Trump’s Pick For Transportation Secretary Could Shape His Infrastructure Plan

Like the President-elect, Elaine Chao believes in privatization and deregulation.

Trump’s Pick For Transportation Secretary Could Shape His Infrastructure Plan
[Photo: Luke Sharrett/Getty Images]

President-elect Trump is expected to name Elaine Chao, former Labor Secretary under George W. Bush from 2001-2009, to become Secretary of Transportation, according to a New York Times report. Considering that infrastructure is one of Trump’s pet projects, Chao’s post will be instrumental in the administration.


As Transportation Secretary, Chao–who is married to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and whose family earned its wealth in the shipping industry–will oversee eleven agencies that manage air, ground, rail, and maritime travel.

[Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP/Getty Images]

In the past, Chao has served as a White House Fellow and Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission under the Reagan administration, and Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation under Bush Sr., giving her a CV as long as the D.C. swamp is thick. Chao was president of the Peace Corps from 1991-1992, and President and CEO of United Way of America from 1996-2001, before returning to the federal government to become George W. Bush’s Labor Secretary. During her tenure under Bush Jr., Chao was criticized for favoring business and being lax on worker safety.

Chao–who has written numerous stories for conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation–has vocally opposed government regulation, like carbon-emissions taxes, which is sure to impact how she leads the DOT. (Chao was on the Bloomberg Philanthropies board, but resigned in 2015 after the organization boosted funding to its Beyond Coal initiative.) Judging from her track record, fossil fuel alternatives are unlikely to be a priority, as they are under the Obama administration thanks to outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who has championed alternative energy use in vehicular travel.

How the country’s crumbling bridges, roads, and tunnels will be addressed falls under Chao’s purview. Trump’s agenda includes a $1 trillion moonshot investment in overhauling infrastructure, which is still nebulous and short on concrete details. His language is packed with misleading phrases about where the money will be spent: It won’t directly fund the needed repairs to roads, bridges, and water systems; rather it’s structured as tax breaks to private-sector investors behind profitable construction projects, as the Washington Post reports. Depending on what Trump wants to do with federal spending–which the GOP typically does not like–Chao’s position and her relationship with McConnell might help grease the wheels of any of his plans, as The New York Times points out today.

In Chao, Trump is getting a Transportation Secretary who believes in privatization and deregulation as ardently as he does.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.