Sylvia Mathews Burwell as Secretary of Health and Human Services nominated

Remarks by the President Nominating Sylvia Mathews Burwell as Secretary of Health and Human Services: Hey! (Applause.) All right, everybody, have a seat. Have a seat. Have a seat. Well, good morning. In my sixth year in office, I am extraordinarily grateful to have so many aides and advisors who have been there since the earliest days. But it’s still somewhat bittersweet when any of them leave for new endeavors — even when their successor is wonderful.

In early March, Kathleen Sebelius, my Secretary of Health and Human Services, told me she’d be moving on once the first open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act came to an end.  And after five years of extraordinary service to our country — and 7.5 million Americans who have signed up for health coverage through the exchanges — (applause) — she’s earned that right.  I will miss her advice, I will miss her friendship, I will miss her wit — but I am proud to nominate someone to succeed her who holds those same traits in abundance:  Sylvia Mathews Burwell.  (Applause.)

Now, just a couple things about Kathleen.  When I nominated Kathleen more than five years ago — I had gotten to know Kathleen when she was governor at Kansas and had shown extraordinary skills there; was a great advisor and supporter during my presidential campaign, and so I knew that she was up for what was a tough job — I mentioned that one of her many responsibilities at HHS would be to make sure our country is prepared for a pandemic flu outbreak.  I didn’t know at the time that that would literally be her first task.  (Laughter.)  Nobody remembers that now — but it was.  And it just gives you a sense of the sorts of daily challenges that Kathleen has handled, often without fanfare, often unacknowledged, but that have been critical to the health and welfare of the American people. 

She has fought to improve children’s health, from birth to kindergarten; expanded mental health care; reduced racial and ethnic disparities; brought us closer to the first AIDS-free generation.  She’s been a tireless advocate for women’s health.  

So, all told, Kathleen’s work over the past five years will benefit our families and this country for decades to come.  So we want to thank Kathleen’s husband, Gary, the “First Dude” of Kansas.  (Laughter.)  We got two outstanding sons, Ned and John, who have been willing to share their mom with us these past five years.  And, Kathleen, I know that your dad — who served as governor of Ohio, and who inspired you to pursue public service and who passed away last year — would have been so proud of you today.  So, Kathleen, we want to thank you once again for your service to our country.  (Applause.)

Now, we know there’s still more work to do at HHS.  There’s more work to do to implement the Affordable Care Act.  There’s another enrollment period coming up about six months from now.  There’s a whole array of responsibilities to meet over at this large and very important agency.  And I could choose no manager as experienced, as competent as my current Director of the Office of Management and Budget:  Sylvia Mathews Burwell.  (Applause.)

Sylvia is from a small town — Hinton, West Virginia.  So she brings the common sense that you see in small towns.  She brings the values of caring about your neighbor and ordinary folks to some of the biggest and most complex challenges of her time.  She’s a proven manager who’s demonstrated her ability to field great teams, forge strong relationships, and deliver excellent results at the highest levels.  And she’s done it both in the public and private sectors.

As COO and later president for global development of the Gates Foundation, Sylvia worked on the cutting edge of the world’s most pressing health challenges.  As the head of the Walmart Foundation, and a member of the board at MetLife, she gained firsthand experience into how insurance markets work, and how they can work better for businesses and families alike.

Here, as my Budget Director at the White House, she’s already delivered results.  After all, in the year since she arrived, the deficit has plunged by more than $400 billion.  I’m just saying.  (Laughter.)  That’s happened during that time.  (Applause.)

When the government was forced to shut down last October, and even as most of her own team was barred from reporting to work, Sylvia was a rock — a steady hand on the wheel who helped navigate the country through a very challenging time.  Once the government was allowed to reopen, Sylvia was vital to winning the two-year budget agreement that put an end to these manufactured crises that we had seen here in Washington so that we could keep our full focus on growing the economy and creating new jobs, and expanding opportunity for everybody who is seeking opportunity.  And all the while, she’s helped advance important initiatives to bring the government into the 21st century, including her efforts to speed up job creation by dramatically speeding up the permitting process for big infrastructure projects.

So Sylvia is a proven manager, and she knows how to deliver results.  And she’ll need to be a proven manager because these are tough tasks, big challenges.  From covering more families with economic security that health insurance provides, to ensuring the safety of our food and drug supply, to protecting the country from outbreak or bioterror attacks, to keeping America at the forefront of job-creating medical research, all of us rely on the dedicated servants and scientists, the researchers at HHS and the FDA and CDC and NIH.  All of them are an extraordinary team, and sometimes the American people take for granted the incredible network of outstanding public servants that we have who are helping to keep us healthy and helping improve our lives every single day.

So I want to thank Stephen, Sylvia’s husband, and Mathew and Helene for sharing wife and mom with us a little bit longer.  We’ll miss seeing you around the White House, but I know that you’re going to do an outstanding job as America’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.  I hope that the Senate confirms Sylvia without delay.  She’s going to do great.  Last time she was confirmed unanimously — I’m assuming not that much has changed since that time.  (Laughter.)