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  December 12th, 2016 | Written by

Elaine Chao Earns Praise from Transportation, Logistics Lobbies

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  • Will Chao and Trump be able to work with Congress to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill?
  • Transportation Secretary-designate Elaine Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
  • Industry leaders greeted the news of Elaine Chao's nomination as Transportation Secretary with optimism.

While some of President-Elect Donald Trump’s cabinet choices have been greeted with skepticism, the selection of Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation has received near universal support – including from those within the industries most directly impacted by her appointment.

The question is whether Chao and Trump will be able to work with Congress to pass the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that was one of the Republican candidate’s most oft-repeated campaign promises. At least she starts with one vote in her favor: Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Praise from Land, Sea and Air

At a time of uncertainty in the trucking business, industry leaders greeted the news with optimism.

“I had the privilege of serving with and working closely with Secretary Chao during my time at the Department of Labor, and I am extremely pleased that she will be taking on this new challenge,” said Chris Spear, President and CEO of the American Trucking Association. “President-elect Trump could not have picked a more qualified, experienced and dedicated individual to serve in this important role.”

Both Daimler Trucks North America and Navistar International Corp. released statements lauding the nomination. And Jim Meil, analyst for the trucking industry research firm ACT Research, described Chao as “a seasoned, experienced veteran of the Washington scene with an impressive track record of public service. Her prior experience means she is well-versed on critical issues for the trucking industry such as infrastructure, regulation, safety, the environment and labor.”

These sentiments were echoed by the American Maritime Partnership: “With vast experience across the maritime industry and prior service at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration, and Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), Secretary Chao understands the critical role our industry plays in advancing the nation’s economic and national security.”

Air cargo is happy too, according to the industry trade organization Airlines for America. “Elaine Chao is an outstanding pick to be the next Secretary of Transportation,”A4A said in a statement, while also getting a head start on suggesting items for her to-do list.

“We look forward to working with her, and the Department of Transportation under her leadership, to usher in a new era of innovation, smarter regulation, and transformational reforms to modernize our nation’s antiquated ATC system that will ensure our infrastructure in the sky is ready to meet the demand on the ground,” reads an A4A statement.

Now, Get to Work

As indicated by Airlines for America, such industry praise also comes with high expectations.

Start with that infrastructure bill, which everyone seems to like but no one seems to agree on how it’s going to be funded.

Ten years and $1 trillion are nice round numbers, and there is clear consensus that something needs to be done now to fix the nation’s roads, bridges, transit networks, airports, water and sewage systems, and electrical grids. But analysts from both parties have questioned President-elect Trump’s plan to pay for the measure largely through private investment, in exchange for tax credits.

“In certain parts of the country, those kinds of private financing work,” said Ed Mortimer, infrastructure director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “In other parts of the country we need to use general funding.”

Another expectation of the new administration is a rollback of the thousands of pages of new government regulations instituted over the last eight years under President Obama.

Many of these regulations “hinder small-business truckers and undermine overall transportation efficiency,” according to Todd Spencer, executive vice-president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. The organization is particularly concerned about an Obama-proposed rule that would require the installation of a device on heavy-duty trucks that limits their top speed.

Speaking of trucks, what about all those new ones that drive themselves? President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal includes nearly $4 billion over 10 years for pilot programs testing connected vehicle systems.

When Chao offers answers to such questions it will provide some indication on how she will lead the department.

Unlike most of Trump’s other cabinet appointments, Chao held a previous cabinet-level position as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Labor. Based on her tenure, it’s reasonable to expect a more pro-business outlook weighted toward the concerns of management than labor. Chao opposed a raise in the minimum wage and championed several proposals described by the Teamsters as anti-union, including changes in union financial disclosure regulations that made them more transparent.