Elaine L. Chao is a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, where she concentrates on jobs, employment, trade, federal spending and workforce issues.
An immigrant from Taiwan who arrived in America at age 8, not speaking a word of English, Chao rose to become the nation's 24th Secretary of Labor, a post she held from 2001 to 2009. She is the first woman of Asian descent ever to serve in the Cabinet of an American president, and the longest-serving labor secretary since World War II.
As the first leader of the Department of Labor in the 21st century, Chao focused on increasing the competitiveness of the workforce and updating regulations to better reflect the realities of the worldwide economy. Among her accomplishments was updating white-collar overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which had been on the agenda of every administration since 1977.
The department set new standards for enforcing worker protection, including record low rates of fatalities, injuries and illnesses and record recoveries of back wages and of pension plan funds. The department completed the first major update of financial disclosure regulations for unions in 40 years - to the benefit of rank-and-file workers. Chao also presided over the first updating of Family and Medical Leave Act regulations in more than 10 years.
Chao's career spans the public, private and non-profit sectors. She previously was a Heritage fellow from 1996 until 2001, when President George W. Bush appointed her as labor secretary.
Earlier, she was president and chief executive officer of United Way of America, where she was credited with restoring public trust in the country's premier charity after allegations of financial mismanagement and abuse.
Chao also served as director of the Peace Corps during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, establishing its first programs in the Baltic nations and newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. Previous government service included stints as deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation and chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission.
Chao earned a master's degree in business administration from Harvard Business School and a bachelor of science degree in economics from Mount Holyoke College. She is the recipient of 31 honorary doctoral degrees.
She is married to Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate.