The Times West Virginian

Opinion

April 16, 2014

State native Burwell can ‘deliver results’ as Health and Human Services secretary

Sylvia Mathews Burwell might not be a name with which most people are immediately familiar.

For the past year, she has run the budget office under President Barack Obama.

Prior to that, she served as president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program and later the Wal-Mart Foundation.

Before that, she was deputy chief of staff in the Clinton administration, and she served as chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and as deputy director of the White House budget office during a period in which the federal government saw three consecutive budget surpluses.

But people soon will be hearing more about her. Just last week, Burwell was nominated to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

She also happens to be a West Virginia native.

If confirmed for the position, it won’t be an easy one. Burwell will inherit a beleaguered agency that desperately wants to move beyond the past several months, which have been characterized by the chaotic rollout of the Affordable Care Act and HealthCare.gov.

But members of both parties say Burwell is up to the challenge of running the $1 trillion bureaucracy.

As reported by The Associated Press, those who have worked with Burwell describe her as meticulous, driven and results-oriented. Even Obama, when he announced Burwell’s nomination, said that in the year since she rejoined the White House, the annual deficit has dropped by more than $400 billion.

“She is a rigorous, relentless, proven manager,” Brian Deese, Burwell’s deputy in the budget office, said in an interview last week. “That is exactly what HHS needs right now.”

Deese couldn’t be more accurate. Health and Human Services is a complex program — a $1 trillion agency that plays a key role in American society and the economy. More than 100 million people receive coverage through Medicare, Medicaid and the new health care law. Burwell would also oversee the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates a broad range of consumer products, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It doesn’t help that the new health care law has faced many setbacks and low approval ratings. And despite the end of the initial open enrollment period, there are still challenges ahead, including keeping premiums affordable for 2015; overhauling the sign-up process to make it more consumer-friendly; working with states that are still opposed to or undecided about the law’s Medicaid expansion; and helping to guide administration policy on how to enforce the law’s penalties for individuals who remain uninsured and the medium- to large-sized businesses that do not provide affordable coverage to their employees.

It’s obvious that the agency needs someone who can bring a wealth of expertise in economics and government management to the job.

Burwell seems to be that person. As the AP has reported, she shepherded the federal government through a 16-day government shutdown imposed by Congress last year and helped secure a budget agreement with Congress that has temporarily averted political brinksmanship over the U.S. economy.

And we’re not the only ones who think Burwell is the right pick for this post. As Obama said last week, “Sylvia is a proven manager, and she knows how to deliver results.”

Delivering results will be crucial as Burwell takes on this latest role, but we’re confident it is one she will face with the same knowledge and drive she has brought to previous positions.

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