Bert Lance returned home to Georgia yesterday, leaving behind a group of downcast White House aides and a President described as being in no rush to name a successor as the government's budget director.
Lance and his wife, LaBelle, flew by private airplane to their hometown. Calhoun, Ga., where many of the 6,000 townspeople turned out for a rally in an emotional display of support and affection.
But Lance will return to Washington, White House press secretary Jody Powell said, and has agreed to devote an unspecified amount of time to assuring that there is an "orderly transition" at the Office of Management and Budget.
In the meantime, Lance's 36-year-old deputy, James T. McIntyre, took over yesterday as acting director of the agency, Powell said.
At the White House, there was little talk of Lance's ultimate successor and apparently no sense of urgency in naming one.
"The President feels no great pressure to move in any hasty fashion in making a permanent choice" for OMB director, Powell said.
He noted that Carter is "quite confident" that McIntyre can handle the job in the weeks ahead and that McIntyre presumably would be among those considered as the permanent successor to Lance.
McIntyre, like Lance, is a Georgian who worked in the Georgia state government. As Lance's deputy, he has been responsible for most of the detailed, day-to-day operations at OMB. But he is a career budget technician an considered an unlikely choice for the highly political and visible job of OMB director.
Meanwhile, one of those who has figured in speculation about the budget director's job, Carter's trade negotiator Robert S. Strauss, ruled himself out as Lance's successor.
"I have no expectation" that Carter "will ask me, and none whatever that I would accept if asked," Strauss said in Brussels.
Robert Dietsch, the OMB press spokesman, said Lance will return to Washington over the weekend and on Monday will host with his wife a reception at OMB for White House and OMB aides and possibly members of Congress and others.
In Atlanta, John Stembler, chairman of the board of the National Bank of Georgia, said Lance would be welcomed back to the bank, where he was president before joining the government at the request of his close friend, the President.
"Bert can have the job as chairman tomorrow if he wants if," Stembler said.
But Daniel Patillo, who with Lance and Sttmbler gained control of the bank in 1975, said he doubted Lance would return to the NBG.
Lance would not speculate about his future. He said he had made "no decision yet" on it and for now wanted only to return to Georgia "and get a little rest."
"Tell the Georgia folks we're doing fine," he said in a telephone interview with an Atlanta radio station."We appreciate their support, love, trust and faith more than they can ever possibly know. That was one of the things that sustained us throughout this whole thing.
As Calhom prepared to give Lance a hero's welcome, his mother, Annie E. Lance, told reporters: "He's been a great son. I can't imagine having a greater son than Bert. I don't understand why this happened to Bert."
An estimated 1,500 people turned out in downtown Calhoun to greet the Lances with heavy applause, red roses and a high school band that played "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Lance, who seemed tired, told the crowd, "LaBelle and I can't tell you how much this means to us today to be welcomed back home like this."
Lance's resignation Wednesday, the result of weeks of allegations about his freewheeling conduct as head of the Atlanta bank an the Calhoun First National Bank, did not put an end to at least four official inquiries into his banking practices.
Deputy Attorney General Peter Flaherty, who is heading a Justice Department investigation of Lance's financial activities, said the investigation will continue "as expeditiously as possible."
Flaherty also announced a change on the special, three-member review panel that is examining the department's files on Lance for possible criminal misconduct.
Walter Barnes, a deputy in the Criminal Division's fraud section, asked to be replaced because he was peripherally involved in the department's decision to close an investigation of Lance by the U.S. Attorney's office in Atlanta, according to Flaherty. His replacement is Richard W. Beckler, another deputy in the fraud section.
Flaherty said that the panel will start full-time work on the project next week. He added that he had put no time limit on its deliberations but hoped for some preliminary recommendation within a few weeks.
At his regualr briefing at the White House, Powell was subdued, reflecting the general sentiment among Lance's many friends on the White House staff.
"I don't think that anybody is very happy," Powell said, "and I don't think it relates to consideration of the political impact" of the Lance affair.
Powell also said under questioning that Carter had erred during his press conference Wednesday when he said he first learned last Dec. 1 that one aspect of Lance's activities - over drafts on his campaign accounts when he ran in 1974 for governor of Georgia - had been referred to the Justice Department.
That contradicted earlier White House assertions that Carter learned of the Justice Department referral only after he nominated Lance on Dec. 3. Powell said the President made a mistake in the reference Dec. 1.
The President telephoned Lance at his Georgetown home yesterday morning. But the two did not meet personally and Lance did not go to his office in the Executive Office Building next to the White House.