News Release

Brookings honors and remembers the life of Alice M. Rivlin

May 14, 2019

Washington, D.C.— It is with great sadness that the Brookings Institution and the Rivlin and Winter families announce the passing of Alice M. Rivlin, an economist and public servant who was affiliated with the Brookings Institution from 1957 up until the time of her death.

Her family says that she died early this morning at her home in Washington, D.C., after a battle against cancer. She was 88. She was surrounded by her family, including her husband Sidney G. Winter, her three children, Catherine, Allan and Douglas, their spouses and one of her four grandchildren. Up until hours before her death, she was working on a forthcoming Brookings book that will be a plea to the Congressional leaders of both parties to end the partisan warfare. She wrote, “Stop focusing on winning the next election and using the Congressional rules to prevent votes on sensible solutions that are backed by a bipartisan majority and have broad public support, and get back to the business of working across party lines to make good public policy to solve problems for the American people. It does not have to be good natured; it is not so much that we need a change in the tone in Washington,” she wrote, “as it is that we need a change in the rules.”

Alice Rivlin was a cherished member of the Brookings community for more than sixty years, a trailblazer in the field of economic policy, and a civil servant of unparalleled devotion.

Throughout her storied career in Washington, Rivlin held senior positions in three presidential administrations. She chaired offices and agencies in both the executive and legislative branches of government and served on the policymaking board of the U.S. central bank. The Library of Congress has catalogued more than 10,000 items related to her tenure in government service. Rivlin’s expertise and skills—and her unique ability to build bridges across political parties—played key roles in the formation of U.S. economic policy for more than half a century.

“Alice Rivlin was renowned for her exceptional contributions to so many areas of public policy and her distinguished public service as founder of the Congressional Budget Office, head of OMB and Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve Board,” says Janet Yellen, Distinguished Fellow in Residence for Economic Studies and the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy.  “Alice had a hard head and a soft heart—a pragmatic approach to achieving fiscal sanity and assessing costs and benefits of policy alternatives, combined with deep concern about the impact of policy on people.  To women in economics, including me, Alice was a mentor, a role model, and an inspiration.”

She was also deeply invested in the financial health of the District of Columbia. Rivlin served as chair of   the Commission on Budget and Financial Priorities that resulted in the “Rivlin Commission” Report of 1990, which quantified the fiscal crisis affecting the region. Several years later, after the city’s debt had climbed to $722 million, she was asked by President Bill Clinton in 1998 to oversee the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority to shepherd the nation’s capital to financial stability.

In addition to her government service and years of scholarship at Brookings, Rivlin taught at Harvard, Georgetown, George Mason, and The New School Universities, and she served on the boards of directors of several corporations, and, notably, as president of the American Economic Association in 1986.

Rivlin’s contributions—to the field of economics, to the policymaking community, and to the American people—are too numerous to count, and she received several prestigious awards for her work, including the Paul A. Volcker Lifetime Achievement Award for Economic Policy. She was also named one of the greatest public servants of the last 25 years by the Council for Excellence in Government.

“As someone committed to economic policymaking, one could hardly ask for a better hero,” says Douglas Elmendorf, dean and Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a former Brookings scholar. “For more than half a century, Alice set the standard in Washington for the rigorous use of evidence in policy formulation, for open-mindedness to alternative perspectives about desirable policy, for building and sustaining institutions to bring serious analysis to bear in the policy process, and for ensuring that policymakers focus on people who have had the least opportunity to thrive in their lives.”

The Brookings Institution will be forever indebted to Alice Rivlin for her innumerable contributions to our work. Our community will never forget her integrity, her energy, and her commitment to policy that speaks for and serves all Americans.

Read the Brookings Institution’s full statement here.

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