OMB nominee gets easy first hearing

Sylvia Matthews Burwell - Photo Courtesy of the Walmart Foundation

Sylvia Mathews Burrell, the nominee to take over as director of the Office of Management and Budget, had a congenial confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on April 9.

Burrell, the president of the Walmart Foundation, served as deputy OMB director from 1998 to 2001. She appeared to have bipartisan support from the committee, engaging in pleasant conversation and fielding generally easy questions.

"To be head of the Office of Management and Budget at this particular time in our nation's history is an extraordinary position," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) in introducing the nominee. "We're going to be debating the best course for our country's future. It's going to take the wise, wise hand."

"There must be some character flaw that she wants the job, but other than that I think that she is very well qualified," said Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.). "This is an excellent choice and I wish her well. Maybe before she leaves she could get us some discounts at Wal-Mart."

During the period for questions, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) reminded Burwell that Congress's expectation will be for the OMB director to take a leadership role in addressing the nation's financial matters and asked if she felt confident in her ability to do so. Burwell said she would expect to be a key member of the president's budget team.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) asked about OMB's management function, honing in on the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which requires an agency regulatory agenda to be published in the spring. "Last year, the spring agenda never showed up," he said.

Burwell said she did not know why the agenda had not been sent last year, but hedged from meeting Portman's request to commit to delivering the annual document, because, she said, she did not know why it had not been.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, (R-NH), asked about a Government Accountability Office report on duplication of IT investments across government and how Burwell would work toward achieving the goals GAO laid out. Burwell responded with several examples.

"We need to move from the hundreds of data centers we've already gotten rid of to hundreds more," she said. "I think we need to think about the IT part of the role of OMB in a couple of different ways. One is about increasing effectiveness and efficiency, and I think that gets to the core of what you're talking about with the GAO report. "

But there are other aspects as well, she said, expanding on the answer. Transparency, meaning fiscal visibility to both the public and to other federal leaders is important, as is innovation, she said.

Earlier, in her opening remarks, Burwell had laid out her vision of the role.

"I believe in the greatness of our nation," she said. "Our nation has made important progress over the past four years. We have pulled out of a deep economic downturn. Our financial markets have stabilized. Businesses are hiring again."

But, she said, there is more to do.

The Obama administration is already in dialog with Congress on matters such as deficit reduction and increased efficiency and effectiveness, a relationship she hopes to continue.

Burwell, who will appear before the Senate Budget Committee for another confirmation hearing on April 10, said she also wants to make OMB an agency were talented professionals would want to work, and to ensure that both sides of the agency's mission are emphasized.

"Although OMB is most well-known for the work on the budget, the management side of OMB is critical," she said.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 Zell

Ms. Burwell may be getting smart leadership team at OMB, but she will find that most of them lack the management skills to deliver the President's management agenda. Many were hired because they were minions to some political appointee and were well-liked. She needs to clean house and bring in folks who she knows are qualified. Those folks should do a sweep of the career executive (mid-management) ranks too so we can actually see results rather than half-assed attempts at change.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above