Alice M. Rivlin, CBO's Founding Director

On February 25, 1975, Alice Rivlin was sworn in as CBO’s first Director by Speaker of the House Carl Albert. After a luncheon, she and Robert Reischauer (who would later be CBO’s third Director), along with two assistants, went back to the single office that they shared in the Dirksen Senate Office Building—the original location of CBO. The early days included writing job descriptions, hiring new staff, drawing organizational charts, and figuring out how to create an agency that would fulfill its mission as specified by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. Under Rivlin's leadership, CBO started to provide the Congress with estimates of proposed legislation’s costs and effects and projections of economic and budgetary outcomes under current law. CBO also published analytic reports, some of which presented alternatives to current policies.

From the start, Rivlin insisted that CBO never tell the Congress what it should do. Her legacy of providing independent and objective estimates to lawmakers without making recommendations has been perpetuated at CBO by the Directors and staff who came after her. CBO remains committed to providing thoughtful, objective, nonpartisan analysis to the Congress.

CBO must be, and must be perceived to be, an objective, nonpartisan, professional organization in the service of the Congress. . . . Our work and our publications must always be balanced, thorough and free of any partisan tinge. Our task is to provide information which will help the whole Congress in reaching its decisions.

Memo to CBO's Executive Staff
January 5, 1976

We began over the course of the last several months to serve you in such areas as scorekeeping and economic analysis and in responding to various requests for reports. As the new budget process progresses, we will continue to serve you in these areas as well as provide you with the first annual CBO report on the budget, the first five-year projections on the budget, and costing projections for taxing and spending legislation.

Testimony on the Statutory Responsibilities of the Congressional Budget Office
December 17, 1975

I see planning as a means of improving the rationality of decision making by setting out the actions—in some cases future actions—one should take to reach some goal or set of goals. This does not mean that planning restricts the options of decision makers. Planning is not an activity where a rigid plan is developed and then slavishly followed regardless of changing circumstances. Rather it is an iterative process in which present and future actions are continually updated as circumstances change. Because of this, planning expands rather than limits the options of decision makers by giving them the opportunity to see the larger-sized margins that exist in the future.

Testimony on Long-Range Planning in the Federal Government
June 30, 1976

The role of the Congressional Budget Office in the new budget procedure is to provide a flow of budget information and to analyze the impact of alternative budgetary decisions. This is an analytical rather than a policymaking role. CBO does not take a position for or against spending and tax proposals, but rather supplies its best estimate of what costs or revenues would be and what the effects would be on major economic indicators.

Testimony on the Role of the Congressional Budget Office in the New Budgetary Process
May 6, 1976

The Congressional Budget Office undertakes analyses that seek to raise the level of budget decision-making rationality by keeping track of the present budget effect flowing from past decisions, by explaining the future impact of current budgetary alternatives, and by outlining how projections of future events affect present options.

Testimony on Long-Range Planning in the Federal Government
June 30, 1976

Clear presentation is at least as important to the analysis as technical quality. The utility of the information . . . is lost if it cannot be understood by the decision maker.

Testimony on Long-Range Planning in the Federal Government
June 30, 1976

After five years, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 is a demonstrated success. The Congress can make its own budget. Now is not the time, however, for those of us involved in the budget process to rest on our laurels. We must enhance the effectiveness of the process to enable the Congress to meet the challenges of the 1980s.

Testimony on the Congressional Budget Act of 1974
December 11, 1979

To maintain its credibility and be maximally useful to policymakers, CBO needs to be as transparent as possible about the methods and models it uses to arrive at estimates, and adjust its methodology in response to new information and estimating techniques. In reading recent CBO reports, I have been pleased to see steady progress in the sophistication of its estimating techniques and astonished at the amount of effort the agency devotes to explaining and documenting its methodology.

Testimony of Alice M. Rivlin, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution,
on CBO Oversight: Perspectives from Outside Experts
March 14, 2018

I feel strongly that our reports should be lucidly written and comprehensible to noneconomists. We should break with the ponderous prose of most official economic writing and aim at giving Congressmen themselves something they can actually read and understand. We should assume that the reader is an intelligent, well-informed person without formal training in economics. . . . We should not be patronizing or talk down to the audience, but we should avoid jargon and explain all the concepts as we go along.

Memo to CBO's Executive Staff
May 1975

These budget facts make the estimates of the future impact of today’s spending and taxing decisions far more important than they were 40 years ago or even 10 years ago. They make it much more important that Congress have a strong, nonpartisan agency doing the best it can in the face of great economic uncertainty and partisan polarization to give Congress and the public its best effort at estimates of what budget actions will cost and what their consequences will be.

Keynote Address at CBO's 40th Anniversary Celebration
February 24, 2015

On May 14, 2019, Alice Rivlin passed away at the age of 88. CBO's Director, Keith Hall, honored her memory in a blog post. In June 2019, the Brookings Institution and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, in collaboration with Rivlin's family, hosted a celebration of Rivlin’s life and distinguished public career.