Wilford L. White, 81, a former director of the office of management and research assistance of the Small Business Administration and before that a Commerce Department official, died at his home in Washington Tuesday of hear and lung failure.

Mr. White was born in Marion, Ind. He graduated from the University of Colorado and then earned master's and doctoral degrees at the Harvard Business School. He became a professor of marketing at the University of Texas in 1928, and began his government career in the same year as part of a Federal Trade Commission inquiry into chain stores.

In 1934, he became chief of the marketing research division of the Commerce Department. He remained on the faculty of the University of Texas until 1937, and then devoted full time to government work.

He held a number of posts at Commerce and then joined the Small Business Administration in 1953. He retired from federal service in 1964. He then became director of the Small Business and Development Center at Howard University. He retired a second time in 1972.

Mr. White had taught courses at American and George Washington universities over the years.

He was a past president of the American Marketing Association and a member of the American Economic Association. He belonged to the Cosmos Club.

Mr. White was a member of the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, and was active in Christian Science affairs in the Washington area.

Survivors include his wife, Irma Read White, of the home.