Trump Taps Former Labor Secretary Chao as USDOT Chief in Pro-Investment Cabinet

AASHTO Journal, 02 December 2016

Moving quickly to fill a Cabinet job that will play a key role in his infrastructure investment plans, President-Elect Donald Trump said he will nominate former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to be his transportation secretary.

Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and previously held several posts in the U.S. Department of Transportation including deputy secretary, would bring important experience and connections to the job.

Should Trump follow through on his campaign pledges to invest heavily to improve transportation systems and other infrastructure, Chao would be helping shape and sell Trump’s proposals to Congress, and implement whatever policies become law.

bernhardt2.jpg Chao at Labor Department

Chao headed the Labor Department during 2001-2009 under President George W. Bush. The Washington Post said her government service in transportation began during the Reagan administration, when she worked as deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration and later chaired the Federal Maritime Commission. She served one year as deputy transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush and then headed the Peace Corps.

Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said: “Former Labor Secretary Chao is a respected leader who, based on her previous service at the U.S. Department of Transportation and in other roles, has a strong understanding of the transportation challenges facing the nation. We look forward to working closely with the U.S. DOT to improve safety and mobility of the American people.”

AASHTO in a press release also said the association looks forward to working with Chao and the Trump administration ” to fully fund the nation’s critical transportation needs and ensure a healthy and robust national transportation system.”

Various news reports said several of Trump’s Cabinet choices, including Chao, bolstered the view that he will pursue a strong infrastructure program as he promised during the election campaign.

For instance, Trump also announced that he will nominate financier and banker Steven Mnuchin to become treasury secretary. Mnuchin was national finance chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign, and after his nomination announcement spoke to reporters outside the Trump Tower in New York City about the incoming administration’s plans to spur the economy.

Mnuchin talked of putting tax reforms before Congress that include cutting personal and corporate taxes and repatriating foreign earnings of U.S. companies. In addition, he said, improving infrastructure is “a big priority of this administration. We need to make sure that our infrastructure is built for the 21st century,” that we have roads and bridges and power grids and infrastructure that support this country, and that’s going to be a big focus.”

Trump said he will nominate Wilbur Ross to head the Department of Commerce, which has responsibility for enforcing trade agreements and for awarding economic development grants. Ross was an economic adviser to Trump during the campaign, and The Hill newspaper noted that he was co-author of Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal that would use tax credits to entice private investment in transportation projects.      

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