President-elect Donald Trump has named a well-credentialed Washington insider to be his Secretary of Transportation and oversee a trillion-dollar campaign promise to “build the greatest infrastructure on the planet Earth.”
Elaine Chao, who ran the Department of Labor under President George W. Bush, will lead the the Department of Transportation for the incoming Trump administration. She also served as an appointed DOT deputy secretary for George H.W. Bush.
"Secretary Chao’s extensive record of strong leadership and her expertise are invaluable assets in our mission to rebuild our infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner,” said Trump. “She has an amazing life story and has helped countless Americans in her public service career.”
American Trucking Assns. President and CEO Chris Spear, who worked closely with then-Secretary Chao during his time at Labor as assistant secretary of policy in Bush’s first term, praised the choice.
“I am extremely pleased that she will be taking on this new challenge. President-elect Trump could not have picked a more qualified, experienced and dedicated individual to serve in this important role,” Spear said. “Secretary Chao understands the issues we face as we try to keep America’s freight moving safely and efficiently. We are eager to support her as our country and our industry work to improve our roads and bridges, improve safety, and harness the potential that emerging technologies have to continue to move our country forward.”
The first Asian-American woman named to a cabinet-level post, Chao was the only member of the Bush cabinet to serve all eight years of his administration. Her tenure included the costly 2002 West Coast ports dispute, resolved when the Bush administration invoked the Taft–Hartley Act to obtain a national emergency injunction against both the employers and the union.
Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Her résumé includes four years as President and CEO of United Way of America and stints with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Chao holds an MBA from Harvard, and serves on a number of corporate and nonprofit boards.
In a 2013 NPR interview roundtable interview with former cabinet members on the challenges of taking top positions in an administration, Chao emphasized the importance of working with other advisors to ensure the president gets the best possible advice—and that disagreements will occur, but these should not be aired publicly.
“I think the experience really helps. If you notice, there's recycling of people from one administration to another. There's a reason for that because, you know, Washington is a pretty high-intensity, high-pressure place,” Chao said. “And if you've never been in that kind of environment and if you don't know people who you can tap for the informal as well as the formal news and also to get things done, it's a very, very intense and stressful environment.”