Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Sylvia Mathews Burwell
22nd United States Secretary of Health and Human Services
Assumed office
June 9, 2014
President Barack Obama
Deputy Bill Corr
Mary Wakefield (Acting)
Preceded by Kathleen Sebelius
Succeeded by Tom Price (Nominee)
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
Hinton, West Virginia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Stephen Burwell
Children 2
Alma mater Harvard University (BA)
Worcester College, Oxford (BPhil)

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. 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.[1][2] 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, 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 is a West Virginia native. She is married to attorney Steven Burwell with whom she has two children.

Early life and education

Mathews was born and raised in Hinton, West Virginia. She is the daughter of Cleo (née Maroudas) Mathews, a former teacher and Hinton mayor from 2001 to 2009, and Dr. William Peter Mathews, a retired optometrist.[3][4] Her father presided over the local Episcopal Church when there was no minister.[4] Her maternal grandparents, Vasiliki (Mpakares) and Dennis N. Maroudas, were Greek immigrants, as were her paternal grandparents.[5][6][7] Her grandparents owned a sweet shop in Hinton.[4] Mathews has one older sister.[4]

Mathews served as student body president and was named valedictorian of her high school class.[4] 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,[8] 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.[9][8]


Early Career and the Clinton White House

Mathews began her career as an Associate at consulting firm McKinsey & Company.[9][10] In 1992 Mathews joined Bill Clinton's presidential campaign and led the economic team for the president elect. Following Clinton's inauguration National Economic Council.[10] Mathews was questioned during the Whitewater investigations regarding her search of Foster's garbage and the fate of the documents she discovered.[11] Together with Robert Rubin, Mathews helped set up the National Economic Council (NEC).[9] She served as Staff Director of the NEC from 1993 to 1995.[9] While Mathews was at NEC, the White House pushed for healthcare reform. Mathews was among those in the administration who advocated for finding ways, beyond just legislation, to curb healthcare costs.[12] When Rubin became Treasury Secretary in 1995, Mathews became his Chief of Staff.[9][10]

In 1997, Mathews, along with future Center for American Progress founder John Podesta, became one of two as Deputy Chief of Staffs to President Bill Clinton, serving under Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.[10] She was deputy chief of staff for policy, giving her the task of keeping the White House focused on its agenda amidst the impeachment of Clinton.[8] Bowles resigned in 1998 at which point Podesta was named chief of staff, and Mathews moved to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) where she took the role of deputy director under Jack Lew.[9][10] Mathews remained at OMB for the remainder of Clinton's presidency, during a time of three budget surpluses.[9][10]

Charitable foundations

In 2001, Mathews went to work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in the United States, as an executive vice president.[9][10] The following year she became chief operating officer of the Foundation.[10] The Foundation reorganized in 2006, naming Mathews president of the Foundation's Global Development Program.[10][13] Mathews was involved in awarding grants to improve health outcomes in the developing world, including stopping the spread of HIV and other diseases and making contraception more readily available.[12] Burwell remained with the Gates Foundation until 2011 when she became president of the Wal-Mart Foundation. Burwell officially joined the Wal-Mart Foundation, which focuses on ending hunger in the United States, in January 2012.[9][14]

She served on the board of the University of Washington Medical Center from 2002 to 2005. During that time, the board oversaw an upgrade to the medical center's electronic medical records and system for tracking patient outcomes. The board was also tasked with setting up a compliance program to fix a Medicare Billing irregularity which had resulted in a settlement with federal investigators.[12]

She was a Director of MetLife and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company from January 2004 to April 2013.[15] In 2005 Mathews was chosen by the Wall Street Journal as one of The 50 Women to Watch -- 2005 worldwide.[6] Burwell was named Obama/Biden Transition Agency Review Lead for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.[16]

Office of Management and Budget Director

On March 3, 2013, President Obama nominated Burwell to head the White House Office of Management and Budget.[17] A confirmation hearing was held on April 10,[18][19] and on April 24 the U.S. Senate confirmed Burwell to be the head of the OMB in a 96-0 vote.[20] With her confirmation, Burwell became only the second woman to serve as OMB Director, the first being Alice Rivlin who held the position from 1994 to 1996.[9]

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.[21] 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.[22]

Health and Human Services Secretary

Rural Council meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House, Feb. 3, 2016 (from left to right: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, President Barack Obama, and Burwell.

On April 11, 2014, Obama nominated Burwell to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services, succeeding Kathleen Sebelius, who announced her resignation the day before.[23] At the time of her nomination, Obama praised Burwell as a "proven manager."[2] The Senate confrimd Burwell as Secretary on June 5, 2014.[24] She was sworn into office on June 9, 2014.[25] As of 2014, the Secreatary of Health and Human Services oversaw the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which included the equivolent of 77,000 fulltime employees and management of several agencies and programs including: Medicare and Medicaid, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[23]

Ebola epidemic response

In the fall of 2014, the first known death from Ebola in the United States occurred.[26] A full Ebola epidemic devistated West Africa, requiring extensive planning from the United States government, including Burwell and the Department of HHS, to prevent further spread of the disease.[26][27]

The Affordable Care Act

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.[24] 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.[28]

Personal life

Mathews married Stephen Burwell in 2007.[8][29] Her husband is a lawyer originally from Seattle.[4] The couple has two children.[4][30] During Burwell's tenure as Secretary of Health and Human Services, her husband stayed home to care for their children.[31]

She was a member of the the Pacific Council on International Policy, the Aspen Strategy Group and the Nike Foundation Advisory Group. 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.


  1. Shear, Michael D. (April 10, 2014). "Budget Chief Is Obama's Choice as New Health Secretary". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  2. 1 2 Memmott, Mark. "'I Knew It Wouldn't Be Easy,' Outgoing Health Secretary Sebelius Says : The Two-Way". NPR. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  3. "Beckley Post-Herald › 11 February 1958 › Page 5". February 11, 1958. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Calmes, Jackie (5 June 2014). "Sylvia Mathews Burwell Builds Relationships From West Virginia to Washington". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  5. "Obama taps Hinton native for budget chief » The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia". March 5, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  6. 1 2 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. 1 2 3 4 Kleineidam, Alina (11 April 2014). "9 Things You Might Not Know About Obama's HHS Nominee". ABC News. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Chuck, Elizabeth (2 October 2016). "Meet Sylvia Burwell, the woman who ordered the government shutdown - NBC News". NBC News. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Matthews, Dylan (3 March 2013). "Sylvia Mathews Burwell: Six things to know about the new White House budget director". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  11. Labaton, Stephen (1995-07-26). "No Intention To Question First Lady". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  12. 1 2 3 Radnofsky, Louise (May 8, 2014). "5 Highlights From Sylvia Mathews Burwell's Career". WSJ. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  13. "Gates Foundation Announces Restructuring". April 14, 2006. Retrieved December 3, 2016 via
  14. "Walmart Foundation Names New President". October 14, 2011.
  15. "What is the history of Sylvia Burwell and the latest information about Sylvia Burwell?". April 27, 2015.
  16. "Economics and International Trade Team Leads". March 4, 2013.
  17. Reilly, Mollie (March 3, 2013). "Sylvia Mathews Burwell To Be Nominated As White House Budget Chief: Sources". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
  18. 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
  19., The Washington Times (May 8, 2014). "Bio: HHS secretary nominee Sylvia Mathews Burwell". The Washington Times. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  20. U.S. Senate Periodical Press Gallery. Retrieved on August 17, 2013.
  21. "Meet Sylvia Burwell, the woman who ordered the government shutdown - News - MSN CA". October 2, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  22. "Shutdown begins, federal agencies close". TheHill. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  23. 1 2 Eilperin, Juliet; Goldstein, Amy (April 11, 2014). "Kathleen Sebelius to step down as HHS secretary; OMB director will take her place". Washington Post. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  24. 1 2 Goldstein, Amy (June 5, 2014). "Senate confirms Burwell as new secretary of HHS". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  25. "Secretary of Health and Human Services: Sylvia Mathews Burwell". Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  26. 1 2 Armour, Stephanie; Burton, Thomas M.; Stevis, Matina (October 9, 2014). "Health Secretary Says U.S. Is Prepared for More Ebola Cases". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  27. Park, Alice (September 24, 2015). "Here's What U.S. Leaders Learned from Ebola One Year Later". Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  28. Kaiser Health News and Health Affairs. Secretary Burwell on Health Care Policy. C-Span. (October 9, 2014). retrieved 9 October 2014.
  29. "Q&A | Sylvia M. Mathews, president of the Gates Foundation Global Development Program". March 17, 2007.
  30. "Archived OMB Leadership page from April 15, 2014". Archived from the original on April 15, 2014. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  31. Bellstrom, Kristen (May 5, 2016). "U.S. Secretary of HHS: What The Ebola Crisis Can Teach Us About Zika and Flint". Fortune. Retrieved November 27, 2016.

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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
Succeeded by
Tom Price
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Tom 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
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Tom 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
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