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Chao Confirmed as Transportation Secretary

Monday, February 6, 2017

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The U.S. Senate voted 93-6 last week to confirm Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation, giving its approval to a longtime public servant and political figure who first served in the Department of Transportation more than 30 years ago.

Elaine Chao
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Chao served as chair of the Federal Maritime Commission from 1988 through 1989, then became Deputy Secretary of Transportation for two years under President George H.W. Bush.

Chao got her start in government overseeing maritime transport regulation as deputy administrator of the DOT’s Maritime Administration, a job she began in 1986. She served as chair of the Federal Maritime Commission from 1988 through 1989, then became Deputy Secretary of Transportation for two years under President George H.W. Bush.

Chao also served as Secretary of Labor for the entirety of George W. Bush’s two terms in office, and has been president of the United Way of America and a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. She most recently served on the board of directors of companies including News Corp., Wells Fargo and Ingersoll Rand, positions which she said she would resign upon becoming Secretary of Transportation.

A Big Job

Chao will oversee a period when many, including President Trump, hope to see large-scale investments in infrastructure. Trump proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure package while on the campaign trail, and more recently, Senate Democrats unveiled a $1 trillion proposal of their own. Democrats and Republicans are expected to clash over where the money for new infrastructure projects will come from.

Bridge construction
© iStock.com / levkr

Chao will oversee a period when many, including President Trump, hope to see large-scale investments in infrastructure.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Chao said during her confirmation hearing that she supported more public-private partnerships to leverage private capital for infrastructure improvements. "In order to take full advantage of the estimated trillions in capital that equity firms, pension funds, and endowments can invest, these partnerships must be allowed to participate with a bold new vision," she said.

The Tribune also quoted a former Labor Department colleague who noted that Chao tends to favor using free-market solutions where possible.

House Weighs Options

As Chao’s confirmation was taking place, lawmakers in the House of Representatives had been meeting to look at how to proceed on the subject of road and bridge infrastructure.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing where representatives of companies with major transportation and logistics operations, like FedEx and Cargill, weighed in on infrastructure priorities and how to pay for them.

“We’re going to be working with the administration very closely. They can shape things downtown at the White House, but it’s got to come up here to pass,” committee chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) told reporters after the hearing. “We have a significant role in that. We already started to talk to them about the various issues.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump had characterized the infrastructure bill as a “first 100 days” priority, but during the presidential transition, Shuster and other congressional leaders estimated that the package will likely come in late spring or summer.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Government; North America; President Trump; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways

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