Elaine Chao

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Elaine L. Chao
Elaine Chao large.jpg
24th United States Secretary of Labor
In office
January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009
President George W. Bush
Preceded by Alexis Herman
Succeeded by Hilda Solis
12th Director of the Peace Corps
In office
President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Paul Coverdell
Succeeded by Carol Bellamy
Personal details
Born (1953-03-26) March 26, 1953 (age 61)
Taipei, Taiwan
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Mitch McConnell
Alma mater Mount Holyoke College
Harvard Business School
Religion Southern Baptist
Elaine L. Chao
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Hanyu Pinyin Zhào Xiǎolán

Elaine L. Chao (Chinese: ;[1] born 1953) served as the 24th United States Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. She was the first Asian Pacific American woman and first Chinese American to be appointed to a President's cabinet in American history.[2] Chao was the only cabinet member to serve under George W. Bush for his entire administration.[3]

Childhood and education[edit]

The eldest of six daughters, Chao was born to Ruth Mulan Chu Chao (趙朱木蘭 Zhào Zhū Mùlán), a historian, and Dr. James S.C. Chao (趙錫成 Zhào Xīchéng), who began his career as a merchant mariner and later, after getting established in New York, built a successful shipping company (Foremost Shipping Co.).[4] Elaine Chao’s parents had fled to Taiwan from mainland China after the Chinese Communists took over after the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Chao attended Taipei’s Tsai Hsing Elementary School in kindergarten and first grade. Chao, her mother and two younger sisters came to the U.S. aboard a freight ship in 1961, when she was eight years old. Her father had arrived in New York three years earlier after receiving a scholarship. It took three years for her father to save enough money to pay for his family’s passage from Taiwan and for visas to be obtained for them.[5] Elaine went to Syosset High School.

Elaine Chao received her B.A. in Economics from Mount Holyoke College in 1975 and her MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1979. In addition, Chao has received 34 honorary doctorate degrees.[6]


Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations[edit]

With a family background in the shipping business, Chao applied for and was granted a White House Fellowship in 1983 during the administration of President Ronald Reagan. In 1986, Chao became Deputy Administrator of the Maritime Administration in the US 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. From 1991 to 1992, Chao was Director of the Peace Corps. She was the first Asian Pacific American to serve in any of these positions. She expanded the Peace Corps's presence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by establishing the first Peace Corps programs in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and other newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.

United Way and Heritage Foundation[edit]

Following her service in the government, Chao worked for four years as President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way of America. She is credited with returning credibility and public trust back to the organization after an embarrassing financial mismanagement scandal involving former United Way of America president William Aramony. From 1996 until her appointment as Secretary of Labor, Chao was a Distinguished Fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. She was also a Board member of the Independent Women's Forum.[7] She returned to the Heritage Foundation after leaving the government in January 2009.

Labor Secretary[edit]

Elaine Chao

Under Secretary Chao, the department focused on the concerns of a conservative administration. Its priorities were to make regulation less onerous on business, and to ensure that rules limiting the power of unions were enforced. To this end, the department under Chao undertook a significant regulatory and legislative agenda.

In 2002, a major west coast ports dispute costing the U.S. economy nearly $1 billion daily was resolved when the Department successfully instituted the Taft-Hartley Act for the first time since 1971. 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 to provide rank-and-file members enhanced information on union finances. The Department greatly increased the number of investigators working for the Office of Labor Management Standards, the part of DOL that regulates unions. In 2004, the Department issued significant revisions of the white collar overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.[8] The Department intended the language in these to be easier to understand than its predecessor regulation.

In July and August 2003, Chao and her colleagues, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, took a bus across the country on their Jobs and Growth Tour, aimed at promoting the benefits of the Bush Administration's tax cuts.[9]

After analyzing 70,000 closed case files from 2005 to 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Department's Wage and Hour Division inadequately investigated complaints from low-wage and minimum wage workers alleging that employers failed to pay the federal minimum wage, required overtime, and failed to issue a last paycheck.[10]

A 2008 report by the department's inspector general found that despite implementation of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER Act), mine safety regulators did not conduct federally required inspections at more than 14 percent of the country's 731 underground coal mines during the previous year. The number of worker deaths in mining accidents more than doubled to 47.[11] A 2009 internal audit appraising an Occupational Safety and Health Administration initiative under the Bush administration to focus special attention on problem workplaces revealed that OSHA employees failed to gather needed data, conducted uneven inspections and enforcement, and sometimes failed to discern repeat fatalities because records misspelled the companies' names or failed to notice when two subsidiaries with the same owner were involved, resulting in preventable workplace fatalities.[12]

During Chao's tenure, the Labor Department gave Congress inaccurate and unreliable numbers that understated the expense of contracting out its employees' work to private firms, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued on November 24, 2008.[13][14]

A report by the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform alleged that Chao and other White House officials campaigned for Republican candidates at taxpayer expense.[15] The report describes this as a violation of the Hatch Act of 1939, which restricts the use of public funds for partisan gain,[16] but no action was taken by any entity with responsibility for enforcing the Hatch Act.

The longest-serving Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins, 1933–45, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chao was the only Cabinet member who served during all eight years of the Bush Administration in the same position to which she was initially appointed.[17]

Life after Bush administration[edit]

Chao continued to serve in many roles after completing her tenure as Secretary of Labor. Aside from resuming her previous role as a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, she contributes to Fox News and various other media outlets. She also serves as a director on a number of corporate and non-profit boards, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, New York Presbyterian Hospital, News Corp.,[18] Dole Food Company,[19] and Protective Life Corporation.[20] [21] [22] In June 2011, she was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service.[23]


In 1993, Chao married Mitch McConnell, who is the senior United States Senator from Kentucky and the Republican Leader of the United States Senate.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Hsiao-lan means "little orchid."
  2. ^ Press Briefing by Administration Officials on American Competitiveness Initiative (February 1, 2006), retrieved February 25, 2009
  3. ^ "Chao becomes fifth-longest-serving Secretary of Labor". Peace Corps Online. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  4. ^ "James S. C. Chao". Horatio Alger Association. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  5. ^ "Elaine L. Chao Biography". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  6. ^ "Elaine L. Chao Official Biography". Retrieved 2014-05-03. 
  7. ^ Ronnee Schreiber, 'Pro-Women, Pro-Palin, Antifeminist: Conservative Women and Conservative Movement Politics', in Crisis of Conservatism? The Republican Party, the Conservative Movement, & American Politics After Bush, Gillian Peele, Joel D. Aberbach (eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 135
  8. ^ W. James Antle III (2009-01-14). "Ciao, Elaine". National Review Online. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  9. ^ "Bush economic team hits the road to promote tax cuts". Kentucky New Era. 2003-07-29. Retrieved 2012-04-25. 
  10. ^ "GAO Case Studies from Ongoing Work Show Examples in Which Wage and Hour Division Did Not Adequately Pursue Labor Violations" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  11. ^ Michael A. Fletcher (2008-12-01). "Labor Dept. Accused of Straying From Enforcement". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  12. ^ Smith, R. Jeffrey (2009-04-02). "Initiative On Worker Safety Gets Poor Marks: IG's Report Links Weak Enforcement To Job Fatalities". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  13. ^ Carol D. Leonnig (2008-11-25). "GAO Report Says Labor Department Misled Congress on Cost of Outsourcing Jobs". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  14. ^ "Better Cost Assessments and Departmentwide Performance Tracking Are Needed to Effectively Manage Competitive Sourcing Program" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  15. ^ The Activities of the White House Office of Political Affairs[dead link]
  16. ^ R. Jeffrey Smith (2008-10-15). "Report Details Bush Officials' Partisan Trips: House Panel Finds Federal Appointees Attended Many Events on Taxpayers' Dime". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  17. ^ "US Department of Labor History". Retrieved 16 September 2009. 
  18. ^ http://newscorp.com/
  19. ^ "Dole | Company Info | Biography". Dole. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  20. ^ "Protective Life: Board of Directors". Protective. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  21. ^ "Bush Cabinet Member Will Advise Gyro". Gyro. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  22. ^ Rick Segal (2011-10-27). "CMOs Explore Work-Life Balance and Brands". Forbes. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  23. ^ "Louisville 2011 Woodrow Wilson Awards : Welcome". Wilson Center. 2011-06-24. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Paul Coverdell
Director of the Peace Corps
Succeeded by
Carol Bellamy
Political offices
Preceded by
Alexis Herman
U.S. Secretary of Labor
Served under: George W. Bush

Succeeded by
Hilda Solis