ICAS ANNUAL LIBERTY AWARD|
Elaine L. Chao
U. S. Department of Labor
Madame Chairman, thank you very much for that very kind introduction. I want
to thank you so much for bestowing upon me this wonderful honor. It's great to be back
within the Asian-American community and to see all of you and thank you all so much
for coming out.
I also want to acknowledge the contributions of Mr. Sang Joo Kim. Your active
participation in our community and your very visible presence in so many community
events and affairs is a hallmark of how Asian-Americans are now becoming more and
more involved in mainstream activities. And I think as Mr. Kim has demonstrated, not
only is it fun, but it's also very important for our community to have an active presence
as well. So Mr. Kim, thank you for all that you do for our community.
I'm also delighted to be here because what a lovely surrounding. It's just
beautiful here, and I remember when I was growing up, most of the meetings and the
meeting halls that I attended - I very seldom got to go to a fancy place like this! So I
want to thank everyone for being here, but once again, it's a reflection of the continual
advancement of our community and the fact that we are becoming more and more
mainstream. And I am so happy to see that.
This afternoon, if I could, I wanted to share with you a little bit about what the
Department of Labor is doing to help people live out the great American dream of life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The fundamental basis of our democracy is that each
person is valued as an individual, and each person is free to pursue his or her own
dreams. And work is a vital part of that equation because it provides the opportunity for
most people to reach for and also achieve their full potential.
The Department of Labor is actually one of the smaller departments in the U.S.
Government. It only has a budget of about $72 billion - your tax dollars at work, so we
thank you very much! And a personnel complement of about 17,500 people. But what
we do is to help Americans, help workers prepare for, find and also succeed at
meaningful work. So that we means that we administer ERISA, and all employer
based benefits including healthcare benefits. We protect workers long term, pension
security. We set workplace health and safety standards through OSHA. How many of
you have heard of OSHA? We administer OSHA. We can be quite fearsome.
We ensure that workers are paid a full day's wage for a full day's work through
our division called the Wage and Hour. And we also help people who are out of work
and this is our most important mission. We provide unemployment insurance benefits to
people who are out of work, training and other income support services. The Department
administers, once again, a $15 billion public employment and training system that you
fund. This is all your tax dollars at work, which is why I want you to understand what
your contribution is to helping those who are less fortunate amongst your midst.
Through the system, the Workforce Investment System, we have provided
Pennsylvania workers with more than $864 million in assistance over the past year alone,
just in this State. $864 million. Now, our nation has called upon these resources a great
deal as we have worked our way from the edge of a recession into recovery.
If we can just go back a little bit and remember that the stock market peaked in
March of 2000. The manufacturing sector hit the doldrums in August of 2000. When
President George W. Bush took office, our country was already in a recession although it
was not widely reported at the time. And President Bush's first tax reduction helped to
shorten and soften the impact of the recession on our people. Our economy was just
beginning to recover when the devastating attacks of September 11 occurred. Those
attacks not only robbed our country of nearly 3,000 precious souls, but they were also
responsible for contributing to the loss of 1.5 million jobs. The war on terror and
subsequent corporate scandals exacerbated our economic challenges and the President's
two tax reductions were critical to jump-starting the economy.
Thanks to the President's economic leadership, our economy has turned the
corner and is getting stronger every day. Interest rates are at 40 year lows. Inflation is at
40 year lows. Productivity growth rates last year surged to the highest annual levels in
over 50 years. Consumer spending and wages and benefits are all increasing. But as we
all know, job growth is not as strong as we would like, and we're very concerned about
that. The President has said on many occasions that one worker out of work is one
worker too many. And that's why he has a 6-point economic plan to keep our economy
I think it's important to know and to remember that the government doesn't create
jobs. But what the government can do is to create the environment through which job
creation can occur. And so therefore, the President's plan is focused on reducing
excessive government regulations which impede the growth of new jobs. The President's
plan would also reduce taxation and litigation that is stifling job creation and inhibiting
economic growth. His plan will decrease the cost of health care and increase access to
quality, affordable health care for our people and for small business people and their
employees. The President's plan will also ensure a stable energy supply and make the tax
reductions permanent so that families and businesses and workers can plan for the future.
All these initiatives will help the economy grow and create more jobs.
President Bush is also committed to ensuring that Americans continue to work
with the world and that we're not isolating ourselves economically. Economic isolation
should have special significant for an audience such as this because so many of us come
from countries outside of America. We are recent immigrants, or are children of recent
immigrants with strong ties back to our ancestral lands, and we know that we are part of a
worldwide society, worldwide community, and a worldwide economy. And isolationism,
economic isolationism is a strategy of fear and of resentment. And again, we of all
people should understand the need to engage internationally, and that economic isolation
may potentially cause, in fact, a loss of 6.4 million jobs held by Americans hired by
foreign companies here in America.
The President's vision is one of optimism and confidence, one that trusts in our
country's hopeful values and believes in our ability to lead the world. But a prosperous
world must also be a secure world, and President Bush is deeply committed to keeping
American safe and secure. The President is taking the war on terrorism to our enemies so
that we don't have to fight it here in the streets of America. Many of us, as I mentioned,
were born in foreign countries, or children of those who were born in foreign countries.
Many of the foreign countries in which we grew up, or our parents grew up, were beset
by foreign invasion or civil war. So we have seen the horrors of attacks on native soil.
Anyone in America or elsewhere who says that we are not safer than we were two years
ago, like on September 12, 2001 for example, is ignoring the good that has come from
fighting the enemies of freedom on their home ground. Thanks to the leadership of
President George W. Bush, the terrorists regimes that destroyed the lives of so many
innocent people in Afghanistan have been expelled from power. Little girls and women
are now free to go on the streets, girls are able to go to school, women are able to go to
work. And thanks to the President's leadership, Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime
are no longer in control of Iraq. We have taken a country that had been brutally
oppressed by a vicious tyrant and put it on the path to democracy.
I recently came back from Iraq and found that our men and women in uniform
and the civilians who work with them are so proud of what they are doing over there, but
they're also concerned that so little of what they're doing, all their good works, are not
being reported in the press. And they know that much needs to be done, but they also
wish that more Americans knew of their good work.
Thousands of people in Iraq were complicit in Saddam Hussein's reign of terror,
and some of these vicious people are still at large. We cannot and will not allow these
people to sabotage the hopes of 24 million people, Iraqis, people who want the same
things we do, to find good jobs, to put food on the table, to send their children to school,
to hope for brighter beginnings for their children. And we cannot and will now allow
these vicious loyalists of Saddam Hussein's regime to sabotage the hope for democracy
in the Middle East and stability for the rest of the world. It is in the interest of the United
States and the international community to see that democracy succeeds in Iraq and the
Middle East because that is the key to peace and stability around the world.
I think this audience knows more than most that America is a beacon to the rest of
the world. It's a beacon for hope and opportunity, freedom and liberty. And so it's vital
that Americans of all backgrounds have the opportunity to live out these values here at
home. And I'm pleased to tell you that the President has done a great deal to reach out to
our community and to ensure that Asian-Pacific Americans are sharing in the American
First of all, President Bush has appointed more Asian-Pacific Americans to the
highest levels of the federal government than any other president in United States history.
Under President Bush's leadership, more than 150 Asian-Pacific Americans have been
appointed to high level offices including 19 requiring Senate confirmations. These are
what's called Presidential Appointees-Senate-Confirmed appointments. They are the top
levels of our government, the highest levels. And for the first time, obviously, the
President has appointed two Asian-Pacific Americans to the United States Cabinet.
At the U.S. Department of Labor, this administration has appointed 18 Asian-
Pacific Americans to top leadership positions, the highest number of any federal
government department. At the Department of Labor, Shinae Chun who has spoken to
your group, is the first Asian American Director of the Women's Bureau, and Shinae is
right here and I'm going to ask her to stand up and please give her a round of applause.
We're so proud of her! And Shinae is a PAS - that's a Presidential Appointee with Senate
We also have Sam Mok who's the first Asian-Pacific American Chief
Financial Officer. And I also have here, if she's available, Angie Tang. Angie is right
over there. Angie was the Secretary's representative in the region of New York, and she
has very kindly agreed to help out with outreach and liaison with our Asian-Pacific
American media community as well, because I want them to know about mainstream
America. I want the rest of our community to know about mainstream America, to know
about the opportunities and also to know how the government works and how
mainstream society works. Because before we can get into mainstream society and
mainstream community, we have to understand what it is. So, Angie, I want to thank you
for helping out so much as well.
But helping Asian-Pacific Americans and all Americans access the American
values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness continues to be among the
Department's top priorities. I just want to list of few things that we've done for our
community. The Department of Labor hosted the first nationwide Opportunities
conference to foster the small businesses and community organizations serving the
Asian-Pacific and Hispanic American communities. This May, the Department is hosting
the third annual Asian-Pacific American Federal Career Advancement Summit. These
summits help Asian-Pacific Americans acquire the skills necessary to advance to senior
management positions within the federal government.
We have also established a summer internship program at the Department to
encourage future Asian-Pacific American leaders to learn about our nation's government.
So if you have college-aged relatives interested in an internship at the U.S. Department of
Labor, please go on our website - www.dol.gov, or call Melissa Naudine (?), at 202-693-
6000. We're very serious about extending this invitation. We have internships
throughout the whole year as well. And I want to encourage Asian-American kids and
other kids to come and see how the federal government works so that they can understand
the opportunities, but also the responsibilities and obligations of the federal government
to our citizens.
The Department has also launched a number of other initiatives to assist the
Asian-Pacific American community. Small businesses are the growth engines of the U.S.
economy and a very important avenue of opportunity for Asian-Pacific Americans. So
this administration launched a $9 million project with the Small Business Administration
to help Asian-Pacific American entrepreneurs, including those here in Philadelphia,
access seed capital to start their own businesses. We're also translating our publications
and the Labor Department websites on health, safety and fair compensation into multiple
languages. So we're translating a website of all of our manuals into all different kinds of
Asian languages including Korean, Chinese and Japanese. We're also hiring interpreters
to help workers who call our department, and that's another challenge for us as well,
because we want to reach out to the under-served communities. And so when someone
calls us, we want to make sure that we have interpreters and speakers who speak the
language of the caller. So we have hired interpreters to help callers who don't speak
English access the Department's many programs and resources.
As some of you may know, one of the Department's highest priorities is to ensure
that vulnerable immigrants are protected. So we have launched an outreach program to
explain the Department's many, many rules and regulations. If the government - in our
view, if the government requires the regulated community - let me start that again - if the
government requires businesses or the regulated community to obey the rules, then we
believe that the government has a responsibility to make its rules understandable. That
apparently is something very new in the federal government.
To also better serve the Asian-Pacific American community, I have asked that the
Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, which turns out the monthly unemployment
numbers, to start for the very first time in 2003, to begin to include specific and separate
employment data on Asians and Asian Americans. So along with the great American
values that I know all of us share, we are doing all that we can to ensure that Asian
Americans and all Americans know about the resources within the federal government
and that we are serving all populations and we're going out and aggressively engaging in
outreach and liaison with traditionally under-served communities. And we have a lot of
resources that we want the Asian American community to know about as well.
So I'm very proud of what we have accomplished at the Department of Labor so
far. But there's more to be done. You know, many times when I'm doing my job and
traveling throughout the country, I sometimes feel a sense of great sadness and loneliness
because I feel so blessed by God and entrusted with the responsibilities that this President
has given me, I've seen so much of all that is wonderful and beautiful about America,
that I wish more Asian Americans and other Americans can come join me and see. I
come from a very large family. I come from a family of six girls, and so I always wish
that I can share everything that I'm seeing with my community.
And what I'm seeing is a country that as so much opportunity. I see a country
that has strong core values of generosity, compassion, safety, freedom, opportunity. And
what I want to emphasize to the Asian-American community is that we have a chance at
grasping that opportunity. We are so well positioned because we have core values with
an emphasis on hard work, with an emphasis on family, and we also have a core value of
self-reliance, independence, self-sufficiency, married with the opportunities in this
country - I can see nothing that we cannot accomplish.
I also believe in the values of our community. It used to be that so many of us
were so eager to go into mainstream America. When I first arrived in America, we were
so eager to learn English that we may sometimes have forgotten to retain our native
language. But I find that with new immigrants these days, more and more people are
holding onto our ancestral cultural heritage, and I think that's good. That's good,
because we should take pride in our ethnic heritage. We should take pride in all that we
can offer to mainstream America.
You know, in my climb and advancement in my own personal career, it's not
been easy, but I've never felt sorry for myself, and I never thought that I would be where
I am today. I just wanted to: No. 1 - honor my parents. I think it's a sentiment that you
can all empathize with. But I wanted to honor my parents, not disappoint my family, not
disappoint my community, and I was also blessed with a tremendous sense of curiosity
which my parents instilled in me. My father - as you may have heard - taught me
English. He speaks English with a very heavy accent. So to some people - the thought
that he taught me English was actually quite frightening! But he had tremendous - he
had tremendous confidence in the possibilities in this country, so when we first arrived as
immigrants, we didn't know anything. We never thought that we would be able to get
anyplace. But we knew that we would survive, and that in this country we'd be given a
fair shake if we worked hard, if we believed in ourselves, and we had optimism about this
country. We had hope. So armed with optimism and hope, even though we had a very
tough beginning, we knew that we were going to be all right.
And so my father always said to me that he can't tell me where I will go because
his view of the world is so small. But he had confidence that even though he could not
take me where I would ultimately go - by the way, he's alive and he's doing very well!!
- but what I meant was that he could not - because he was not privy to so much of
mainstream America, he couldn't tell me what was out there. He couldn't tell me where
ultimately I can go. But he gave me the most empowering philosophy of all and that is
that if I had courage, if I worked hard, if I helped other people - never forget that - if I
helped other people, that the path ahead of me would be full of promise, full of hope, and
full of joy. And I can say, looking back, that my parents who could not tell me what
opportunities lay ahead, but yet had the confidence to tell me there would be
opportunities ahead, have in fact laid a very, very good path for me.
As we talk about our country today, and we think about all that we have, we
Asian Americans possess some of the most valuable core assets of life and that is to have
a strong culture, to have strong family values, and to take care of one another, and to have
a tremendous appreciation for education. So we have so much to share with mainstream
America, and I hope that when young people are going on in their lives and getting on
that they value our culture and that they feel enriched by having a combination of Asian
and mainstream American culture.
So wherever I've been, I've always treasured deeply my Asian heritage and I've
always felt that I've been very fortunate to have been the beneficiary of both cultures.
I've been so overwhelmed by the tremendous outpouring of support from the Asian
American community, and I want to let you know that I will never let you down; that
your hopes and dreams are always with me and that I always hope to be worthy of your
pride and that - please know, that I am working every day to ensure that Asian
Americans and all Americans have an equal opportunity at the tremendous, tremendous
possibilities that exist in this country.
So thank you so much for all of your support, I really appreciate it. Thank you
very much. Thank you.