President-Elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has served in a previous president’s Cabinet, as well as in another DOT role.
Trump announced on Tuesday that he intends to nominate Elaine Chao as secretary of transportation. Chao served as secretary of labor for all eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, 2001 to 2009. She was the first Asian American woman to be appointed to a president’s Cabinet in the nation’s history.
Chao also has government experience in the transportation sector. She has served as deputy secretary of the U.S. DOT, chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, and deputy maritime administrator.
She also has a more personal tie to the Washington establishment: She is married to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Chao came to the U.S. as an immigrant from Taiwan at age 8. At the time, she spoke no English. She went on to earn an economics degree from Mount Holyoke College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Some transportation and infrastructure groups have signaled their support for Trump's nomination of Chao, including the National School Transportation Association (NSTA).
“We look forward to working with her on issues affecting the private school bus industry and commend her for her long and distinguished record of leadership in government service,” NSTA said in a statement.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials said that it 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.”
Marcia Hale, president of Building America’s Future, also pointed to the need for infrastructure improvements.
“As the data unequivocally shows, the decaying state of our roads, bridges, ports, inland waterways, and airports hurts our quality of life and depresses our economic growth,” Hale said. “We look forward to working with Secretary Chao to advance a long-term infrastructure investment plan that will create jobs and promote economic competitiveness.”
In addition to infrastructure, transportation safety would be within Chao's purview as transportation chief. The DOT's agencies include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, both of which are involved in the regulation of school transportation.
Like other Cabinet posts, the nomination of Chao as transportation secretary will require confirmation in the Senate.