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International Leadership Foundation 2018 Leadership and Business Conference Scholarship Awards Gala

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
International Leadership Foundation
2018 Leadership and Business Conference Scholarship Awards Gala
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Dr. Hsu [Paul], for that warm welcome.   

I want to join Chiling to welcome the many distinguished leaders here tonight from across the country who are blazing new paths for Asian Pacific Americans in their communities.   

Congratulations to the 10 Asian Pacific Americans leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors being recognized tonight for their contributions to the community. 

Thanks once again to Mary Millben for that beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful.” 

This evening is a wonderful occasion to recognize and celebrate the leadership and achievement in the Asian Pacific American community. 

Throughout my life, I have worked to help Asian Pacific Americans—and other traditionally underserved communities—access opportunities in mainstream America. 

During my tenure as Secretary of Labor, the Department launched the annual Asian Pacific American Federal Career Advancement Summit and the annual Opportunity Conference. These provided more opportunities for APAs to learn how to enter the federal government and how to access government procurement opportunities-- as each department has goals it needs to meet.  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is a part of the U. S. Department of Labor, began reporting employment data on the APA community as a distinct category. This was a historic first that identifies challenges to our community and helps policymakers design policies to address them.  Also, the Department’s labor law materials were translated into multiple languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean so people can understand what the law requires.   And the Department established paid internship programs that recruited applications from traditionally underserved communities, including Asian Pacific Americans. 

Since I became Secretary of Transportation, the Department of Transportation has begun to initiate greater outreach to underserved communities to acquaint them with opportunities in the transportation sector.  The Department has held job fairs to increase the diversity of the transportation workforce, especially in trucking and aviation where there are shortages of skilled professionals and workers.  Various units within the departments have sponsored training for those interested in doing business with the Department.  And a new Secretary’s internship program was established. 

In addition, new initiatives have been launched to increase the diversity of the federal workforce. This included hosting career development workshops for Asian Pacific Americans and members of other underserved communities who want to advance to the senior ranks of the government.  All the federal departments have diversity goals to meet in their government contracting programs.

The Department has sponsored programs to help underserved communities understand the federal contracting process and the departments to meet these goals.   And going forward, in September 2018, the Department will host a student career fair sponsored by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council.    

All of these initiatives underscore the importance of human capital in strengthening our country’s transportation infrastructure.  This is also a key part of my three priorities as Secretary of Transportation:

  • Safety is #1;
  • Addressing the needs of our country’s infrastructure to increase the competitiveness and productivity of the economy; and,
  • Engaging with new technology to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security and privacy without hampering innovation.

The Department spends over $70 billion on infrastructure every year--just at the federal level alone-- to implement these priorities.  This year, on top of this $70 billion, the Department will also distribute an additional $10 billion provided by the March 23rd Omnibus Appropriations Bill.  This is a down payment on the President’s infrastructure proposal, which will help repair and rebuild state-funded interstate highways, bridges, and freight projects, and airports.

In addition, the tax cuts and deregulatory stance of this Administration – including reducing unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations-- have jump-started the economy. 

Since 2016, economic growth has picked up—going from 1.6 percent in 2016 to 2.3 percent in 2017.  Three million new jobs have been created in the last year alone. The unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent in May 2018—an 18-year low-- and ticked up slightly to 4.0 percent in June, as more workers returned to the workforce because now there are now more jobs available.   The unemployment rate for the Asian American community was a remarkable 3.2 percent in June - a fact we know because we now track Asian Pacific American employment.   

Today, the most recent estimate shows our community is nearly 7% of the population, or nearly 23 million strong in 2016.  In fact, from 2000-2010 alone, the Asian Pacific American community grew by 43 percent—faster than any other racial group in this country. 

As our community has grown in numbers, we are increasingly contributing to the economic vitality and cultural diversity of our country.  Businesses owned by Asian Pacific Americans generated $707.6 billion for our economy in 2016 and employed over 3.6 million workers—the best record of any ethnic group in this country. 

Last May 27, 2017, I visited the New York City Chinatown and viewed an exhibit of early Chinese railroad workers who built the transcontinental railway launching the economic and industrial expansion that made the United States a world economic power.  

We have come a long way!   Now, Asian Pacific Americans have won Nobel prizes in the sciences and the arts, flown into outer space, and designed some of our country’s most acclaimed public buildings.  Asian Pacific Americans have formed cutting-edge technology companies.  Asian Americans have been appointed to the cabinets of three U.S. Presidents.  Asian Pacific Americans have also distinguished themselves in military service, and many have made the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard our freedom and opportunities.  

The progress made by Asian Pacific Americans in mainstream America is a testament to the values our community holds dear, especially our emphasis on family, hard work and the value of a quality education.  

Against this backdrop, there is an issue occupying more of our community’s attention and concern-- policies that result in limiting the access of Asian Pacific Americans to educational opportunities in America’s institutions of higher learning.

The U. S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education announced on July 3, 2018, a change in guidance to America’s educational institutions supporting a return to recent Supreme Court rulings.  The two Departments believe that outreach is important and should be continued. But they also affirm that admissions policies must respect merit, and not diminish those who have sacrificed, invested in themselves and achieved academic excellence. This issue has enormous significance for our children and future generations.  Your voices count, as does your vigilance!

Never doubt that today, we are an integral part of mainstream America.  It’s so important to celebrate and articulate our contributions to this country, and to make our contributions known to wider audiences in every way possible.

Thank you for inviting me here tonight and for all you are doing to highlight the talents of our community with mainstream America.