Profile: Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao

ByABC News

— -- Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao is one of six returning members of President Bush's first-term Cabinet.

Back in 2001, Chao was on Bush's short list of candidates to be transportation secretary, but lost out to Norman Mineta. Mineta was the first Asian-American member of the Cabinet. Chao then became the first Asian-American woman to hold a Cabinet post.

Coming out of the first term, Chao has been praised by business leaders and attacked by organized labor leaders and Democratic critics.

Business leaders agree with her efforts to reduce regulation and make compliance with federal labor laws easier. Organized labor leaders and Democratic critics attack her on what they view as policies that are hostile to the common worker.

Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has been a public face of the Bush administration. She spoke at the Republican National Convention, where she praised the president for his tax relief efforts.

"Thanks to President Bush's tax relief, the economy is expanding, creating more than 1.5 million new jobs in the last 11 months," she said at the convention.

On Jan. 7, the labor department released job numbers that came in below Wall Street economists' forecasts.

The department said U.S. employers added 157,000 new jobs overall in December. The nation's unemployment rate held steady at 5.4 percent. Despite the fact that December numbers were lower than the forecasted 175,000 new jobs, they followed upwardly revised totals of 137,000 jobs in November and 312,000 in October.

As recently as Monday, Chao outlined a pension reform package that would require changes in pension, tax and other laws. The plan is based on a single-employer defined benefit plan, which has a fixed payout at retirement.

"If nothing is done, the financial integrity of the federal insurance system will be compromised and the pension security of 34 million workers and retirees will be more at risk," Chao said at the National Press Club.

Not only will the Bush administration be using her political skills to help get this new pension package through Congress, but she will also be a face of the new Social Security proposal that would create investment accounts holding two-thirds of workers' annual payroll taxes.

Chao's family emigrated to the United States from Taiwan when she was 8 years old. They settled in Queens, N.Y. Her father founded a ship brokerage and agency business, Foremost Maritime Corp.

She served as deputy secretary of transportation under the first President Bush, the chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission and deputy maritime administrator in the Department of Transportation.

Chao was plucked from the transportation department in 1991 to be director of the Peace Corps, and she established the first outreach programs to the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.

After leaving government, Chao went on to take over United Way of America from 1992 to 1996. She is credited with helping turn around the charity after her predecessor was ousted.

Before joining Bush's Cabinet, Chao was a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank.

She also sat on a number of corporate boards, including that of Northwest Airlines.

Like her husband, Chao has a zest for politics and was one of Bush's fund-raising "pioneers" during his 2001 presidential campaign. Members of that group raised at least $100,000 each for his election bid.

When nominating her in 2001, Bush described her as having "strong executive talent, compassion and commitment to helping people better build their lives."

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