Where is Elaine Chao? Not Working, I’d Say

Elaine Chao was briefly the Peace Corps Director, from October 1991 to November 1992. She was appointed by Bush and held the position for about 14 months. She is famous for saying, when visiting a PCV in West Africa in the woman’s village, and seeing her mud hut, “Does your mother know how you’re living?” Chao was also well known for scheduling daily hair appointments frequently when overseas, and for breaking down in tears when describing the conditions that PCVs lived in as Volunteers. It got so embarrassing for RPCVs listening to her lament, that they began laughing at her when she started crying.

Thanks for the heads-up on this article in Politics from Dale Gilles (Liberia 1964–67)


Where is Elaine Chao?

‘Private’ time fills long stretches of the Transportation secretary’s daily calendar, according to POLITICO’s review of 14 months of records.

By Tanya SnyderKathryn A. WolfeBeatrice Jin

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao )

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s day-to-day calendars are filled with large swaths of time blocked out as “private,” according to POLITICO’s analysis of newly released records — a pattern that several former DOT officials called unusual.

In total, Chao clocked more than 290 hours of appointments labeled private — the equivalent of about seven weeks’ vacation — during her first 14 months in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, based on a review of documents provided under the Freedom of Information Act. That total does not include any private hours that occurred on nights, weekends, days marked as vacation or federal holidays.

Private hours per weekday

‘Private appointments’ on Chao’s calendar most often fall on Fridays. (POLITICO looked only at appointments falling between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the workweek, excluding federal holidays or marked vacation days.)

The records, through the end of March 2018, offer a rare view of Chao’s activities as leader of Trump’s Department of Transportation, which has declined to provide routine access to her schedules.

The vast majority of Chao’s private appointments occurred on Fridays — frequently after lunchtime, and including nine Fridays when she marked at least five hours as private. Her calendars showed a total of 10 hours of private time during the Thursday and Friday immediately before the administration released its most ambitious transportation-related initiative, the president’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan.

February 2017 through March 2018

Chao’s private time during business hours (Monday through Friday) for this period totaled more than 290 hours, equivalent to seven weeks of vacation.

A DOT spokesperson explained some of the “private” blocks as a security measure, designed to conceal Chao’s travel patterns, while others involved appointments that “range from doctor’s appointments to meeting with personal friends to tending to personal needs or regularly sharing meals with her husband,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But rest assured, the department says, the secretary is working long and hard for the taxpayers.

“As everyone who has worked with her during her years as a Cabinet secretary knows well, the Secretary works very late into the night, early every morning and each and every weekend and has consistently done so while in office,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

By their nature, Cabinet members have highly irregular schedules, including out-of-town travel, work through lunch and dinner, pre-breakfast meetings and activities at night and on weekends — and individual secretaries may have different approaches to the job. Chao is no stranger to this world, having previously served in a string of senior federal posts including eight years as President George W. Bush’s Labor secretary.

But six former DOT officials who worked closely with previous Transportation secretaries told POLITICO that the amount of private time during work hours delineated on Chao’s calendar is atypical.

“That seems to be quite a lot,” said Beth Osborne, who was deputy assistant secretary and then acting assistant secretary for transportation policy under Obama administration Transportation Secretaries Ray LaHood and Anthony Foxx. She said that during working hours, LaHood and Foxx “were traveling or they were taking meetings from constituents or with members of Congress or whomever, and their days were pretty full up.”

Several former DOT officials said that while the previous two secretaries sometimes took some family time — one was the father of young children and the other a grandfather — it was very occasional and they regularly worked evenings and weekends.

One former DOT official who worked closely with a Transportation secretary said the sheer amount of private appointments on Chao’s calendar suggests an attempt to hide her activities rather than truly private time.

“Given the tremendous amount of work and constant crises and challenges that come up at DOT, I find it highly unlikely Secretary Chao is really taking this much private time,” said the former official, who requested anonymity because of ongoing business before the department. “It certainly appears that they have just tried to over-redact meetings they would prefer the public not know about.”

Similarly, another former Obama administration official who was involved with scheduling for secretaries said it “sounds like they have really stretched the definition” of a private appointment.

To err on the conservative side, POLITICO’s analysis of Chao’s private time looked only at appointments falling between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, excluding federal holidays. But taking the records at face value, she has devoted a lot of hours to such appointments, even during what would appear to be busy times for her department.

A closer look at one week

Chao took 11 hours of private appointments during the week before the rollout of President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan and the release of DOT’s budget.

·         9:30-10AM Private appointment

·         10:30-11AM Residence/DOT

·         11-11:45AM Meeting with Richard Anderson and John McHugh – Amtrak

·         12-12:30PM Meeting with Marianne McInerney

·         1:45-2:45PM Briefing on the President’s Budget

·         2:55-3:15PM Call with Senator Chuck Grassley

·         3-3:30PM Briefing with Rohit Kumar on Tax Bill

·         4-5PM Follow Up Briefing: Autonomous Vehicles

·         4:30-5:30PM Personnel Meeting

·         5:45-6:15PM Wrap Up

·         9-9:30AM Private appointment

·         10-10:30AM Residence/DOT

·         10:30-11:30AM Quarterly Meeting with Keith Nelson, Assistant Secretary for Administration

·         11:30AM-12PM Private appointment

·         12-12:30PM Call with Sen. Nelson and Sen. Rubio

·         3-3:30PM Residence/WH

·         3:30-4:30PM WH Latina Style Magazine Briefing

·         4:30-5PM WH/Residence

·         9:10-9:40AM Residence/DOT

·         9:35-10AM Call with Senator Debbie Stabenow

·         10-10:30AM Budget Briefing

·         10:30-11AM Meeting with (b)(6) – FMCSA Chief Counsel

·         11:15-11:40AM Call with Congresswoman Barbara Comstock

·         11:30AM-12PM Private appointment

·         12-2:45PM Private appointment

·         3-3:15PM Private appointment

·         5-6PM Private appointment

·         9-9:30AM Private appointment

·         9:45-10:15AM Private appointment

·         10-10:30AM Call with Adm. Buzby

·         10-10:30AM Private appointment

·         10:30-11AM Private appointment

·         11AM-12PM Private appointment

·         2-4PM Private appointment

·         5-6PM Private appointment

One example is the week before the administration unveiled two initiatives early this year with major implications for Chao’s department: Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan and the White House’s fiscal 2019 budget request, which called for $76.5 billion for DOT.

Those two announcements arrived on Monday, Feb. 12. During the workweek before that, Chao’s calendar listed a total of 11 hours of private appointments falling between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., including most of Thursday and the vast majority of Friday. The calendar lists over a dozen hours of work-related commitments during that same period, not including dinner with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump on the night of Monday, Feb. 5, and an hour long White House briefing related to Latina Style Magazine that Wednesday.

Of course, unscheduled time can still be work time, and secretaries frequently have desk work to do in addition to their meetings. Foxx sometimes scheduled “office hours” to get work done outside of meetings, but those instances were rare, said one former senior DOT official who worked closely with him, who requested anonymity because of ongoing relationships with the agency.

Kathleen Clark, a professor of legal ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, said the volume of “private” business on Chao’s calendar raises questions about whether DOT is fully accounting for all her official duties.

“You could have the concern about whether or not the public is getting a full day’s work out of Secretary Chao,” she said. “The other concern is that the government could be using that term to obscure … to make the public records request useless, or not as useful as it might otherwise be.”

Check out: https://www.politico.com/interactives/2018/where-is-elaine-chao/



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