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Alice M. Rivlin

Recipient of the 2013 Robert M. Ball Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Insurance

Alice Mitchell Rivlin is the 2013 recipient of the Robert M. Ball Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Insurance. Throughout Alice Rivlin’s remarkable career in the field of economics and social insurance, she has been a forthright, steadfast, and innovative voice for informed policymaking – and for policies that promote the economic security of all Americans. (For details on this year's reception honoring Rivlin, visit the event page.)

In selecting Alice Rivlin as this year’s honoree, the 2013 Ball Award Selection Committee, chaired by Bill Arnone, unanimously recognized Rivlin as one of the most distinguished and influential voices in policy dialogues on economic and fiscal issues that will shape the trajectory of social insurance. According to Chair Arnone: “After considering a number of individuals who have made and continue to make exceptional contributions to social insurance policy, research, and public understanding, it was clear to the Selection Committee that Alice Rivlin’s achievements – from serving as founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, to directing the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton Administration, to serving on President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – all while maintaining that social insurance plays a critical and indispensable role in the lives of all Americans and in our economy – are truly outstanding and clearly warrant recognition.”

Alice Rivlin’s expertise and significant contributions in social insurance and in budget matters sets her apart. Known for her commitment to fiscal responsibility, stabilizing the federal debt, and strengthening social insurance for the long run, she is also a founding member of NASI (reflecting NASI’s unique position as a place where experts on specific areas of social insurance interact with experts on budget matters that will impact Medicare, Social Security, disability insurance, long-term care and more). In recent testimony before the Joint Economic Committee on March 14, 2013, Rivlin spoke about why the sequester is bad policy and should be replaced; why entitlement reforms are necessary now; why tax reform must raise additional revenue; and the importance of both economic growth and debt stabilization.

With a career spanning six decades, her experience and perspective are widely respected and sought-after in efforts to solve budget challenges and to strengthen the economy. Unafraid to take a position and challenge the status quo, Rivlin remains in the thick of today’s policy discussions and debates. Her recent proposals to reform Medicare generated substantial policy discussions and captured the attention of policymakers leading up to the 2012 elections.

Focused on data and with a deep understanding of the budget and the economy, Rivlin has been a consistent source of plans and proposals that address specific problems affecting the economic security of Americans. As incoming director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the first Clinton Administration, Rivlin was the subject of a January 1993 article by Dan Morgan in the Washington Post, which described her as “the architect of a sweeping plan to reapportion the responsibilities of the federal and state governments.” Twenty years ago, her ideas rekindled a debate over federalism. Today, Rivlin’s ideas continue to kindle debates – an invaluable contribution in efforts to promote understanding of the vital role that social insurance plays in supporting a vibrant economy and a strong democracy and realizing a fair and just society.

Lisa Mensah, Chair of NASI’s Board of Directors, remarked on the breadth of Rivlin’s contributions. “I have great respect for Alice Rivlin’s dedication to supporting NASI’s mission,” Mensah said. “She has contributed her expertise and time to NASI’s work across many areas of social insurance, from Medicare to disability income. She focuses on what makes sense and on how the responsibilities of government can be realized most effectively. And for social insurance, this is undoubtedly important to understand.”

Throughout her distinguished career, Rivlin has made an effort to engage numerous audiences – in line with NASI’s mission “to advance solutions to challenges facing the nation by increasing public understanding of how social insurance contributes to economic security.” Speaking recently at NASI’s 2013 conference, Rivlin interviewed Suzanne Mettler, author of The Submerged State and Professor of American Institutions at Cornell University. This thought-provoking conversation explored the role of government and “invisible” government policies in relation to social insurance programs and current debt and deficit levels. In a September 2012 lecture in Columbus, Ohio hosted by the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, Rivlin explained political efforts to solve the fiscal challenges we face to students, staff and faculty at Ohio State University. Along with her commitment to strengthening social insurance, Rivlin continues to ask critical questions and open up the conversation within and beyond the Beltway.

A formidable listener and thoughtful questioner, Rivlin’s strengths have allowed her to lead across many fronts. 2012 Ball Award winner Robert D. Reischauer served as Rivlin’s Deputy Director at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) from 1977 to 1981. “I had the privilege of learning from Alice early in my career, and I continue to learn much from her indefatigable approach to solving our nation’s most pressing challenges,” Reischauer said. “She works hard to identify new ways to solve our fiscal challenges while strengthening our social insurance system, and protecting the most economically vulnerable.” 

Rivlin is currently a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University and a Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. She has taught at Harvard and George Mason and The New School Universities, served on the Boards of Directors of several corporations, and as President of the American Economic Association. Rivlin received a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship in 1983 and the Moynihan Prize in 2008.

A dedicated public servant, Alice Rivlin was named by President Obama to the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in February 2010. She also co-chaired, with former Senator Pete Domenici, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Debt Reduction. The Domenici-Rivlin Task Force proposes quality-focused reforms to Medicare and steps to restore the long-term solvency of Social Security. Her work on budget matters and debt reduction includes serving on the Board of Directors (along with several fellow NASI members) of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and serving on the steering committee of the Campaign to Fix the Debt. Rivlin has also served as Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve Board and as assistant secretary for planning and evaluation for the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Beyond service at the federal government level, Rivlin was Chair of the District of Columbia Financial Management Assistance Authority and has been involved with the D.C. Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force and D.C. Public Charter School Association.

With her economic and budget expertise ranging from Social Security to Medicare to disability policy, Rivlin has produced numerous publications and writings. Her books include: Systematic Thinking for Social Action, Reviving the American Dream, and Beyond the Dot.coms (with Robert Litan). She is co-editor (with Isabel Sawhill) of Restoring Fiscal Sanity: How to Balance the Budget (2004), Restoring Fiscal Sanity 2005: Meeting the Long-Run Challenges, (with Joseph Antos) of Restoring Fiscal Sanity 2007: The Health Spending Challenge, and (with Litan) of The Economic Payoff from the Internet Revolution (2001). Rivlin is a frequent contributor to newspapers, television, and radio, and is also a regular commentator on Nightly Business Report.

When informed that she was the 2013 Ball Award winner, Rivlin was surprised – and honored and delighted. Having known and worked with Bob Ball, she noted that this award holds a unique place for her.

Alice Rivlin was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Bloomington, Indiana. She received a B.A. in economics from Bryn Mawr College and a Ph.D. from Radcliffe College (Harvard University) in economics in 1958. She is married to economist Sidney G. Winter, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania. Rivlin has three children and four grandchildren. She enjoys traveling and hiking with friends and listening to jazz music. On a rainy day in Washington, DC, you might spot her walking down Massachusetts Avenue with her green NASI umbrella.

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Alice M. Rivlin will receive the 2013 Robert M. Ball Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Insurance on Tuesday, June 25 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC. The 2013 Robert M. Ball Award Event Committee is co-chaired by Robert Reischauer, Distinguished Institute Fellow and President Emeritus of the Urban Institute, and Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami. Visit the event page for more information.

Learn more about the Ball Award and view a full list of previous Ball Award winners.