Reagan Picks Dole Deputy to Succeed Her

Times Staff Writer

President Reagan Thursday nominated James H. Burnley IV, a plain-spoken Southerner with a confrontational reputation, to succeed Elizabeth Hanford Dole as secretary of transportation.

Burnley, No. 2 man in the Transportation Department since 1983 and the acting secretary since Dole resigned, is expected to face tough questioning and some opposition in the Senate, where he has been criticized by Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) for “behavior unbecoming a deputy secretary.”

Such controversy is an unappealing prospect for GOP leaders so soon after the turbulent confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork, but Burnley appears to have assuaged the tempers of some senators with a recent series of visits and calls, and his confirmation is considered likely.


‘Could Be Lengthy’

“I believe this nomination could be a contentious one, not to the point that I think he’ll be defeated, but it could be a lengthy confirmation process,” said Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee’s aviation subcommittee.

Reagan nominated Mary Ann (Mimi) Weyforth Dawson, a member of the Federal Communications Commission since 1981, to succeed Burnley as deputy secretary.

The nomination of Dawson was widely viewed as a gesture to appease those who had hoped Reagan would replace Dole with a woman, such as Patricia Goldman, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Burnley, 39, who ran the day-to-day operations of the department under Dole, clashed often with lawmakers in congressional hearings as he aggressively defended Administration proposals to reduce federal subsidies for Amtrak and mass transit and to spend less on the federal aviation system than some congressmen would have liked.

Skirmish With Lautenberg

Burnley earned other senators’ enmity last May over a skirmish with Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s transportation subcommittee, in a television interview. Burnley accused Lautenberg and other critics of speaking “gibberish and nonsense” and scaring travelers with “loose, quick and glib” answers to questions about air safety.

Byrd later issued a statement admonishing Burnley for making “intemperate and misleading comments.”


In the last week, as Burnley and White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. have sought to soothe opposition, Burnley sent Lautenberg a letter expressing “sincere regret” and apologizing for his remarks.

After the White House ceremony announcing Burnley’s appointment, Lautenberg issued a statement expressing “strong policy disagreements” with the nominee but saying he would not oppose confirmation.

Burnley “appears to be afflicted with confirmation conversion,” said Sen. Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.), chairman of the Commerce Committee’s aviation subcommittee and a leading critic of Burnley.

Concern About Safety

If confirmed by the Senate, Burnley would take charge of the Transportation Department at a time of considerable public and congressional concern about the safety and efficiency of the nation’s aviation system.

Congress is considering a wide variety of possible solutions, including hiring more air traffic controllers, imposing further controls on traffic at busy airports and making the Federal Aviation Administration an independent agency, removing it from Transportation Department control.

The department recently gave the FAA and its new chief, T. Allan McArtor, increased authority to make procurement decisions. But under Dole, the Transportation Department has generally resisted congressional calls for increased spending on aviation or for any return to federal regulation of the aviation system.


That is not expected to change under Burnley, who was Dole’s handpicked successor, and the aviation industry lobbyists who were critical of the Administration’s aviation funding generally expressed dismay at Burnley’s appointment. “You’ll hear a collective wince over here,” warned Jim Thornton, president of the Air Traffic Controllers Assn., just before the nomination was announced.