|18th United States Secretary of Transportation|
|Assumed office |
January 31, 2017
|Deputy||Jeffrey A. Rosen|
|Preceded by||Anthony Foxx|
|24th United States Secretary of Labor|
January 29, 2001 – January 20, 2009
|President||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Alexis Herman|
|Succeeded by||Hilda Solis|
|12th Director of the Peace Corps|
October 8, 1991 – November 13, 1992
|President||George H. W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Paul Coverdell|
|Succeeded by||Carol Bellamy|
|United States Deputy Secretary of Transportation|
April 19, 1989 – October 8, 1991
|President||George H. W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Mary Ann Dawson|
|Succeeded by||James B. Busey IV|
|Chair of the Federal Maritime Commission|
April 29, 1988 – April 19, 1989
George H. W. Bush
|Preceded by||Edward Hickey|
|Succeeded by||James Carey|
|Commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission|
April 29, 1988 – April 19, 1989
George H. W. Bush
|Preceded by||Edward Hickey|
|Succeeded by||Ming Hsu|
Elaine Lan Chao
March 26, 1953
Mitch McConnell (m. 1993)
|Education||Mount Holyoke College (BA)|
Harvard University (MBA)
|Net worth||$24 million|
Elaine Lan Chao (Chinese: 趙小蘭; pinyin: Zhào Xiǎolán; born March 26, 1953) is the current United States Secretary of Transportation. A member of the Republican Party, Chao was previously Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009.
Born in Taipei to Chinese parents who had left mainland China following the Chinese Civil War, Chao immigrated to the United States at age 8. Her father founded the Foremost Group, which eventually became a major shipping corporation. Chao was raised in Long Island, New York and subsequently attended Mount Holyoke College and Harvard Business School. She worked for a number of financial institutions before being appointed to several senior positions in the Department of Transportation under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, including Deputy Secretary. She next served as Director of the Peace Corps.
Chao was president of the United Way of America from 1992 to 1996. While not in government, Chao has served on several boards of directors and worked for The Heritage Foundation and the Hudson Institute, two conservative think-tanks. Chao served as Secretary of Labor for the duration of George W. Bush's presidency and presently serves as Secretary of Transportation under President Donald Trump.
Early life and education
Elaine Chao immigrated to the United States when she was eight years old. The eldest of six daughters, Chao was born in Taipei, Taiwan, to Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, a historian, and James S.C. Chao, who began his career as a merchant mariner and in 1964 founded a shipping company in New York City. The company, Foremost Maritime Corporation, developed into the Foremost Group; as of 2013, James S.C. Chao continued to serve as its Chairman. James first met Ruth when she and her family relocated to Shanghai during World War II. In 1949, James and Ruth relocated separately to Taiwan at the culmination of the Chinese Civil War. They married in 1950. In 1961, Elaine came to the United States on a 37-day freight ship journey along with her mother and two younger sisters. Her father had arrived in New York three years earlier after receiving a scholarship.
Chao attended Tsai Hsing Elementary School in Taipei for kindergarten and first grade, and subsequently attended Syosset High School in Syosset, New York, on Long Island. She was naturalized as a U.S. citizen at the age of 19.
Chao received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1975. In the second semester of her junior year, she studied money and banking at Dartmouth College. She received a MBA degree from Harvard Business School in 1979.
Before entering public service, Chao was Vice President for syndications at Bank of America Capital Markets Group in San Francisco, California, and an International Banker at Citicorp in New York for four years.
In 1986, Chao became Deputy Administrator of the Maritime Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. From 1988 to 1989, she served as Chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission. In 1989, President George H. W. Bush nominated Chao to be Deputy Secretary of Transportation, serving from 1989 to 1991. From 1991 to 1992, she was the Director of the Peace Corps. She was the first Asian Pacific American to serve in any of these positions. She expanded the Peace Corps' presence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by establishing the first Peace Corps programs in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.
Between Bush Administrations
Following her service in President George H.W. Bush's administration, Chao worked for four years as President and CEO of United Way of America. She is credited with returning credibility and public trust to the organization after a financial mismanagement scandal involving former president William Aramony. From 1996 until her appointment as Secretary of Labor, Chao was a Distinguished Fellow with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. She was also a board member of the Independent Women's Forum. She returned to the Heritage Foundation after leaving the government in January 2009.
U.S. Secretary of Labor (2001–2009)
Chao was the only cabinet member in the George W. Bush administration to serve for the entirety of his eight years. She was also the longest-serving Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins, who served from 1933 to 1945, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Washington Post wrote towards the end of Chao's tenure as Labor Secretary that the Labor Department under her was "widely criticized for walking away from its regulatory function across a range of issues, including wage and hour law and workplace safety."
Union disclosure requirements
In 2002, a major West Coast ports dispute costing the U.S. economy nearly $1 billion daily was resolved when the Bush administration obtained a national emergency injunction against both the employers and the union under the Taft–Hartley Act for the first time since 1971. Led by Chao In 2003, for the first time in more than 40 years, the Department updated the labor union financial disclosure regulations under the Landrum–Griffin Act of 1959, which created more extensive disclosure requirements for union-sponsored pension plans and other trusts to prevent embezzlement or other financial mismanagement.
Government Accountability Office reports
After analyzing 70,000 closed case files from 2005 to 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Department's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) inadequately investigated complaints from low- and minimum-wage workers alleging that employers failed to pay the federal minimum wage, required overtime, and failed to issue a last paycheck.
A 2008 Government Accountability Office report noted that the Labor Department gave Congress inaccurate numbers that understated the expense of contracting out its employees' work to private firms during Chao's tenure.
A 2007 report by the department's inspector general found that mine safety regulators did not conduct federally required inspections at more than 14% of the country's 731 underground coal mines, and that the number of worker deaths in mining accidents more than doubled to 47.
OSHA statistics for 2007 and 2008 revealed that overall workplace fatality rates and workplace injury and illness rates were "both at all-time lows". A 2009 internal audit appraising an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) initiative focusing on problematic workplaces, however, stated that employees had failed to gather needed data, conducted uneven inspections and enforcement, and failed to discern repeat fatalities because records misspelled the companies' names or failed to notice when two subsidiaries with the same owner were involved.
Post-Bush administration (2009–2017)
She also served as a director on a number of corporate and non-profit boards, including the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Wells Fargo,New York–Presbyterian Hospital, News Corp,Dole Food Company, and Protective Life Corporation. According to financial disclosure forms, Chao was slated to receive between $1–5 million for compensation for her service on the board of Wells Fargo. In June 2011, she was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service.
In January 2015 she resigned from the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which she had joined in 2012, because of its plans to significantly increase support for the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" initiative.
In February 2017, it was reported by the Associated Press that Chao in addition to former Joint Chiefs of Staff General Hugh Shelton, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps General James T. Conway, President Obama's former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former CIA Directors Porter Goss and James R. Woolsey , former FBI Director Louis Free and former Governors Howard Dean of Vermont and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania had addressed organizations linked to the People's Mujahedin of Iran (aka Mojahedin-e Khalq or MEK), a group exiled from Iran after actions in the 1970s against the Shah of Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Chao was paid a total of $67,000 for the two speeches, which took place in 2015 and 2016.
Chao served as a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute until she was sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Transportation on January 31, 2017.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation (2017–present)
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump announced on November 29, 2016, that he would nominate Chao to be Secretary of Transportation. The U.S. Senate confirmed Chao on January 31, 2017 by a vote of 93–6, with her husband Senator McConnell abstaining.
An October 2018 Politico analysis found that Chao had more than 290 hours of appointments which were labelled as "private" during working hours on working days for her 14 first months. The hours were equivalent to seven weeks of vacation. Former Department of Transportation officials described it as unusual.
In 1993, Chao married Mitch McConnell, the senior U.S. Senator from Kentucky and the eventual Senate Majority Leader. They were introduced by Stuart Bloch, an early friend of McConnell's, and his wife Julia Chang Bloch, a Chinese American and a future U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, the first Asian American to serve as US Ambassador, who mentored Chao. Bloch described Chao as a "tiger wife", a reference to Amy Chua's 2011 book about her disciplinarian parenting style.
In an interview with CNN, Chao said she sometimes regrets not having children, and she counseled young women that there are trade-offs in life.
In the two years leading up to the 2014 U.S. Senate elections, she "headlined fifty of her own events and attended hundreds more with and on behalf of" her husband and was seen as "a driving force of his reelection campaign" and eventual victory over Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who had portrayed McConnell as "anti-woman". After winning the election, McConnell said, "The biggest asset I have by far is the only Kentucky woman who served in a president's cabinet, my wife, Elaine Chao."
She has been described by Jan Karzen, a longtime friend of McConnell's, as adding "a softer touch" to McConnell's style by speaking of him "in a feminine, wifely way". She has also been described as "the campaign hugger" and is also known for bipartisan socializing. For example, in 2014 she hosted a dinner with philanthropist Catherine B. Reynolds to welcome Penny Pritzker as Secretary of Commerce, where she spent the evening socializing with Valerie Jarrett, Obama's closest advisor.
The New York Times has described her as "an unapologetically ambitious operator with an expansive network, a short fuse, and a seemingly inexhaustible drive to get to the top and stay there."
The Chao family
In April 2008, Chao's father gave Chao and McConnell between $5 million and $25 million, which "boosted McConnell's personal worth from a minimum of $3 million in 2007 to more than $7 million" and "helped the McConnells after their stock portfolio dipped in the wake of the financial crisis that year."
As Secretary of Transportation, Chao appeared in at least a dozen interviews with her father, a shipping magnate with extensive business interests in the United States and China. Ethics experts said that the appearances raised ethical concerns, as public officials are prohibited from using their office to profit others or themselves.
In 2012, the Chao family donated $40 million to Harvard Business School for scholarships for students of Chinese heritage and the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center, an executive education building named for Chao's late mother. It is the first building named after a woman on the Harvard campus and the first building named after an American of Asian ancestry.Ruth Mulan Chu Chao returned to school at age 51 to earn a master's degree in Asian literature and history from St. John's University in the Queens borough of New York City.