Government Experience

  • Secretary of Transportation, United States Department of Transportation
  • Deputy Secretary of Transportation, United States Department of Transportation
  • General Counsel, United States Department of Transportation
  • Vice Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Virginia Port Authority
  • Associate Deputy Attorney General, United States Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General

Bar Admissions

  • District of Columbia


  • J.D., Harvard Law School, 1973
  • B.A., magna cum laude, Yale University, 1970
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James H. Burnley IV


Jim Burnley focuses his practice on government relations and regulatory and legislative affairs, with a concentration in transportation matters.

Jim served as the U.S. Secretary of Transportation from 1987 to 1989 and is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on transportation law and policy. He also served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation from 1983 to 1987 and was General Counsel of the Department in 1983. Prior to his years with the USDOT, Jim served as Associate Deputy Attorney General for the Justice Department and as Director of the VISTA Program in the early 1980s.

In its 2013 edition, Global Law Experts recognized Jim as the top U.S. attorney in the Transportation category. The rankings organization chooses only one lawyer in each key practice area per country across the globe. Jim 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. The sponsoring organizations make the awards to lawyers "globally that stand apart for the excellent client care they provide."

Significant Matters

Jim 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, Jim 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 multi-billion 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.

Jim 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.


Jim maintains a visible presence in transportation. He cochairs the Eno Foundation NextGen Working Group, which is focused on major reform and restructuring of the air traffic control system. He is also a member of the Eno Center for Transportation’s Board of Directors. He served for five years as Vice Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Virginia Port Authority. 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.

Jim is active in national Republican circles. For example, he was the Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Elizabeth Dole’s presidential campaign. He was also a Senior Advisor to Bob Dole during the 1996 presidential race, and he served on the transportation transition team for the Bush administration. He also advised Senator McCain's Presidential campaign on transportation issues.

Jim maintains active civic and board affiliations, including several tied to his transportation work. He served on the Board of Directors of Infrasoft, Inc., which produces software for the engineering industry, and of MTA Safety Training Systems, a company involved in truck driver training, until the sales 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.