Hall of Secretaries: Elaine L. Chao

Elaine L. Chao
Portrait Artist: Chen Yanning

Tenure: January 29, 2001 to January 20, 2009

From Kentucky; graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Harvard Business School. An immigrant who came to America at age eight speaking no English, she was the longest serving Secretary of Labor since WWII, and the first Asian Pacific American woman appointed to a President’s Cabinet. She held numerous leadership positions in the public, private and nonprofit sectors including Chief Executive of United Way, Director of Peace Corps, and Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

The first Secretary of Labor in the 21st Century, competitiveness of America’s workforce and updating department regulations to reflect modern realities were among her top priorities. During her tenure, the department updated the white collar overtime regulations which had been on the agenda of every administration since 1977. New milestones were achieved in worker protection including record low worker injury, illness and fatality rates; record back wages recovered; record monetary recoveries for workers’ pension plans; and the first major update of union financial disclosure regulations to benefit rank and file members in 40 years. The department also updated Family and Leave Act regulations, spearheaded the Pension Protection Act, implemented the MINER Act and crafted new regulations to help energy workers and veterans. In addition, innovative workforce development programs were launched to empower workers to succeed in a knowledge-based economy.


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