Elaine Chao and me

In late November of last year, I argued that Elaine Chao is an “uninspired choice” for Secretary of Transportation. Today, in its story about Chao’s confirmation hearing, the Washington Post quotes generously from that post.

It may speak well of how Chao is viewed by conservatives in Washington that the Post felt it needed to quote me in order to provide its readers with a negative conservative perspective on the nominee. Indeed, after I wrote my piece, two conservatives whom I respect greatly told me they disagree with my view of her. One of them cited, justifiably, Chao’s decision as Secretary of Labor to require unions to disclose how they spent their members’ dues.

On the other hand, two conservatives whom I respect greatly have supported my assessment.

But my post isn’t based primarily on the opinions of others. I practiced labor and employment law throughout Chao’s time as Secretary of Labor. During that time, I participated in assisting several clients that were audited by the Department under its federal contract compliance programs for government contractors.

In these audits, the government reviews in great detail, and often with considerable intrusion, contractors’ employment practices. It requires them to set numerical goals for filling jobs with minority group members. It checks to see whether past goals have been achieved. Contractors face penalties, including possible debarment, if the government is dissatisfied.

During the Bush administration, compliance reviews became a bit less onerous. There were improvements at the margin (for example, with respect to analyzing whether contractors engaged in compensation discrimination and on the issue of on-site visits), and the situation certainly deteriorated under President Obama. However, I was disappointed that more was not done to reverse the Labor Department’s practice of, in effect, imposing race-based quotas on federal contractors, and disappointed by the lack of regulatory overhaul in general.

My argument wasn’t that Chao will be a bad Secretary of DOT, just that she is an uninspired choice. An inspired choice would be someone who, given the opportunity she had for eight years, did more to clear the regulatory thicket (or “drain the swamp,” if you prefer).

There is no doubt, however, that Chao will easily be confirmed. She ranks high on the list when it comes to Trump nominees who enjoy bipartisan support. A cynic might argue that this fact tends to confirm my assessment of her.

In any event, I’m pleased that the Post reporting team of Michael Laris and Ashley Halsey III dug out my blog post and used it in their story.


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