Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Resigns

Elaine Chao
Elaine Chao oversaw an active four years at DOT. Recently, the agency has been involved in ensuring the safe and rapid transport of the COVID-19 vaccine through regulatory measures. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced her resignation through her Twitter account on Jan. 7, one day after a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Chao’s resignation is effective Jan. 11.

“Yesterday, our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the president stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed,” Chao said in the statement. “As I’m sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”

The riot took place on the same day members of Congress convened to certify Democrat Joe Biden as the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election. Five fatalities were reported — including a woman who was shot inside the Capitol.

Chao was the first Cabinet official to resign in the wake of the violence, but she was followed on Jan. 8 by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Several other Trump administration officials also announced their resignations, including Stephanie Grisham, chief of staff for first lady Melania Trump, and Mick Mulvaney, special envoy for Northern Ireland. Mulvaney previously served as acting White House chief of staff for Trump.

According to a Department of Transportation spokeswoman, DOT General Counsel Steven Bradbury is next in the line of succession at the agency. In September 2019, Trump authorized Bradbury to perform the duties of the deputy secretary.

RELATED: Elaine Chao Discusses Partnerships as Busy Year Draws to a Close

In her announcement, Chao noted the department will help former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s choice to replace her at DOT, with the transition. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are set to be sworn in Jan. 20.

The trucking industry expressed gratitude for Chao’s service.

“Secretary Chao has been a strong leader and a tremendous partner on a host of issues impacting the trucking industry,” American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said in a Jan. 7 statement. “Her leadership throughout the COVID pandemic, ensuring that trucks and truck drivers could continue doing their essential work — despite the many barriers set in front of them — was exemplary and an example of her commitment to this country.”



Spear added, “On a personal note, having worked for and with her over many years, I can attest that Elaine is a person of strong moral character, and should be applauded for not standing idly by following yesterday’s abhorrent and shameful events at the Capitol.”

Chao oversaw an active four years at DOT. Recently, the agency has been involved in ensuring the safe and rapid transport of the COVID-19 vaccine through regulatory measures. In December, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which operates under DOT, extended and expanded its emergency declaration offering hours-of-service relief to truckers to facilitate transport of the vaccines.

During her tenure, Chao also steered the agency toward a future that likely will be reshaped by automated technology in the transportation sector. In June, DOT launched the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing Initiative to increase transparency and inform the public about automated vehicle technologies.


How can we control an unruly trucking tech stack and streamline fleet management practices? Host Seth Clevenger speaks with Ray Greer, CEO of Omnitracs, which acquired SmartDrive last year. Hear a snippet, above, and get the full program by going to

DOT has consistently updated its automated vehicle guidelines under Chao’s leadership. Chao announced AV 4.0, the latest iteration of the guidelines, in January 2020. AV 4.0 builds on AV 3.0, the earlier version of the guidelines that was released in October 2018. DOT’s previous guidance on automated driving systems, AV 2.0, was published in September 2017.

In addition to crafting policy associated with automated vehicle technology, Chao placed an emphasis on rural communities. DOT split distribution of federal resources evenly between urban and rural areas through discretionary grant programs. Since January 2017, DOT has distributed nearly $300 billion in funding, including more than $49.3 billion through 7,933 discretionary grant awards.

In an exclusive interview with Transport Topics on Dec. 3, Chao identified the partnerships the agency has forged as her proudest accomplishment as DOT leader.

“I am tremendously proud of the many accomplishments we were able to achieve together for our country, and I will never forget the commitment you have for this department and the United States of America,” Chao’s announcement states. “I am hopeful that many of you will carry forward our vision to improve the lives of Americans through this department and beyond.”

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