OMB nominee gets easy first hearing

Carper's committee shows bipartisan support for the likely next budget director.

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.