Walmart exec seen as budget chief

AP

President Barack Obama on Monday was expected to nominate Walmart’s Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his next budget director, a senior administration official said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Burwell would take the helm at the Office of Management and Budget at a time of heated budget battles between the White House and congressional Republicans. She would also bring more diversity to Obama’s second-term Cabinet following criticism that many of the top jobs at the White House were going to white men.

Burwell is a Washington veteran, having served as OMB’s deputy director in the administration of President Bill Clinton and chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Burwell currently runs the Walmart Foundation, the retail giant’s philanthropic wing, and previously served as president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program.

The official credited Burwell with being a principal architect of a series of budget plans in the 1990s that led to a budget surplus. Walmart President Mike Duke called Burwell a strong leader with a “clear vision for making big things happen.”

“She understands business and the role that business, government and civil society must play to build a strong economy that provides opportunity and strengthens communities across the country,” Duke said.

Burwell’s nomination signals that the White House is trying to get back to normal business after the president and Congress failed to avert $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that took effect Friday. The White House does not want to the standoff with Congress to keep the president from focusing on other second-term priorities, including filling out his Cabinet and pursuing stricter gun laws and an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.

Obama made quick work of filling key national security openings in his administration, but has been slower to fill other Cabinet openings, including the OMB post. Vacancies also remain at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commerce and Energy departments, and the U.S. trade representative.

Burwell would replace acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients, a well-liked figure in the Obama administration, who has been discussed as a contender for other top jobs.