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Hinton native Burwell nominated as U.S. budget chief

By Staff, wire reports

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Monday nominated West Virginia native Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his next budget chief, thrusting her into the center of Washington's heated partisan budget battles.

Obama announced Burwell's selection to lead the Office of Management and Budget during a White House ceremony, noting that her appointment comes as government-wide spending cuts are going into effect that he said mean "eventually a lot of people are going to feel some pain." The White House and congressional Republicans were unable to reach a deal to avert the cuts ahead of last Friday's deadline.

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 top jobs were going to white men.

Burwell, a native of Hinton, W.Va., is a Washington veteran, having served as chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and as OMB's deputy director in the Clinton administration, where Obama noted she was on a team that presided over three consecutive budget surpluses.

She has been running the Walmart Foundation, the retail giant's philanthropic wing, and previously served as president of the Gates Foundation's Global Development Program, where Obama said she helped the organization "grow into a global force for good."

"Sylvia knows her way around a budget," Obama said. "But as granddaughter of Greek immigrants, she also understands that our goal when we put together a budget is not just to make the numbers add up. Our goal is also to reignite the true engine of economic growth, and that is a strong growing middle class, to offer ladders of opportunity for anybody willing to climb them."

Wal-Mart 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 in a statement.

Burwell would replace acting OMB director Jeffrey Zients, who has been discussed as a contender for other top administration posts.

Burwell's mother, Cleo Matthews, is the former mayor of Hinton and previously served on the state Board of Education.

Terri Giles, Burwell's lifelong friend, said Sunday night that Burwell and her mother were in Washington, D.C. Burwell's father, William, is in the hospital and not able to make the trip, she said.

"I think she's a perfect choice, and we certainly need someone who has the kind of experience she does, knowing how to balance a budget and get things cleaned up," Giles said.

Also Monday, Obama named two new nominees who will focus on another second-term priority -- tackling the threat of climate change. The president promoted current EPA official Gina McCarthy to lead the agency and MIT scientist Ernest Moniz to run the Energy Department.

"They're going to be making sure we're investing in American energy, that we're doing everything we can to combat the threat of climate change, that we're going to be creating jobs and economic opportunity,'' Obama said of McCarthy and Moniz. "They are going to be a great team.''

Moniz, 68, oversees MIT's Energy Initiative, a research group that focuses on innovative ways to produce power while curbing greenhouse gas emissions. But unlike outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he is also well-versed in the ways of Washington, having served as the Energy Department's undersecretary in the Clinton administration.

Moniz has also advised Obama on central components of the administration's energy plan, including a retooling of the country's stalled nuclear waste program, energy research and development, and unconventional gas.

In a 2009 alumni interview published on Boston College's website, Moniz noted that he learned to balance both political and scientific demands while working in the Clinton administration. "Physics sometimes looked easy compared to doing the people's business,'' he said.

In nominating McCarthy to be the nation's top environmental steward, Obama is promoting a climate change champion and a 25-year veteran of environmental policy and politics. McCarthy has served under both Republicans and Democrats, and is known for a matter-of-fact approach appreciated by both businesses and environmental advocacy groups.

Among her past bosses: former Massachusetts governor and Obama's Republican presidential opponent Mitt Romney, for whom she was a special adviser on climate and environmental issues.

Since coming to Washington in 2009, McCarthy has been the most prominent defender of EPA policies. As the head of the air pollution division, she has been behind many of the agency's most controversial new rules -- from placing the first limits on greenhouse gases on newly built power plants to the first-ever standard for toxic mercury pollution from burning coal for electricity.

All three nominees announced Monday must be confirmed by the Senate.


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