Roy Ash, Powerful Budget Director for Nixon, Dies at 93
Editor’s Note: I had the good fortune of working with Roy Ash–one of the most capable public servants I ever met.
From: New York Times
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Roy L. Ash, who used tough-minded analytic acumen to build a multibillion-dollar conglomerate, Litton Industries, and to become a force in the Nixon White House, where he headed the creation of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, died on Dec. 14 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 93.
The cause was Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Lila, who confirmed the death on Thursday. It was not announced at the time.
Mr. Ash, as director of the Office of Management and Budget, which was created on his recommendation, filled a power vacuum during the Watergate crisis in President Richard M. Nixon’s second term. He had “become a surrogate president, administering the Nixon policies,” the White House correspondent John Herbers wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 1974.
Earlier, as a private citizen, Mr. Ash headed a commission appointed by Nixon to recommend ways to reorganize the executive branch. He said his managerial experience juggling scores of companies at once had helped him in that effort.
The panel’s recommendations led to the creation of some of the most prominent agencies in Washington today, consolidating functions in each that had been spread throughout the federal government, among them the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The O.M.B. director — George P. Shultz was the first and Caspar Weinberger the second — was immediately characterized as among the three or four most influential positions in the White House. The director’s office was only slightly smaller than that of the president’s chief of staff. The director’s influence grew as Watergate distracted other top administration officials.
The rise of Mr. Ash, whom journalists called “the human computer,” was considered a Horatio Alger tale. Too poor to go to college, Mr. Ash was accepted in the legendary statistics division of the Army Air Forces, home to brilliant young men like Robert S. McNamara, the future defense secretary. Harvard Business School accepted Mr. Ash without a college diploma, and he graduated first in his class.
After the war, when McNamara was named president of the Ford Motor Company, Mr. Ash declined to follow him there to be one of his “whiz kids.” Instead he jumped into the hottest activity in 1960s business: building conglomerates. In 1953 he and his friend, Charles B. Thornton, scraped together $1.5 million in borrowed money to buy the company they named Litton Industries. It grew to include more than 100 companies — involved in everything from selling trading stamps to making nuclear submarine — with total sales exceeding $2.5 billion.
Mr. Ash had not been especially active in politics until after Nixon’s election in 1968, when the president asked him to head the advisory council on government structure. Its 427-page report proposed what Nixon called the most extensive reorganization of the executive branch since 1789. In addition to carving out new agencies, it proposed consolidating government into four “supercabinet” departments. But as Nixon’s power waned, Congress rejected those changes.
In 1972 Nixon made Mr. Ash the third director of the Office of Management and Budget, created from the old White House budget office. The new office oversaw the executive branch budget and exerted management control over cabinet departments.
Cabinet officers bristled at the new controls, while Congress resisted giving so much power to a presidential appointee who did not require Senate confirmation. Mr. Ash answered that to give the Senate such power would violate the constitution by diminishing the presidency. He said it would be like “confirmation of the left hand of the president.”
The Senate was unswayed. In 1973 it voted to require confirmation hearings for appointments of O.M.B. directors and their deputies.
The son of a hay and grain dealer, Roy Lawrence Ash was born in Los Angeles on Oct. 20, 1918. After graduating from high school in 1935, he got a clerical job with the Bank of America. He enlisted in the Army in 1942. Mr. Thornton, who is credited with creating the first system of statistical controls in the armed services, chose Mr. Ash to be part of his team.
After the war and Harvard Business School, which he finished in 18 months, Mr. Ash returned to the Bank of America as chief statistician, and was controller of Hughes Aircraft, where Mr. Thornton was operating chief.
When they bought the Electro-Dynamics Corporation, which would become Litton, it was a small West Coast producer of microwave tubes. It became a major military contractor and was bought by Northrop Grumman in 2001.
When Mr. Ash was nominated as Nixon’s management and budget officer, critics pointed to a civil court case in which accountants testified that Mr. Ash, while at Hughes in the early 1950s, had told them to alter figures so the Air Force would be overcharged on a contract. The accountants resigned in protest, and Hughes ultimately repaid $43 million to the Air Force.
There were also allegations that Hughes had forced Mr. Ash and Mr. Thornton to resign. But Nixon voiced full support for Mr. Ash, and he was confirmed.
As O.M.B. director, Mr. Ash had several run-ins with others in the administration. After Mr. Ash said the energy crisis was only “short term,” William E. Simon, head of the Federal Energy Office, told him to “keep his cotton-pickin’ hands off energy policy.”
Mr. Ash’s hundreds of employees dwarfed the staffs of other White House aides, making it possible for O.M.B. to steer policy in ways the administration’s domestic council could not. Herbert Stein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, spoke of “the Great God, O.M.B.”
Some journalists were put off by Mr. Ash’s emphasis on data over personalities. The columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak likened being with him to “sitting in a room with some chilled liver.”
Mr. Ash continued as O.M.B. director under President Gerald R. Ford for about seven months, departing in February 1975. Mr. Ash was later chairman and chief executive of AM International, which made electronic office equipment. He and his wife endowed the Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
In addition to his wife, the former Lola Hornbek, Mr. Ash is survived by his sons, Charles, James and Robert; his daughters, Loretta Danko and Marilyn Hanna; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. Ash had a quick wit. In 1975, President Ford asked him if he had any good economic news he could use in his State of the Union address. Mr. Ash replied, “That’ll take about four seconds.”