U.S. Department of Labor 2001-2009

On January 29, 2001, Elaine L. Chao became the 24th U.S. Secretary of Labor and the first Asian-Pacific American woman ever appointed to the President’s Cabinet in our nation’s history. The longest serving Secretary of Labor since World War II, she was the only Cabinet member to serve the entire eight years of President George W. Bush’s Administration. She was also the first Kentuckian to serve in the President’s cabinet in 46 years.

As the first Secretary of Labor in the 21st Century, Secretary Chao focused on increasing the competitiveness of America’s workforce in a worldwide economy by updating outdated departmental rules and regulations to empower workers. Under her tenure, the Department achieved record results in worker health and safety, compensation and retirement security. These results included record low workplace injury, illness and fatality rates, recovering record levels of back wages for workers and monetary recoveries for workers’ pension plans, and obtaining record financial settlements for discrimination by federal contractors.

Secretary Chao successfully directed the Department to update the white collar overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which had been on the agenda of every Administration since 1977. The most significant regulatory tort reform of President Bush’s first term, the new regulations provided millions of low-wage, vulnerable workers with strengthened overtime protections. For the first time in over 40 years, the Department updated the union financial disclosure regulations, giving rank and file members more information on the financial condition of their unions.

The Department also launched comprehensive reform of the nation’s publicly funded workforce training programs to better serve dislocated and unemployed workers. The Department spearheaded many of the reforms in the Pension Protection Act of 2006 to protect the retirement security of 44 million Americans with defined benefit plans. In record time, the Department processed disability compensation claims to energy workers, and implemented the requirements of the MINER Act, the first major legislation on mine safety in over 30 years. In November 2008, the Department successfully updated the Family and Medical Leave Act for the first time in 15 years, implementing the first-ever job-protected leave rights that allowed America’s military families to care for our wounded warriors. Under Secretary Chao’s leadership, the Department also issued new rules to protect our soldiers’ civilian re-employment rights, including issuing compliance regulations to fully implement the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which had been passed in 1994. In the first successful use of the Taft-Hartley Act since 1971, the Department led the effort to resolve the West Coast ports labor dispute in 2002, which was costing the nation up to $1 billion a day in damages.

Secretary Chao also appointed a diverse leadership team of which 50% were women. Under her tenure, the Department spearheaded programs and initiatives to expand everyone’s opportunity to succeed in the 21st century workplace.

Secretary Chao’s unique experience leading complex organizations in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors prepared her well to lead one of the federal government’s largest enforcement and regulatory departments. Secretary Chao reduced the Department’s discretionary spending while maintaining the quality of programs through better management.

Related News

“While many Republicans talk about government doing more with less, her Labor Department actually delivered. Chao trimmed – that’s right, actually cut – her discretionary budget from $11.7 billion to $11.6 billion …anytime the head of a government department reduces spending it is cause for celebration ”

National Review
January 14, 2009