The Academy Remembers Fellow Alice Rivlin, First Recipient of the Moynihan Prize

Alice Rivlin, an Academy Fellow since 2001 and first recipient of the AAPSS Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize in 2008, passed away on May 14, 2019, at the age of 88. Dr. Rivlin, an economist, was a standout in the budget world whose commitment to nonpartisan analysis won her respect across political lines.

After graduating from Bryn Mawr College in 1952 and earning her PhD in Economics from Radcliffe College in 1957, Dr. Rivlin joined the Brookings Institution. She subsequently moved between government service and research at the Institution for more than 60 years.

A rising star at Brookings as a researcher on budgetary and social programs, Dr. Rivlin was tapped by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 to become a deputy assistant secretary for program analysis in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, where she advocated for new ways of evaluating proposed policies. In 1975, she became the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), an agency that, for the first time, offered Congress independent economic analysis. As political commentator Lawrence O’Donnell stated in a video remembrance, “Congress didn’t know what it was doing until Alice Rivlin told them.” She served at the CBO for eight years.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton made Dr. Rivlin the first female director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. She was then appointed director of the District of Columbia Financial Assistance Authority, created by Congress in 1995 to help Washington, D.C., recover from a financial crisis. From 1996 to 1999, Dr. Rivlin was vice chair of the Federal Reserve, again the first woman to hold that position.

In 2010, Dr. Rivlin was named co-chair of the Debt Reduction Task Force, a group sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and tasked with finding policy recommendations to reduce the national debt. Soon after, she was named to the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission).

Dr. Rivlin received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 1983 and was elected president of the American Economics Association in 1986. She was awarded the Elliot L. Richardson Prize for Excellence in Public Service in 2002. In 2008, she was named one of the greatest public servants of the previous 25 years by the Council for Excellence in Government.

Dr. Rivlin taught at Harvard, Georgetown, and George Mason universities and wrote or co-wrote many books, including Caring for the Disabled Elderly:  Who Will Pay? (1988) and Reviving the American Dream (1992). As a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, she wrote prolifically on health, monetary, and fiscal policy. In a statement about her legacy, the Brookings Institution observed that the Library of Congress has cataloged more than 10,000 items related to Dr. Rivlin’s public service, and noted that her “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.”