Founding director of the Congressional Budget Office. Vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve. Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Co-chairwoman of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force. Winner of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. Democratic Woman of the Year. Recipient of the Paul A. Volcker Lifetime Achievement Award for Economic Policy. Even a brief stint, we are proud to say, as a Washington Post editorial writer.
But of the many titles and honorifics that marked the extraordinary life of Alice Rivlin, none were more impactful than the work she did for the residents of the District of Columbia. Rivlin, who died Tuesday at the age of 88, headed the federal control board that was created in the 1990s to rescue D.C. from fiscal chaos of its own making. Equally important, once the city was on sound footing, she fought to restore home rule to a responsible local government she had a hand in creating. “She helped save Washington, D.C.,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican budget analyst who ran the Congressional Budget Office from 2003 to 2005. “She never talked about it, and she never took credit for it, but the outcome was fantastic – the city was solvent.”
It is hard – with development booming in D.C. and money flowing into its coffers – to imagine a time when the city literally could not pay its bills and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Rivlin had forecast the fiscal crisis based on her analysis of the city’s bloated bureaucracy and shady budgeting practices. Her findings helped lead to the creation of the control board – officially called the D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority – that, under its first chairman, Andrew Brimmer, instituted needed reforms. Rivlin took over leadership in 1998, helped steer the city toward sustainable solvency – and then insisted on a return to local control.
Rivlin’s service to the city she loved didn’t end with the control board. She continued her keen observance of the city’s finances, was involved in efforts to improve public education and was a fierce advocate for D.C. statehood.
In powerful testimony before the Senate in 2014, she called out the “inconvenient truth” of D.C. residents defending democracy around the world but denied it at home. Rivlin always could be depended upon to tell the truth – no matter how inconvenient – and her voice will be missed.
The Washington Post