WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday approved the nomination of James H. Burnley IV to be secretary of transportation, promoting an official who has had repeated clashes with lawmakers over federal safety and economic policies.
Although the vote was a lopsided 74 to 0, some legislators who supported elevating the Transportation Department's No. 2 official into the top post emphasized that their feelings toward him were mixed.
Chairman Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) of the Senate Commerce Committee complained that it "has been like pulling teeth" for Congress to persuade the department to take steps to improve aviation safety.
Called Slow to Act
"Mr. Burnley has been part of the management over at DOT that has been slow to recognize the obvious problems we face, and even slower to act toward solving them," he said.
Chairman Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) of the Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee cited the frequent battles the 39-year-old North Carolinian has had with legislators. Burnley, deputy secretary of the department since 1983, has been a vocal defender of several policies that have been unpopular on Capitol Hill.
"Mr. Burnley, at times, has had difficulty working constructively with members of Congress," Lautenberg said.
"But we've seen a change," he added, referring to efforts by Burnley in recent weeks to make peace with several legislators.
Burnley, nominated by President Reagan in October, succeeds Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who resigned to work full time on the presidential campaign of her husband, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.).
Burnley saw his relations with Congress reach a low point in May, when he argued with senators on national television.
Appearing on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation" with Lautenberg, Burnley accused critics of his department's aviation safety policies of speaking "gibberish and nonsense." Those opponents--and Lautenberg had been among them--were scaring air passengers with "loose, quick, glib" comments, Burnley said.