James T. Lynn, budget-cutter at OMB, dies at 83

As head of OMB, James T. Lynn holds a "mess chart" reflecting his distaste for bureaucracy.
As head of OMB, James T. Lynn holds a "mess chart" reflecting his distaste for bureaucracy. (1976 Photo By James K.w. Atherton)
By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 7, 2010; 8:53 PM

James T. Lynn, a Harvard-educated lawyer who used his scalpel-sharp intellect to cut layers of redundancy and wasteful federal spending as director of the Office of Management and Budget before training his eye on the Aetna insurance company's bottom line as its president and chief executive, died Dec. 6 at an assisted living facility in Bethesda.

He was 83 and died of complications from a stroke, said his daughter, Marjorie Wilson.

In a 17-year career in the federal government, Mr. Lynn served as undersecretary in the Commerce Department and secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Richard M. Nixon. He also was director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Gerald R. Ford.

His success in government service was widely attributed to his voracious appetite for work, a gregarious charm, an easy smile and an impressive intelligence that earned him the nickname Mr. Ultra-Bright.

Mr. Lynn was completely unsympathetic to government bureaucracy. To illustrate his penchant for simplification, Mr. Lynn created "mess charts" connecting federal overlap.

Referencing the noted abstract artist, he said the charts were so vivid they "might remind one of the works of Jackson Pollock."

Mr. Lynn, a Republican, was the Washington managing partner of the Cleveland-based Jones Day law firm when he met with officials from the Nixon administration to offer his services.

He became general counsel at the Commerce Department in 1970 and moved up to undersecretary a year later.

As HUD secretary from 1973 to 1975, Mr. Lynn helped formulate a landmark multi-billion-dollar community development and housing program that consolidated and improved existing federal subsidies for low- and moderate-income families.

He also helped create an anti-bias provision in the bill that outlawed racial and sexual discrimination in the way the federal funding was disbursed.

When the opportunity arose to lead the Office of Management and Budget in 1975, Mr. Lynn seized at the chance despite taking a significant pay cut and working with a much smaller staff.

"It's not sexy, but the sum total of the decisions have a very important impact on the future," Mr. Lynn told The Washington Post in 1976.

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