President Taps Greek-American for HHS – UPDATED

WASHINGTON, DC – President Barack Obama has nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to replace outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Arguably, by taking over the reins of healthcare reform, Burwell, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, will oversee activities that to a great extent determine Obama’s historical legacy.

Calling Burwell, A Greek-American from Hinton, WV, “a proven manager” who knows how to get results, the president has placed great faith in her, although commentators suggest one of his motives for nominating Burwell, who was confirmed by the Senate 96-0 for her current post last year, seems to be avoiding an election-year confirmation fight.

“Last time, she was confirmed unanimously,” Obama said. “I’m assuming not much has changed since that time.”

When he appointed her OMB Director, Obama said, “Sylvia knows her way around a budget,” Obama said. “But as the granddaughter of Greek immigrants, she also understands that our goal when we put together a budget is not just to make the numbers add up. Our goal is also to reignite the true engine of economic growth, and that is a strong growing middle class, to offer ladders of opportunity for anybody willing to climb them.”

Obama praised Sebelius “for helping to steer his health care law’s comeback after a rocky rollout, even as he nominated a successor aimed at helping the White House move past the political damage,” AP noted.

Burwell still faces steep challenges at HHS if she is confirmed, even with the first enrollment window complete. The Administration has to improve customer service.

On the political front, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed Sebelius’ resignation and appeared to indicate openness to a dialogue with Burwell even as he declared that “Obamacare has to go,” as AP quoted him.

Burwell, 48 years old and Washington veteran known for her low profile, has earned the respect of some Republicans. ABC quoted House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, (R-WI), “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.”

Burwell joined the Obama Administration last year, but she held several posts in the Clinton Administration, including Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, Chief of Staff to the Secretary of the Treasury, Staff Director of the National Economic Council and Deputy Director of OMB from 1998 to 2001.

Her career took a philanthropic turn after 2001. Burwell served as president of Wal-Mart’s charitable arm and led the global development program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

She also became a Director of MetLife and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in January 2004.

ABC news reported that “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.

In 1982, she was an YFU exchange student in Japan and interned for West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall when she was in college.

“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 1990s 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,” according to ABC.

Last year during the government shutdown Obama called her “a rock […] who helped navigates the country through a very challenging time.”

Mathews was born and raised in Hinton, WV. She is the daughter of Cleo (Maroudas) Mathews, who has served as mayor of Hinton, and Dr. William Peter Mathews, a retired optometrist. Her maternal and paternal grandparents were Greek immigrants.

She married Stephen Burwell in 2007 and they have two children.

She returns to West Virginia frequently and often speaks at West Virginia University, which has established in her honor to support aspiring WVU political science students.

In 2005 she was chosen by the Wall Street Journal as one of The 50 Women to Watch.

Andy Manatos told TNH, “From my first counter with Sylvia Matthews over two decades ago, I realized that we were lucky to have a person of her intelligence and experience in our government. It is entirely appropriate that she is charged with dealing with one of America’s greatest challenges, establishing an effective universal healthcare program. Her unsurpassed education at Oxford and Harvard speak to her intelligence…Her having been selected…by President Barack Obama to run the powerful White House Office of Management and Budget speaks to her managerial competence.”

He concluded that “We are certain to be made proud as Greek-Americans by the second cabinet level and first female cabinet level appointee from our community. Sylvia epitomizes the best of Hellenism.”

Leon Stavrou, a veteran in the Washington policy and philanthropic worlds knows Burwell as a member of the Board of the Next Generation Initiative, often referred to as Hellenext, that he co-founded in 2003. Burwell held one of its first Master Classes for Young Leaders when she was COO of the Gates Foundation.

“More recently, before she was appointed head of OMB, Sylvia took part in the Finals of our Greeks Give Back National Student Competition while serving as president of the Walmart Foundation. We are proud of the many achievements she has marked throughout her career.”


Although Burwell is only the second Greek-American to serve as the head of a department of the Federal government – Peter Petersen was Secretary of Commerce under President Nixon, the community has produced a number of assistant secretaries and equivalent officials.

Eugene T. Rossides, the founder of the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), was President Nixon’s Assistant Secretary at United States Treasury Department from 1969 to 1973. Andy Manatos, the founder and president of the National Coordinated effort of Hellenes, served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce under President Carter.

Dr. E.S. Savas was an Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the Reagan administration and John N. Nasik’s, was Chairman of the Federal Power Commission from 1969 to 1975.

Barbara Spyridon Pope was the highest ranking Greek-American woman until Burwell; She was Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1989 to 1993.

John Negroponte has a double distinction. He was Director of National Intelligence, in office from 2005 to 2007 and he served as Deputy Secretary of State from 2007 to 2009.

President George W. Bush appointed Frances M. Frangos Townsend to be Homeland Security Advisor in 2004 and she resigned at the end of 2007.

George Tenet was the second longest serving Director of Central Intelligence. He held the post from 1997 to 2004.



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