Bert Lance

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Bert Lance
Bert Lance (businessman and Director of Office of Management and Budget under President Jimmy Carter).jpg
23rd Director of the Office of Management and Budget
In office
January 24, 1977 – September 24, 1977
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byJames T. Lynn
Succeeded byJim McIntyre
Personal details
Thomas Bertram Lance

(1931-06-03)June 3, 1931
Gainesville, Georgia, U.S.
DiedAugust 15, 2013(2013-08-15) (aged 82)
Calhoun, Georgia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationEmory University
University of Georgia (BA)

Thomas Bertram "Bert" Lance (June 3, 1931 – August 15, 2013) was an American businessman who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Jimmy Carter in 1977. He is known mainly for resigning from the Carter administration because of a scandal during his first year in office. However, he was later cleared of all charges.[1]

Early life[edit]

Lance was born in Gainesville, Georgia. His father, Thomas Jackson Lance, had served as president of Young Harris College, in northeastern Georgia, and in 1941, the family relocated to Calhoun, Gordon County, when Lance's father became superintendent of Calhoun schools.

After graduating from Calhoun High School in 1948, Lance attended Emory University for two years before he transferred to the University of Georgia. In 1950, he married LaBelle David, whose family owned the Calhoun First National Bank; they had four sons. Under pressure to support his wife and their first son, Lance dropped out of the University of Georgia, where he had been a member of Sigma Chi, before graduating.

He became a teller at the bank and, within a decade ascended to its presidency after he had acquired a controlling stake with a consortium of investors in 1958. Meanwhile, he completed American Bankers Association-accredited executive education programs at Louisiana State University's School of Banking of the South (1952–1954) and the Stonier School of Banking at Rutgers University (1961–1963).[2][3] He later served as president of the National Bank of Georgia in Atlanta from 1975 to 1977.

Carter administration[edit]

Lance became acquainted with Jimmy Carter during the latter's time as Governor of Georgia and served as State Highway Director during his administration. Lance ran to succeed Carter in 1974 but lost a bid for the Democratic nomination, finishing third in the first primary behind Lester Maddox and the eventual winner, George Busbee. During the campaign, Lance accrued campaign debts of nearly $600,000.[4]

Lance (center) with National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Defense Secretary Harold Brown

Lance was an adviser to Carter during his successful 1976 presidential campaign. After Carter's victory over President Gerald Ford, Lance was named Director of the Office of Management and the Budget (OMB). According to former OMB officials, it was well known in the department that Bert Lance and President Carter prayed together every morning.

Within six months, questions were raised by the press and Congress about mismanagement and corruption when Lance was chairman of the board of Calhoun First National Bank of Georgia. William Safire's article written during this time, Carter's Broken Lance, earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1978.

It was an embarrassment for Carter's administration, particularly as it took place soon after President Nixon's Watergate scandal and President Ford's pardon of Nixon just before he could be tried for any crimes. To ensure there was no hint of similar impropriety in the Carter administration, Lance resigned his position. Later, after a well-publicized trial in 1980, a jury acquitted Lance on nine charges, and did not decide two others.[5][6]

In 1981, Lance returned to the Calhoun First National Bank as chairman; he left in 1986. He then made something of a political comeback in 1982 when he was elected Chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party. In 1984, Walter Mondale – who was the Democratic candidate for U.S. President at the time – sought to name Lance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, but was forced to withdraw his name after opposition from Democratic party members.[7] Lance's appointment as general manager of the 1984 campaign lasted only a few weeks.[8] Lance was an advisor to Jesse Jackson during Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign.[9]

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"[edit]

Lance is credited with popularizing the phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", which he was quoted as saying in the May 1977 issue of the magazine Nation's Business.[10][11] The expression became widespread, and William Safire wrote that it "has become a source of inspiration to anti-activists."[12]

BCCI scandal[edit]

Lance was implicated in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) scandal of the 1980s and early 1990s. He was involved in deals with notable BCCI luminaries Agha Hasan Abedi, Mochtar Riady, and Ghaith Pharaon[13] and with BCCI's largest borrower, Ponnapula Sanjeeva Prasad,[14][15] and joined with Arkansas-based power investor Jackson Stephens in facilitating BCCI's takeover of Financial General Bankshares.[16] Lance and Stephens made millions in the wake of BCCI's collapse.[17] During Carter's run for office, Lance had helped him secure funding by using stored peanuts at Carter's peanut business. It was alleged that there were no peanuts in the storage facilities.

In January 1978, Lance sold his stock in National Bank of Georgia to Pharaon, and on the same day, BCCI founder Abedi paid off Lance's $3.5 million loan at the First National Bank of Chicago. Meanwhile, the Chicago bank was making huge loans to the Soviet Union with open lines of credit. The next month, Lance helped BCCI's hostile bid for Financial General Bankshares of Washington. The attempt failed, but three years later, BCCI secretly acquired the bank and renamed it First American Bankshares by using 15 Arab investors as nominees. The next year, Lance introduced Carter to Abedi. In 1987, First American Bankshares acquired National Bank of Georgia from Pharaon. BCCI was terminated in 1991, and it was subsequently revealed that the bank had engaged in many illegal activities, including secretly controlling several US banks, in violation of federal banking statutes.[18]

In popular culture[edit]

On Saturday Night Live, September 24, 1977,[19] the day Lance resigned from the Carter administration, John Belushi (playing Lance) and Dan Aykroyd (playing Carter) appeared in an advertising parody of an American Express credit card commercial.[20]

In a Season 5 episode of Good Times (1977), JJ references Bert Lance while offering to make out a check for the family budget, knowing they have no money.[21]

In "Making Out", a 1979 episode of the sitcom What's Happening!, Rerun (played by Fred Berry) confuses Bert Lance with Cyrus Vance while trying to impress a date who is a political science major.[22]

A stretch of Interstate 75 in Georgia has been named for Lance.[23]


Lance died on August 15, 2013, at his home in northwest Georgia at age 82. He had been in hospice care due to recent declining health, caused by aging.[24][25]


  • Lance, Thomas Bertram; Bill Gilbert (1991). The truth of the matter : my life in and out of politics. New York: Summit Books. ISBN 0671690272. LCCN 91025016. Retrieved August 21, 2013.


  1. ^ "Politicians who are charged with wrongdoing often not convicted". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  2. ^ Nominations of Thomas B. Lance and James T. McIntyre, Jr: Hearings Before the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, Ninety-fifth Congress, First Session, on Nomination of Thomas B. Lance to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget, January 17 and 18, 1977, and Nomination of James T. McIntyre, Jr. to be Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, March 4, 1977. United States Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. 1977. p. 3.
  3. ^ "New Georgia Encyclopedia: Bert Lance (b. 1931)". Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 12, 2010.
  4. ^ Anchorage Daily News January 16, 1979[dead link]
  5. ^ "Bert Lance acquitted on nine counts". Boca Raton News. Associated Press. April 30, 1980. p. 2A. Retrieved August 20, 2013. Lance was found innocent on nine charges of misusing the funds of two Georgia banks he headed... the jurors could not reach a decision on two counts charging Lance lied in financial statements and one count charging that a loan Lance made to co-defendant Carr through the National Bank of Georgia was a misapplication of bank funds.
  6. ^ "The lance affair – Jimmy Carter". Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  7. ^ "Manatt to keep position". Times Daily. Florence, Alabama. New York Times News Service. July 16, 1984. pp. 1A, 3A. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  8. ^ Gailey, Phil (August 3, 1984). "Lance Quits Post in Mondale Drive over 'Old Charges'". The New York Times. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  9. ^ Purnick, Joyce; Oreskes, Michael. "Jesse Jackson Aims for the Mainstream". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  10. ^ Martin, Gary. "The meaning and origin of the expression: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  11. ^ "Broke". Oxford English Dictionary.
  12. ^ Titelman, Gregory Y. (1996). Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings. New York: Random House.
  13. ^ "Bert Lance". Our Georgia History. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  14. ^ Niemeyer, J. "Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation v. Hadid – 947 F.2d 1153 (4th Cir. 1991)". Santa Clara Law School. Archived from the original on March 23, 2006.
  15. ^ Niemeyer, Paul V. "Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Mohamed Anwar M. Hadid, Defendant-Appellant (Two Cases), 947 F.2d 1153 (4th Cir. 1991)". Archived from the original on August 19, 2013. Retrieved August 13, 2013 – via vLex. Docket Numbers 90-1825,90-1844, Reporting Judge 60 USLW 2358
  16. ^ "BCCI in the United States – Initial Entry and FGB and NBG Takeovers". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved August 18, 2013. Stephens was both a close friend of Lance's, and a longtime activist in Democratic political circles. Stephens had been instrumental in fundraising efforts for President Jimmy Carter, who had been his classmate at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. Moreover, Stephens retained a financial interest in National Bank of Georgia after Lance purchased it from FGB.
  17. ^ McAlary, Mike (February 7, 1992). "Bill Clinton Banker's BCCI Link". New York Post.
  18. ^ Beaty, Jonathan; Gwynne, S. C. (1993). The Outlaw Bank: a Wild Ride Into the Secret Heart of BCCI (2004 ed.). Beard Books. ISBN 1587981467.
  19. ^ "SNL Transcript September 24th, 1977". Archived from the original on June 7, 2002. Retrieved September 8, 2018.
  20. ^ "SNL Transcripts: Steve Martin: 09/24/77: National Express Card". Archived from the original on June 5, 2002.
  21. ^ Freiman, Richard; Dorfman, Sid (October 19, 1977). "Willona the Fuzz". Good Times. Season 5. Episode 6. CBS. That never bothered Bert Lance!
  22. ^ Pagliaro, Joanne; Monte, Eric (January 11, 1979). "Making Out". What's Happening!. Season 3. Episode 11. ABC.
  23. ^ "Gordon County". Calhoun Times. September 1, 2004. p. 86. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
  24. ^ Robert D. Hershey Jr. (August 16, 2013). "Bert Lance, Carter Adviser, Dies at 82". The New York Times. p. A21. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  25. ^ Galloway, Jim (August 15, 2013). "Bert Lance, confidant of Jimmy Carter, dead at 82". Political Insider (blog). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved August 15, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Biography Index. A cumulative index to biographical material in books and magazines. Volume 13: September 1982 – August 1984. New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 1984.
  • Who's Who in America. 46th edition, 1990–1991. Wilmette: Marquis Who's Who, 1990.
  • Who's Who in Finance and Industry. 24th edition, 1985–1986. Wilmette: Marquis Who's Who, 1985.
  • Who's Who in Government. Third edition, 1977. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1977.
  • Who's Who in the South and Southwest. 15th edition, 1976–1977. Wilmette: Marquis Who's Who, 1976.
  • Who's Who in America. 48th edition, 1994. New Providence: Marquis Who's Who, 1993.
  • Who's Who in American Politics(R) [Marquis(TM)]. 17th edition, 1999–2000. New Providence: Marquis Who's Who, 1999. Use the Index to locate biographies.
  • "Thomas Bertram Lance". Almanac of Famous People (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). Gale. 2011. Gale Document Number: GALE|K1601066813. Retrieved August 21, 2013. Biography in Context. (subscription required)

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Succeeded by