With the Heritage Foundation's close connections to Donald Trump, the Chao pick was by no means a surprise.
Paul Conway, a former Heritage staffer who is heading up the landing team at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for the Trump transition, was the chief of staff to Chao when she served as US Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush Administration.
Here is an interesting tidbit about Chao from WND:
When she [Elaine Chao] served the conservative Heritage Foundation as Asian studies adviser, a military analyst who sounded warnings about Chinese threats to U.S. security was shown the door, WND reported at the time. Chao served at Heritage beginning in 1996 before leaving to become Bush’s labor secretary in 2001. While at Heritage, the think tank opened an office in Hong Kong.
Some reports by the ousted Heritage analyst – 16-year veteran Richard Fisher Jr. – were footnoted in the declassified version of the bipartisan Cox Report, which documented Chinese espionage at U.S. defense labs, while warning of China’s goal of modernizing the People’s Liberation Army to project power past the mainland’s waters, targeting U.S. allies like Taiwan and even the U.S.
“Elaine Chao was part of the deal that got Rick Fisher fired from Heritage,” a congressional aide who worked with him on China matters told WND. “She pushed him out not because of free-trade issues, but because he raised national security concerns over China.” A Heritage insider agreed: “She was not supportive of any of his writings on the Chinese military.”
A WND article from 2001 notes that one of Chao's "patrons" at the Heritage Foundation was former Chairman and CEO of American International Group (AIG) Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, then a "pro-China lobbyist." Greenberg, protested about a Heritage paper by analyst Stephen Yates and threatened to cut off funding to the think tank. After that threat, Heritage reportedly issued a new report (co-authored by Yates' replacement Larry Wortzel) that was beneficial to Greenberg.
With Chao's deep connections to Heritage, the Department of Transportation may be loaded up with people from that think tank. When she was Labor Secretary, Chao hired former Heritage analyst Mark Wilson who wrote a paper in 1995 calling for closing the department and moving its key functions to other Cabinet agencies.
Citing her past writings at the Heritage Foundation, safety advocates are worried that Chao may roll back consumer protections put in place under the Obama Administration.
Here is the Heritage Foundation's statement on Mr. Trump's nomination of Elaine Chao. Her past work at Heritage can be found here.
In other Trump-think tank news, here is a Think Tank Watch piece on speculation that the former head of the Cato Institute may get a top White House post in the Trump Administration.