James Burnley is a partner specialising in transportation matters at the Washington law firm Venable LLP. He served as the US secretary of transportation from 1987 to 1989 and as the deputy secretary of transportation from 1983 to 1987. Prior to this, Burnley served as associate deputy attorney general for the justice department, and as the director of the volunteers in service America programme, in the early 1980s. He also served for five years as the vice chairman of the board of commissioners at Virginia Port Authority.
As outside legislative counsel to American Airlines, Burnley played a central role in the crafting and passage of the emergency Airline Transportation Stabilisation Act, which was passed in the days after 11 September 2001, to help save the disaster-challenged US airline industry.
Burnley was educated at Yale University and Harvard Law School.