Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation

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Elaine Lan Chao

Chinese: 趙小蘭
Birthdate: (63)
Birthplace: Taipei, Taiwan
Immediate Family:

Daughter of <private> Chao and Ruth Mulan Chu Chao
Wife of Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senator

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation


Elaine Lan Chao (Chinese: 趙小蘭; born March 26, 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. Chao was the only cabinet member to serve under George W. Bush for his entire administration. She is married to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the current U.S. Senate Majority Leader. She was confirmed on January 31, 2017 as the 18th United States Secretary of Transportation.

Childhood and education

The eldest of six daughters, Chao was born in Taipei, Taiwan, to Ruth Mulan Chu Chao (趙朱木蘭 Zhào Zhū Mùlán), a historian, and Dr. James S.C. Chao (趙錫成博士 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.). 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 eldest 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.

Elaine Chao received her B.A. in Economics from Mount Holyoke College in 1975 and her MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1979. Chao also studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, and Columbia University. In addition, Chao has received 34 honorary doctorate degrees from the following schools: Villanova University, St. John's University, Sacred Heart University, Drexel University, Niagara University, Thomas More College (Kentucky), Bellarmine University, University of Toledo, University of Louisville, Goucher College, Kentucky Wesleyan College, University of Notre Dame, Miami Dade College, University of South Carolina, Campbellsville University, Depauw University, St. Mary's College, Regent University, Northern Alabama University, Centre College, Fu Jen Catholic University, Wingate University, Northern Kentucky University, Catholic University of America, Elmira College, Agnes Scott College, Marquette University, Sweet Briar College, Murray State University, Nyack College, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, St. Catharine College, Western Kentucky University


Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations

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

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

Labor Secretary

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

During Chao's tenure, 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.

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. The report describes this as a violation of the Hatch Act of 1939, which restricts the use of public funds for partisan gain, 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.

Life after Bush administration

Chao continued to serve in many prominent 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 the boards of Wells Fargo, Dole Food Company, and Protective Life Corporation. She also started serving as an advisor to The @ Work State of Mind Project, a research and development project led by Gyro. She talked about her work on this project at the Forbes 2011 CMO Summit. In June 2011, she was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service. In September 2012, she was nominated to serve on the media board for the News Corporation.


1983: White House Fellow, Office of Policy Development, the White House
1986: Deputy Administrator, Maritime Administration, US Department of Transportation
1988–89: Chairwoman, Federal Maritime Commission
1989: Deputy Secretary of Transportation
1991–92: Director, Peace Corps
1992–96: President and Chief Executive Officer, United Way of America
1996-2001: Distinguished Fellow, Heritage Foundation
2001–09: U.S. Secretary of Labor
2009–Present: Distinguished Fellow, Heritage Foundation


In 1993, Chao married Mitch McConnell, the senior United States Senator from Kentucky and the Republican Leader of the United States Senate. She has three stepdaughters from her husband's previous marriage to Sherrill Redmon: Eleanor (Elly), Claire, and Porter.

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Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation's Timeline

March 26, 1953
Taipei, Taiwan