor, and Dr. William Peter Mathews, a retired optometrist.[4] Her maternal grandparents, Vasiliki (Mpakares) and Dennis N. Maroudas, were Greek immigrants, as were her paternal grandparents.[5][6][7]

Education and early career[edit]

In 1982, she was a Youth For Understanding exchange student in Japan. While still in college, she served as an intern for West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall, as governor's aide to Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, and worked on the Dukakis/Bentsen campaign. Mathews received a bachelor’s degree in government, cum laude, from Harvard University in 1987 and a bachelor's degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She later worked on the Clinton/Gore campaign.

She was an Associate at McKinsey & Company from 1990 through 1992. On the night in July of 1993 when Deputy White House counsel Vince Foster committed suicide in a Virginia park, Burwell searched Foster's office garbage for documents wanted by the Clintons before the police investigation commenced. Burwell was questioned during the Whitewater investigations regarding the purpose of her search of Foster's garbage and the fate of the documents she discovered. [8] She served as Staff Director for the National Economic Council from 1993 to 1995. She was Chief of Staff to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin from 1995 to 1997. Mathews served as Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 1998, along with future Center for American Progress founder John Podesta. In 1998, Bowles left and Podesta was elevated to chief of staff, and Burwell moved to the OMB to serve as Jack Lew's deputy director from 1998 to 2001.

She is a Member of the University of Washington Medicine Board, the Pacific Council on International Policy, the Aspen Strategy Group and the Nike Foundation Advisory Group.

She was a Director of MetLife and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company from January 2004 to April 2013.[9] She often returns to West Virginia and to West Virginia University to speak, and a scholarship was established in her honor to support aspiring WVU political science students.


In 2005 Mathews was chosen by the Wall Street Journal as one of The 50 Women to Watch -- 2005 worldwide.[6] She was mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Patty Stonesifer, who had announced plans to step down as CEO of the Gates Foundation in 2008.[10] However, on May 12, 2008, the foundation announced that Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes would assume the CEO position. Reportedly, Mathews and the foundation's other presidents approved of Raikes' appointment.[11] Mathews was named Obama/Biden Transition Agency Review Lead for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.[12] She married attorney Stephen Burwell in February 2007.[13] They have two children.[14]

Office of Management and Budget Director[edit]

On March 3, 2013, President Obama nominated Burwell to head the White House Office of Management and Budget.[15] A confirmation hearing was held on April 10,[16] and on April 24 the U.S. Senate confirmed Burwell to be the head of the OMB in a 96-0 vote.[17]

In October 2013, during the United States federal government shutdown of 2013, Burwell sent the email initiating the process that closed national parks, visitors’ centers and even the “panda-cam” at the National Zoo. "Agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations," Burwell wrote in a memo to heads of executive departments and agencies.[18] She ordered the action because there was no "clear indication" that Congress would strike an agreement on a continuing resolution before the end of the day Tuesday. "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, and to restore the operation of critical public services and programs that will be impacted by a lapse in appropriations," Burwell said in a statement.[19]

Health and Human Services Secretary[edit]

On April 11, 2014, Obama nominated Burwell to be the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, succeeding Kathleen Sebelius, who announced her resignation the day before. Her tenure as HHS secretary coincided with the second open-enrollment period for healthcare insurance, in October 2014. This expanded Medicaid and opened the Health Insurance Marketplace. Burwell was confirmed as Department of HHS secretary on June 5, 2014.[20] She was sworn into office on June 9, 2014.[21] On October 9, 2014 the Secretary faced reporters with questions about the federal government response to the Ebola virus disease and the upcoming Annual enrollment period for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which begins on November 15. The website had completed various testing actions with regard to load, end-to-end, Alpha, and other aspects. The Secretary noted the website had reduced the application process complexity by reducing the number of screens from over seventy to just over a dozen website pages.[22]


  1. ^ "Walmart Foundation Names New President". October 14, 2011. 
  2. ^ Budget Chief Is Choice as New Health Secretary
  3. ^ Memmott, Mark. "'I Knew It Wouldn't Be Easy,' Outgoing Health Secretary Sebelius Says : The Two-Way". NPR. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Beckley Post-Herald › 11 February 1958 › Page 5". February 11, 1958. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Obama taps Hinton native for budget chief » The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia". March 5, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b David M. Kinchen (November 5, 2005). "Hinton Native Sylvia Mathews Named One of World's 50 Women to Watch by Wall Street Journal". Huntington News Network. 
  7. ^ Outstanding Young Women of America - Google Books. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "What is the history of Sylvia Burwell and the latest information about Sylvia Burwell?". April 27, 2015. 
  10. ^ Strom, Stephanie (February 7, 2008). "Gates Foundation Head to Leave Longtime Post". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Ben Gose (May 12, 2008). "Gates Foundation Picks Microsoft Veteran as New CEO". 
  12. ^ "Economics and International Trade Team Leads". March 4, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Q&A | Sylvia M. Mathews, president of the Gates Foundation Global Development Program". March 17, 2007. 
  14. ^ "Archived OMB Leadership page from April 15, 2014". Archived from the original on April 15, 2014. Retrieved March 8, 2016. 
  15. ^ Reilly, Mollie (March 3, 2013). "Sylvia Mathews Burwell To Be Nominated As White House Budget Chief: Sources". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  16. ^ Nomination of Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell, of West Virginia, to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget: Hearing before the Committee on the Budget, United States Senate, One Hundred Thirteenth Congress, First Session, April 10, 2013
  17. ^ U.S. Senate Periodical Press Gallery. Retrieved on August 17, 2013.
  18. ^ "Meet Sylvia Burwell, the woman who ordered the government shutdown - News - MSN CA". October 2, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Shutdown begins, federal agencies close". TheHill. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  20. ^ Goldstein, Amy (June 5, 2014). "Senate confirms Burwell as new secretary of HHS". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 June 2014. 
  21. ^ "Secretary of Health and Human Services: Sylvia Mathews Burwell". Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  22. ^ Kaiser Health News and Health Affairs. Secretary Burwell on Health Care Policy. C-Span. (October 9, 2014). retrieved 9 October 2014.

External links[edit]

  • Official bio | U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Political offices
Preceded by
Jeffrey Zients
Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Succeeded by
Brian Deese
Preceded by
Kathleen Sebelius
United States Secretary of Health and Human Services
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Thomas Perez
as Secretary of Labor
Order of Precedence of the United States
as Secretary of Health and Human Services
Succeeded by
Julian Castro
as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
United States presidential line of succession
Preceded by
Thomas Perez
as Secretary of Labor
11th in line
as Secretary of Health and Human Services
Succeeded by
Julian Castro
as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development