Obama has a new cabinet member you’ve never heard of — Marianne Markowitz


Marianne Markowitz (above) is now the acting administrator for the Small Business Administration and a member of the president’s cabinet. (Senate Small Business Committee hearing video)

A couple weeks ago, Marianne Markowitz was serving on a small business advisory council for the city of Chicago and as the regional administrator for the Midwest bureau of the Small Business Administration.

Now, for the time being, she is serving on President Obama’s cabinet.

One week ago, without any fanfare, Markowitz stepped into the role of acting administrator of the SBA, a cabinet-level position, replacing Jeanne Hulit, who had held the position since September. And while Markowitz isn’t expected to hold her new title for long — lawmakers are currently vetting Obama’s formal nominee — she will spend at least a couple weeks as part of the president’s top circle of senior executives.

Markowitz becomes the agency’s third chief in the last six months. Karen Mills, Obama’s first-term administrator, resigned around this time last year but stayed in place until September, when she was replaced by Hulit, the latter of whom was expected to see the agency through its transition to a permanent replacement.

However, when the president nominated Californian Maria Contreras-Sweet to the post last month, Hulit quickly announced she would be leaving in February to join a bank in Maine — not giving the Senate enough time to confirm Contreras-Sweet. Hulit’s last day was Feb. 7, and the president has asked Markowitz to step up for the rest of the transition.

And with the Senate off next week, it is expected to be a couple more weeks at the earliest before the Senate can hold a vote to confirm Contreras-Sweet.

Related: Senate panel grills Obama’s SBA nominee

“Marianne has represented this agency well, promoting our programs and services and advocating for President Obama’s small business agenda,” Hulit wrote in a memo to the department’s staff announcing her departure. “She is well prepared to step in and continue to lead the work of the entire agency during this period of transition.”

It isn’t shaping up to be a quiet period at the agency, either. A series of winter storms this week has already prompted Markowitz to deploy disaster relief resources to help residents and businesses affected by ice and flooding in New York.

“The SBA is strongly committed to providing the people of New York with the most effective and customer-focused response possible to assist homeowners, renters, and businesses of all sizes with federal disaster loans,” she said in a statement. “Getting businesses and communities up and running after a disaster is our highest priority at SBA.”

In her previous role as regional administrator, Markowitz led the agency’s lending, training and government contracting efforts in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. She had held the position since 2009, and before that, she served as the chief financial officer for Obama’s first presidential campaign.

Previously, she worked for Switzerland-based Syngenta, Inc., an agrochemical company, and Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management company in St. Louis, Mo., according to the SBA. She held financial management and risk assessment positions at both firms.

“She may be a little bit quiet,” Mills, the former administrator, said of Markowitz in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Tribune. “But do not be deceived, because she is extraordinarily competent, articulate and fierce as an advocate for small business.”

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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