SECOND STINT AS SECRETARY. Elaine Chao’s record at the Labor
Department suggests she’d have a light hand when it comes to
safety regulation as Transportation Secretary and would seek to
shift responsibility from the federal government to states where
possible. Chao, 63, was Labor Secretary under President George
W. Bush and the first Asian-American woman to serve in a
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
From The Asian Reporter, V26, #23 (December 5, 2016), page 8.
Elaine Chao’s record suggests skepticism on new
By Joan Lowy and Jonathan Lemire
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Elaine Chao’s record at the Labor Department suggests
she’d have a light hand when it comes to safety regulation as
Transportation Secretary and would seek to shift responsibility from the
federal government to states where possible.
Chao, 63, was Labor Secretary under President George W. Bush and the
first Asian-American woman to serve in a president’s cabinet. She also
is the wife of senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, which
might be of help if President-elect Donald Trump is to fulfill his
promise of generating $1 trillion in infrastructure spending.
Chao’s record suggests she’d be skeptical of new safety regulations
and may attempt to roll back existing regulations. Under Chao, the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration didn’t issue a single
significant new safety regulation for four years, and mine safety
inspectors were cut and inspections reduced, said Thomas McGarity, a
University of Texas law professor and author of Freedom to Harm,
a book about the labor department that includes Chao’s tenure.
Among the pressing issues facing the next transportation secretary
will be how to boost the nation’s aging infrastructure so that it can
accommodate population growth and not become a drag on the economy;
modernizing the nation’s air traffic control system; ensuring that new
transportation technologies are adopted in a safe manner; and responding
to a surge in traffic fatalities.
Whether it’s integrating drones into the national airspace, deploying
self-driving cars, or "some other new technology, she’s not going to be
especially inclined to second guess the industry when they say that this
will be safe," McGarity said.
As Labor Secretary, her job was to protect the nation’s workforce,
including setting safety standards and addressing issues related to
wages and retirement. She updated overtime regulations for
"white-collar" workers and rules intended to force unions to disclose
more details on their financial condition to members.
Chao is "a strong advocate of letting the markets function as they
will, not intervening into privacy sector arrangements," McGarity said.
Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures,
applauded Trump’s selection of Chao as "a superb choice."
"Big issues await," he said. "The traditional regulatory approach is
increasingly challenged to keep pace with the rapid rate of innovation
in our sector."
More recently, Chao had been on the board of directors for Bloomberg
Philanthropies, run by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. She
resigned last year after learning the organization planned to expand an
environmental initiative to shutter coal-fired power plants. Almost 90
percent of Kentucky’s electricity comes from coal, and her ties to the
organization were used against McConnell in his senate rate.
Chao came to the United States from Taiwan with her family at age
eight. They settled in New York, where her father, James Si-Cheng Chao,
became a wealthy shipping magnate.
Chao received her undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College and
a Master of Business Administration from Harvard. She went on to become
head of the Peace Corps and deputy secretary at the Transportation
Department. She was head of the United Way of America and worked at the
Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, before becoming labor
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