Elaine Chao

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Elaine 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 Lan Chao (Chinese: ;[1] born March 26, 1953[2]) is a Chinese-American who was born in Taiwan to Chinese parents and 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.[3] Chao was the only cabinet member to serve under George W. Bush for his entire administration.[4]

Childhood and education[edit]

Elaine Chao was born in Taipei, Taiwan. 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.).[5] 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.[6] Chao went to Syosset High School.[7]

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.[8]


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

Chao applied for and was granted a White House Fellowship in 1983 during the administration of President Ronald Reagan. In October 2013, Chao told a game show audience that the fellowship was part of a special program with her then employer Citigroup, for whom she had worked four years. "They selected outstanding performers within the bank and gave them an opportunity to support them for a stint in the government," Chao said.[9]

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.[10]

In 1989, President George H. W. Bush nominated Chao to be Deputy Secretary of Transportation.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] She returned to the Heritage Foundation after leaving the government in January 2009.

Labor Secretary[edit]

Elaine Chao

Under Secretary Chao, the department undertook a significant regulatory and legislative reform 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. In 2004, the Department issued significant revisions of the white collar overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

Criticism and praise[edit]

A few months after Secretary Chao left office, the prestigious annual "Mercatus Scorecard" for government agency performance in 2008 was issued and warmly received by Chao's successor, Hilda L. Solis, whose comments were included in a departmental press release summarizing the report: "In the 10 years of the Mercatus Scorecard, the Department of Labor has secured the top ranking five times; the previous four were consecutive (fiscal years 2002 to 2005). The department's FY 2006 and FY 2007 reports were ranked second. Mercatus ranks agencies' reports on 12 criteria worth five points each, in three categories: transparency, public benefits and leadership. The Labor Department's report scored 56 out of 60, which is the highest ever on the Mercatus Scorecard. The department also scored a perfect 20 in transparency. The Mercatus Center's report noted the following on this department's efforts: "The Department of Labor is a leader in developing innovations and improvements on many fronts with respect to performance accountability and reporting." "The Labor report systematically assesses and rates the quality of its data for each performance goal, a best practice for other agencies to emulate." [17][18] Washington Post columnist Al Kamen has described Mercatus as a "staunchly anti-regulatory center funded largely by Koch Industries Inc."[19][20] The Mercatus Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit and does not receive support from George Mason University, where it is located, nor from or any federal, state or local governments. It is entirely funded through donations, including corporate donations from Koch Industries[19]

During Chao's first four years as Secretary of Labor, OSHA did not promulgate a single significant health standard.[21]

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.[22] The acting administrator of Wage and Hour Division, Alexander J. Passantino, subsequently noted in testimony on July 15, 2008 before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor that: “WHD has recovered more than $1.25 billion for nearly two million workers since 2001. In FY 2007, over 341,000 workers received recovered back wages—the second largest number of workers since 1993, and the amount of wages recovered for workers—$220,613,703—is the highest total the agency has ever recorded. This represents a 67 percent increase over back wages recovered in 2001, and is more than twice the amount collected in fiscal year 1997. In fact, WHD total back wage collections for the last seven fiscal years represent a 28 percent increase over the back wage collections for the seven fiscal years beginning in 1994 and ending in 2000. During this same time period, WHD also increased by 10 percent the number of workers for whom it collected back wages.“[23]

The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division 2008 Statistics Fact Sheet notes that: "The Employment Standards Administration’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) recovered more than $185 million in back wages for over 228,000 employees in fiscal year 2008 to put the eight-year cumulative total of back wages collected by the agency at over $1.4 billion." [24]

Chao's tenure as Labor Secretary saw two mine disasters for which she received criticism. Twelve miners were killed in the Sago Mine disaster on January 2, 2006, and three rescue workers died in the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster on August 6, 2007. Before the mines collapsed, Chao had cut more than a hundred coal mine safety inspectors, resulting in hundreds of mines forgoing strict inspection.[25] According to the Christian Science Monitor, "Nearly half of the 208 safety citations levied in 2005 against the Sago coal mine where 12 men died this week were 'serious and substantial.'"[26] On December 10, 2008, Secretary Chao announced that the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) had, in the first year of the agency's 100 Percent Plan, achieved its goal of completing every mandated regular inspection for the year. That success marked the first time in the agency's 31-year history that every mandated regular inspection was completed within the year.[27]

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.[28] 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.[29]

OSHA enforcement statistics for Fiscal Year 2007 revealed that Injury and Illness Rates were at record lows: "The Total Recordable and Days Away/Restricted case rates continued to decline, indicating that fewer American employees encountered safety or health hazards resulting in serious injuries or illnesses. The rates for calendar year 2007, reported on October 23, 2008, were lower than the previous year, and thus, were the lowest rates that BLS has ever reported. Not only has the rate at which employees experienced a recordable injury decreased by 16.0% since calendar year 2003, but also the Days Away/Restricted case rate, the measure of cases in which employees were absent from work, restricted, or transferred as a result of a workplace injury or illness, has declined by 19.2% over the same period." [30] In releasing the OSHA enforcement data for Fiscal Year 2008, the Department of Labor's then acting Assistant Secretary for OSHA, Thomas M. Stohler, observed that: "According to preliminary numbers for 2007, the workplace fatality rate has declined 14 percent since 2001, and since 2002, the workplace injury and illness rate has dropped 21 percent - with both at all time lows." [31]

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.[32][33]

A report by the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, under the Chairmanship of Democratic congressman Henry A. Waxman of California, alleged that Chao and other White House officials campaigned for Republican candidates at taxpayer expense.[34] The report describes this as a violation of the Hatch Act of 1939, which restricts the use of public funds for partisan gain,[35] but no action was taken by any entity with responsibility for enforcing the Hatch Act.

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.,[36] Dole Food Company,[37] and Protective Life Corporation.[38][39][40] In June 2011, she was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service.[41]

Both in 2011 and 2013, Chao attended Shanghai signing ceremonies for Capesize bulkers launched by Foremost Group. At both ceremonies Chao spoke publicly about China–United States relations.[42] At the latter ceremony, Chao said:

This is a very special time for U.S.-China relations. It's the start of President Obama's second term, and this is of course the start of President Xi Jinping's new administration. The U.S.-China relations is among the most important bilateral relationships in the world. And as such, there is no other alternative but to have a harmonious and a cooperative relationship. As with any relationship, there are bound to be ups, downs, disagreements, but in the overall scheme of things, in the overall direction, for the benefit of the world, U.S. and China must get along, and must find a way to do so.[43]

In 2013, Chao recorded a motivational video aimed at inspiring Asian American children. Chao's message ended as follows:

You know everybody talks about being happy these days. And I guess my secret to you is that happiness comes from you. It doesn’t come from outside, and it doesn’t come from other people. So you have the power to decide within yourself whether you want to be happy or sad. Even when bad things are happening, you have the choice to either handle it well with courage, fortitude or you can just completely give up. So you have that power to either be happy or to be sad. And I would suggest that you always choose to be happy. Be brave when bad things happen. And be able to handle any situation that comes along with great courage and great fortitude. That will make you happy.[44]


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

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Hsiao-lan means "little orchid."
  2. ^ Ancestry.com. U.S. Public Records Index, Volume 1 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Voter Registration Lists, Public Record Filings, Historical Residential Records, and Other Household Database Listings
  3. ^ Press Briefing by Administration Officials on American Competitiveness Initiative (February 1, 2006), retrieved February 25, 2009
  4. ^ "Chao becomes fifth-longest-serving Secretary of Labor". Peace Corps Online. Retrieved December 21, 2007. 
  5. ^ "James S. C. Chao". Horatio Alger Association. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Elaine L. Chao Biography". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  7. ^ Christopher Marquis (January 12, 2001). "Woman in the News; A Washington Veteran for Labor; a Tested Negotiator for Trade; Elaine Lan Chao". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ "Elaine L. Chao Official Biography". Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  9. ^ "[开讲啦]20131026 赵小兰——永远不要将门关上". ChinaVideos中国纪录片. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Elaine L. Chao Biography". Bio. Retrieved September 9, 2014. 
  11. ^ Sterling Casil, Amy. The Department of Labor. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 34. ISBN 9781404202108. Retrieved September 13, 2014. 
  12. ^ Geraldine Baum (January 19, 1992). "An Insider Moves Out, Up". Los Angeles Times. 
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ W. James Antle III (January 14, 2009). "Ciao, Elaine". National Review Online. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Bush economic team hits the road to promote tax cuts". Kentucky New Era. July 29, 2003. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  16. ^ "US Department of Labor History". Retrieved September 16, 2009. 
  17. ^ "U.S. Department of Labor Earns Number One Ranking of Federal Agencies for Program and Financial Performance Reporting" (PDF). Retrieved May 5, 2009. 
  18. ^ "Mercatus Center Report Executive Summary" (PDF). Retrieved May 5, 2009. 
  19. ^ a b Kamen, Al (July 12, 2006). "I Am OMB and I Write the Rules". Washington Post. p. A13. 
  20. ^ Mayer, Jane (2010-08-30). "Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.". The New Yorker (Condé Nast Publications). 
  21. ^ Farber, Daniel A. (2014). Cases and Materials on Environmental Law (Ninth Edition ed.). St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-314-28398-6. 
  22. ^ "GAO Case Studies from Ongoing Work Show Examples in Which Wage and Hour Division Did Not Adequately Pursue Labor Violations" (PDF). Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  23. ^ "WHD Acting Administrator Testifies Before House Committee" (PDF). Retrieved July 15, 2008. 
  24. ^ "DOL 2008 Statistics Fact Sheet" (PDF). Retrieved December 1, 2008. 
  25. ^ 解读美国第一位华裔部长赵小兰及其家族 (in Chinese). cncsj.net. November 24, 2009. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  26. ^ Mark Clayton and Amanda Paulson (January 6, 2006). "Sago raises red flags for mine oversight". The Christian Science Monitor. 
  27. ^ "MSHA Completes 100% of Annual Mine Inspections" (PDF). Retrieved December 10, 2008. 
  28. ^ Michael A. Fletcher (December 1, 2008). "Labor Dept. Accused of Straying From Enforcement". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  29. ^ Smith, R. Jeffrey (April 2, 2009). "Initiative On Worker Safety Gets Poor Marks: IG's Report Links Weak Enforcement To Job Fatalities". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  30. ^ "OSHA Injury & Illness Data FY2007". Retrieved December 19, 2008. 
  31. ^ "U.S. Labor Department's OSHA highlights another successful enforcement year in FY 2008" (PDF). Retrieved December 19, 2008. 
  32. ^ Carol D. Leonnig (November 25, 2008). "GAO Report Says Labor Department Misled Congress on Cost of Outsourcing Jobs". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Better Cost Assessments and Departmentwide Performance Tracking Are Needed to Effectively Manage Competitive Sourcing Program" (PDF). Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  34. ^ The Activities of the White House Office of Political Affairs[dead link]
  35. ^ R. Jeffrey Smith (October 15, 2008). "Report Details Bush Officials' Partisan Trips: House Panel Finds Federal Appointees Attended Many Events on Taxpayers' Dime". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  36. ^ http://newscorp.com/
  37. ^ "Dole | Company Info | Biography". Dole. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  38. ^ "Protective Life: Board of Directors". Protective. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  39. ^ "Bush Cabinet Member Will Advise Gyro". Gyro. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  40. ^ Rick Segal (October 27, 2011). "CMOs Explore Work-Life Balance and Brands". Forbes. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  41. ^ "Louisville 2011 Woodrow Wilson Awards : Welcome". Wilson Center. June 24, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  42. ^ "Angela Chao Attends Naming Ceremony of Lan May in Shanghai, China". youtube.com. Angela Chao. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  43. ^ "前美国劳工部长赵小兰:中美关系应着眼世界". youtube.com. Glover Danny. Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  44. ^ "20130912 说给孩子第1季 赵小兰". 凤凰卫视精品官方频道 iFeng Premium Comment. Retrieved 18 August 2014. 

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