John P. White, deputy secretary of defense under Clinton; at 80


Dr. White was deputy secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, then taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Globe staff and news services 

WASHINGTON — John P. White, deputy secretary of defense in the Clinton administration who also had served during the Carter presidency as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and as assistant secretary of defense for manpower, reserve affairs, and logistics, died Sept. 3 at an assisted living center in Great Falls, Va. He was 80.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, said a son, Tim.


In a career that spanned a half-century, Dr. White held high-echelon positions in government and the private sector and faculty positions at Harvard University.

“I have lost a close friend. The Kennedy School has lost one of its greats. The United States has lost a great defense leader. The world has lost a noble man who embodied all that is good and decent in public life,’’ Ashton Carter, secretary of defense during the Obama administration, wrote in a tribute posted on the website for the Belfer Center at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

From 1998 to 2012, Dr. White was the Robert and Renée Belfer lecturer at the school.

“His teaching legacy now includes a world populated with alumni who strive to make the world a safer place, all the while maintaining the professional standards and common decency to which he held himself accountable throughout his career,’’ Carter wrote.

In 1992, Dr. White was hired by independent presidential candidate Ross Perot to write the economic plan that called for dramatic changes in government spending, entitlement programs, and taxation. The plan was turned into a best-selling book, “United We Stand, America.” Later in the year he broke with Perot and endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton.


In 1993, Dr. White was tapped by Thomas Menino, then Boston’s City Council president, to head a panel of 17 business leaders drafting a new “economic blueprint” for Boston.

“I’m very excited to be able to have a person of that quality on board,” Menino said at the time. “It’s a good start for our transition.”

Later that year, after Menino won the mayoral election, Dr. White was named cochairman of the transition team, which urged investment in new technology to improve the delivery of city services and the consolidation of functions that were parceled out among various agencies.

“It’s not like we’re going to run the city as a business,” Dr. White told the Globe. “But we want to have clear lines of authority and reduce the number of people reporting directly to the mayor.”

He said transition officials were surprised at the lack of technology in city government, as well as by the lack of communication among various departments and with the public.

Dr. White served as the deputy secretary of defense from 1995 to 1997.


“My friendship with John began at the Kennedy School,’’ Carter, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, wrote in his tribute. “John was a major architect of bipartisan approaches to the federal budget woes of the time, which are sadly not that different from today’s. His ideas were widely hailed. In fact, they provided the intellectual foundation for the wildfire candidacy of H. Ross Perot for president.

“John and I grew closer when we both served in the Defense Department during the Clinton administration. He was Deputy Secretary of Defense to both secretaries Bill Perry and Bill Cohen. I learned a great deal from the managerial skill and dedication to the troops John showed. He was also an example of civility and good comportment of the kind so often missing in today’s Washington.’’

In 2008, Dr. White was an adviser to the Obama transition team on the organization of the Defense Department.

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., John Patrick White graduated from Cornell University and went to Syracuse University, where he received a master’s degree in economics and public administration in 1964 and a doctorate in labor economics in 1969. He served as a Marine Corps officer from 1959 to 1961.

In the 1960s and ’70s, he was a vice president at the Rand Corp. think tank, where his specialties included the elimination of a draft-based US military and its changeover to a volunteer armed forces.

He leaves his wife of 58 years, Elizabeth Michaud White; two sons, Timothy and John; two daughters, Ann Marie Molyneaux and Patricia Welch; and eight grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was held in Reston, Va.

Material from The Washington Post was used in this obituary.