President Obama Officially Nominates Budget Chief as Next HHS Secretary

Susan Walsh/AP

President Obama took another health care victory lap Friday while announcing the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Obama praised Sebelius in a Rose Garden address, as he formally nominated budget chief Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be the next HHS secretary.

Sebelius led HHS through the implementation of the president's signature health law, and faced tough criticism after the online portal to sign up for the new health plans struggled to get off the ground last fall.

But the atmosphere Friday was celebratory of Sebelius's time in office, and the president touted her success in turning around and getting 7.5 million people signed up for coverage.

"Yes, we lost the first quarter of the open enrollment period because of the problems with—and they were problems. But under Kathleen's leadership, her team and HHS turned the corner.… The final score speaks for itself," Obama said.

Sebelius said she was proud of the "tremendous progress" the department has made despite the legal and legislative battles the law has faced over the past four years.

"I got to be a leader of HHS during these most historic times," Sebelius said. "We are on the front lines of a long overdue national change, fixing a broken health system.

"I knew it wouldn't be easy. There's a reason that no earlier president was successful in passing health reform."

Burwell is inheriting the department as challenges remain heading into the law's second year. Some consumers are still trying to get signed up, and isn't out of the red, with some repairs remaining.

The White House has expressed confidence in Burwell as a manager and leader to take the helm during the health law's next phase. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in an interview with The New York Times that the president selected Burwell because she is "a proven manager and relentless implementer." Burwell has served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget for a year.

Sebelius is expected to remain with the department during the transition period. Burwell must be confirmed by a majority vote in the Senate, which departs today for spring recess and is not scheduled to return until April 28.

It's unclear whether Burwell will face strong opposition from Republicans, who have had issues with several other nominees this year.

But Burwell sailed through the Senate last year on a 96-0 vote to become head of OMB, and she has already received the support of some conservative senators, such as  Republican John McCain of Arizona, who tweeted his congratulations following reports late Thursday that she was the president's next pick.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.