Outing Welcomes Sec. Chao, Acclaims Agency’s 50th Year
Even in a town with no shortage of recognizable names, the speaker lineup for the March 29 event at U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters was noteworthy.
The list included SIU President Michael Sacco, one of seven speakers featured at a gathering in the nation’s capital that served as both a formal welcoming of DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and an observance of the department’s 50th anniversary. In addition to Sacco and Chao, the other speakers were (in order) Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), former DOT Secretary Elizabeth Dole, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who is married to Chao. CNBC reporter Ylan Mui served as master of ceremonies.
SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez and SIU Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman were among those in attendance. Crowd estimates varied, but were as high as 400-plus.
Sacco told the audience that although the SIU has worked with Chao since the mid-1980s (starting during her time at the Maritime Administration), their friendship blossomed when she took over as Secretary of Labor during the George W. Bush administration beginning in 2001.
“During those years,” Sacco stated, “whether we were meeting here in the nation’s capital, or at a ship christening, or at our affiliated school in Maryland for a convention or a graduation, I got to know not only Secretary Chao the leader, but also Elaine the person. That’s when I realized she’s so compassionate and caring. That’s when I really got a taste of how energetic she is. That’s when I heard her speak to our students at the school, and to our crew members on our ships. I saw how much she wanted them to succeed.”
He also described the widespread, positive reaction in the SIU when Chao was nominated to her current post last November.
“At that time, I heard from so many people in my organization, I couldn’t believe it,” Sacco recalled. “The calls and messages were nonstop. The reason for all those messages was because everyone in my organization was excited…. A big reason for that reaction is because we know Elaine is not only a tremendous leader, but also someone we respect; someone we admire; and someone we trust.”
He continued, “She has valuable experience with our industry, and she always pushes to come up with positive solutions to the challenges we face. I know that her door is always open, and that’s all anyone can ask…. There is simply no one better qualified for this job.”
Chao focused her remarks on emerging technology, safety, and the evolution of related American jobs.
“When I first came to the department so many years ago, smart phones and drones were part of the Star-Trek universe,” she said. “Well, they’re not science fiction anymore! Today, we are seeing a technological revolution that will change the way we work, live, travel, and conduct commerce. And this department has an unprecedented opportunity to help shape that future for our country.”
The secretary said that technology like what’s being used for self-driving cars “has the potential to change our lives in ways we can’t imagine. The trend of ownership of personal vehicles is evolving. Many people may choose ride sharing in self-driving cars over personal ownership. Design and construction of future buildings, therefore, will not need as much parking space as they do today.
“Self-driving cars and trucks will talk to each other – vehicle to vehicle communication – and keep a safe distance, reducing the number of highway fatalities,” she continued. “Our infrastructure will be ‘smart’ – like our phones – so it can talk to and direct all the vehicles around it. Around the world, drones are already in the air inspecting agriculture, delivering packages and improving railway, pipeline and shipping safety. And new, satellite-based guidance systems will make aviation more reliable and safer. Long delays at the airport will become the exception rather than the rule.”
New challenges accompany change, she pointed out: “And the Department of Transportation will be at the forefront of shaping this change, by focusing on the three priorities at the heart of our mission: enhancing safety, refurbishing infrastructure and preparing for the future.”
Chao also said, “As the former Secretary of Labor, I am concerned about the impact of technology on workers and jobs. Smart technology will still require human interaction to function at its best. But the new jobs being created will require higher skills and digital literacy. So, education and skills training will be more important than ever before. We need to help ease the transition. The changes and challenges we face today are opportunities to work together.”