HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has resigned, and President Obama will announce Friday that he is replacing her with OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell. According to the Washington Post, Sebelius notified Obama early in March that she would be stepping down.
According to reports, officials say Sebelius was not forced out. But her departure comes right at the end of what Obama himself described as a kind of grace period during which he wanted aides to focus on fixing the failed Healthcare.gov website, with personnel matters to be dealt with later. And the odd manner of the announcement – a leak to the press – suggests the White House is not being careful about providing her a dignified exit.
The Obamacare rollout, which has included the launch of the website October 1 and the beginning of major Obamacare programs January 1, has been one of the greatest fiascos in modern presidential history, featuring a site that lacked basic functionality and numerous delays to program deadlines that had been written into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Sebelius was to be overseeing all of it, and White House officials were frustrated with the poor results. Palace intrigue watchers thought they noticed something significant when Sebelius did not join Obama onstage last week during a Rose Garden celebration of the more than 7 million Obamacare exchange signups, and when she didn’t even get a shout out. It appears they were right.
Sebelius, 65, is the former governor of Kansas. She is one of Obama’s longest serving Cabinet secretaries, having taken office in April 2009.
Burwell is a wonky, longtime Washington hand who is very familiar to Washington insiders. Before her stint at OMB, she served as a senior policy aide in the Clinton White House. At this point, she would seem to have a smooth path toward confirmation, though her hearing will certainly give Republicans a chance to produce some Obamacare-related fireworks.