James H. Burnley IV

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James H. Burnley IV
Jim Burnley by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Burnley in February 2018
9th United States Secretary of Transportation
In office
December 3, 1987 – January 20, 1989
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byElizabeth H. Dole
Succeeded bySamuel K. Skinner
2nd United States Deputy Secretary of Transportation
In office
1983 – December 3, 1987
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byDarrell M. Trent
Succeeded byMary Ann Dawson
Personal details
Born (1948-07-30) July 30, 1948 (age 70)
High Point, North Carolina, United States
Political partyRepublican
ChildrenJay, Anne, Alexandra, Christina
Alma materYale University
Harvard Law School
OccupationAttorney, Public Official

James Horace Burnley IV (born July 30, 1948) is an American politician and lawyer. He served as the United States Secretary of Transportation from 1987 until 1989, during the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

Early life[edit]

Burnley was born in High Point, North Carolina, on July 30, 1948 to Dorothy Mary (Rockwell) and James H. Burnley III. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude from Yale University in 1970. He received his Juris Doctor from Harvard University in 1973.


Burnley being sworn in by Ken Starr
Burnley as Transportation Secretary

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan chose Burnley, Dole's Deputy Secretary and the Department's former General Counsel, to be the nation's ninth Secretary of Transportation. Burnley served as Secretary of Transportation from 1987 to 1989. While number two at DOT, Burnley played a key role in negotiating the sale of Conrail, enabling the transfer of the Washington airports to a regional authority, and helped to assemble an ATC work force in the wake of the 1981 PATCO strike.[1] He also helped to produce the Department's policies on aviation safety and security. While Secretary, Burnley emphasized programs to eliminate drug use by issuing regulations requiring drug tests for employees in safety or security-sensitive positions in transportation-related industries. He also set up policies to encourage greater private-sector participation in meeting transportation needs, and supported Coast Guard efforts to upgrade equipment and facilities.[1] In 1988, while Secretary, Burnley directed an investigation into Texas Air Corporation, and its subsidiaries, Continental Airlines and Eastern Airlines. Due to indications of increasing financial pressures at both carriers and FAA findings underlying a substantial proposed fine of Eastern Airlines, Burnley ordered an unprecedented review of the economic fitness and compliance with safety regulations of both major airlines.[2] The review concluded that Texas Air and the two subsidiaries still met the DOT’s economic fitness criteria.[3]

As to Eastern Airlines, the review determined that the acrimonious relationships between the company and its unions increased the risk that safety could be jeopardized. Burnley appointed former Secretary of Labor William E. Brock, III to "try to build the lines of communication and cooperation inside the company that are essential to safety." Burnley also served as General Counsel of the Department of Transportation in 1983.[3]

Prior to his years with the USDOT, Burnley served as Associate Deputy Attorney General for the United States Department of Justice from 1982-1983 and as Director of the VISTA Program from 1981-1982.

Political activities[edit]

Burnley was the Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Elizabeth Dole's presidential campaign, as well a Senior Advisor to Robert J. Dole during his 1996 presidential race. He served on the transportation transition team for the George W. Bush administration. He also advised Senator McCain's Presidential campaign on transportation issues.

Legal career[edit]

Burnley is partner at Venable LLP in Washington DC, where he is considered one of the nation’s foremost authorities on transportation law and policy. His practice is focused on government relations and regulatory and legislative affairs with a concentration in transportation matters. Burnley has been recognized as the top U.S. attorney in the Transportation category in the 2013 edition of "Global Law Experts". He is also the 2013 and 2014 Client Choice Award winner for the United States and the District of Columbia in the Shipping and Transport category.[4]

Significant matters[edit]

Burnley represents a wide array of transportation clients. Public policy issues in which he has been engaged include the continuing debate over public-private partnerships; climate change, including cap and trade proposals; the licensing of a privately financed multibillion-dollar offshore LNG port; the impact of the volatility in petroleum prices on the airline and trucking industries; and statutory changes to increase trucking productivity. With respect to efforts to attract private equity to U.S. transportation infrastructure, he advises clients on how to protect their legitimate interests while seeking transactions that are politically realistic. He also has extensive experience in more traditional publicly financed projects. For example, he co-chaired the coalition that successfully lobbied for the more than two billion dollars required to replace the Wilson Bridge, which is a part of the Washington, DC Beltway.

As outside legislative counsel to American Airlines, Burnley played a key role in the crafting and passage of the emergency Airline Transportation Stabilization Act passed in the days after September 11, 2001 to help save the disaster-challenged US airline industry. Among the provisions upon which he focused, the Act limited the liability of American and United Airlines and their agents at their multibillion-dollar insurance limits; and it created a federal fund to compensate the victims and their families. He also worked on the provision providing for back-up federal terrorism insurance, without which most major air carriers would have faced grounding for the second time very soon after the attacks. Congressional Quarterly characterized enactment of this package as being "generally regarded as an unrivaled lobbying coup."

He has also represented a variety of clients on airport-related issues, such as nearby commercial projects that must be reviewed by the FAA to assure compatibility with airport operations. He has represented airport operators on federal issues and airport vendors concerned about applicable federal regulations.

Burnley was one of the leaders of a coalition of transportation and manufacturing interests which won a Congressional override of the Ergonomics Rule issued in the Clinton administration's final days.[4]

Board affiliations[edit]

Burnley maintains an active and visible presence in transportation and holds several board affiliations. He is Board Chair of the Eno Center for Transportation [1]. He served as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Virginia Port Authority for five years, and also served on the Board of Directors of Infrasoft, Inc., which produced software for the engineering industry. He was Chairman of the Port Study Panel of the National Chamber of Commerce Foundation. He is also a member of the Business Advisory Committee of the Transportation Center at Northwestern University. He served on the Board of Directors for MTA Safety Training Systems, a company involved in truck driver training, until the sale of the companies. He is a Trustee and former Chairman of the Jamestown Foundation and also a past Chairman of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. He is a member of the Washington Legal Foundation’s Legal Policy Advisory Board.


  1. ^ a b "United States Department of Transportation Office of the Historian". USDOT. Retrieved 2014-07-25.
  2. ^ Report to the Secretary: Preliminary Investigation of Texas Air Corporation and Its Subsidiaries Docket 45581, Volume 1
  3. ^ a b "Eastern Airlines and Continental Are Termed Safe". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-07-25.
  4. ^ a b "James H. Burnley IV Significant Matters". Venable LLP. Retrieved 2014-07-25.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Elizabeth H. Dole
U.S. Secretary of Transportation
Served under: Ronald Reagan

Succeeded by
Samuel K. Skinner