Federal Budget? Foundation-Training

Photograph by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

Sylvia Mathews in this file photo.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Barack Obama’s nominee for budget director, has run budgets somewhat short of the federal government’s, though she’s had her hands in this one, too.

The woman whom the president today named to head the White House’s Office of Management and Budget will be responsible for presenting a federal budget of nearly $4 trillion as well as managing the day-to-day expenditures approved by law. She’ll also be managing, and looking for ways to reduce, an annual federal deficit of nearly $1 trillion.

Since January of 2012, Burwell has served as president of the Wal-Mart Foundation — not the world’s biggest yet still 10th in giving at the end of 2011, according to the Foundation Center.

The foundation and Walmart made nearly $1 billion in cash and in-kind contributions around the world in 2011, the foundation says. It helps when a company has more than 10,700 stores in 27 countries, with fiscal year 2013 sales of about $466 billion, and employs more than 2.2 million worldwide.

Yet before that, Burwell served first as chief operating officer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (from 2002 to 2006) and then as president of the Gates Foundation through 2011.

Gates is the biggest of all: Giving $2.5 billion last year. With assests of $37.4 billion at the end of 2011, it far outranked other foundations as the biggest, the Foundation Center says (more than four times bigger than Ford or Getty). The Wal-Mart Foundation, by comparison, ranked 41st with $1.7 billion in assets.

The Gates fund has focused the wealth derived from a company, Microsoft, with a market capitalization of about $233 billion and 94,000 employees. And Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has found a home for his philanthropy there, too.

As Obama noted today, Burwell also has experience at the OMB, serving as deputy director for Jack Lew during the Clinton administration — Lew, who also served Obama as OMB director, has gone off to run the Treasury.

“In the 1990’s, when she was, what, 19 (cue the laughter) Sylvia served under Jack Lew as Deputy Director of OMB — part of a team that presided over three budget surpluses in a row,” the president said today. “Later, she helped the Gates Foundation grow into a global force for good, and then she helped the Wal-Mart Foundation expand its charitable work.  So Sylvia knows her way around a budget. ”

Of course, the foundations are in the business of generosity, economic development and improving overall human welfare.

Which, come to think of it, the federal government has some experience with as well.

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