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Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Walmart Foundation

White House Budget Director to Lead Health and Human Services

President Barack Obama today nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the White House budget office, to replace Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Burwell, 48, has a background in public policy and held several positions in the Clinton administration, including deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). From 2001 to 2011, she worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where for several years she headed the foundation’s Global Development Program. Under her purview were projects ranging from agricultural development—including crop research—to polio eradication. She directed the Walmart Foundation before she became OMB director a year ago.

As HHS director, Burwell will continue efforts to carry out the Affordable Care Act. Sebelius struggled with that task, enduring months of criticism for problems with the government’s health insurance website. The former governor of Kansas announced her resignation today.

As chief of the parent agency of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Sebelius defended the importance of sustained funding for biomedical research, yet oversaw administration requests to keep NIH’s funding essentially flat. Sebelius drew criticism from health groups in 2011 when she overruled a Food and Drug Administration plan to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B, the morning-after pill, to girls under 17 years old. Among scientists, she may be best known as the defendant on Sherley v. Sebelius, a lawsuit challenging federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research that the government ultimately won.