Fireside Chat Questions Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao For National Hispanic American Heritage Month Celebration

September 26, 2018

Thank you, Ray [Martinez, Administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration].  Good afternoon, everyone.


Thank you to our guests, Jennifer Korn and Hector Barreto, for joining us today.


Let me also acknowledge Director James Campos, Director of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy.


Let me welcome members of the Hispanics in Transportation affinity group, including President Cecilia Madan, and Secretary Esther Camano.  And, hello to all of our employees in the field watching online. Thank you for your service.


And – thank you so much to Manuel Galdo for that great rendition of our national anthem!



Welcome, everyone, to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s annual celebration of National Hispanic American Heritage Month.


Each year, from September 15th to October 15th, America celebrates the culture and traditions of Spanish-speaking residents who trace their heritage to Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. This year’s theme is “Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving our Nation.”


Many Hispanic Americans have served our country with distinction at the U.S. Department of Transportation. They include the first Federal Aviation Administrator, Elwood Richard “Pete” Quesada, and, more recently, Michael Huerta.


Among the former Secretaries of Transportation is Federico Peña, as well as Deputy Secretary Victor Mendez. And this year, the Department ranks among the top seven Federal agencies for Hispanic workforce participation.


As a former Secretary of Labor, I know how important it is to ensure that the doors of opportunity remain wide open for traditionally underserved communities, including Americans of Hispanic heritage.


That’s why we worked to create new programs to help these communities access opportunities in federal contracting and advance within the federal system.  During my tenure, the Labor Department posted record results in enforcing equal opportunity rights for employees of federal contractors – with an increase in financial recoveries of nearly 80 percent from 2001-2008. This included recovering a record in excess of $51 million on behalf of workers who had been subjected to illegal discrimination.


And, the U.S. Department of Labor made a special effort to target enforcement of our nation’s wage and hour laws on industries that employ large numbers of immigrants, recovering more than $220 million for workers who did not receive the wages they were due. The Labor Department also experienced the best health and safety data on record to date at that time, including reversing the trend of rising fatalities among Hispanic workers. The Labor Department also focused on increasing the competitiveness of America’s workforce in a global economy and promoting job creation.


At the U.S. Department of Transportation, we’re continuing this commitment to helping underserved communities. For example, this year the Department of Transportation collaborated with the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce to host 70 small businesses as part of its Financial Education and Outreach initiative. This initiative offered assistance in developing plans for capital needs and how to navigate the federal procurement process, and increased awareness about finance and debt management.


Also this year, the Department launched a special initiative to ensure that the paid student summer internship program was widely publicized among traditionally underserved communities.  As a result, the 2019 class of young leaders was more diverse than ever before and included 20 Hispanic college students from around the country.


The strength of our great nation has always been defined by our diversity. As an Asian American who immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eight, I appreciate the importance of building bridges of understanding between our many cultures. So let’s continue to learn and deepen our appreciation for each other, and build a vibrant future for America.


Thank you for your many contributions to the U.S. Department of Transportation – and have a great Hispanic American Heritage Month!







And now, let me thank our special guest, U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, for joining us today. Congressman, welcome to the U.S. Department of Transportation.


Before we begin, let me note that as Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Congressman Diaz-Balart is a tremendous advocate for the importance of infrastructure investment in Florida and in our country! Our Department looks to Congressman Diaz-Balart for his leadership and insights, and we work very closely with him.



Fireside Chat Questions


  • Let’s start with your background. Could you please tell us about your family, where you grew up, and Florida’s 25th Congressional District?


  • What sparked your interest in public service – and in our country’s transportation systems?


  • A key priority of this Administration, and the U.S. Department of Transportation, is to address the deteriorating infrastructure of our country, which is vital to our country’s productivity, economic vitality and quality of life. How does your committee work to make the best possible infrastructure investments?


  • Another Department of Transportation priority is to prepare for the future by engaging with new and emerging technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, privacy, and security without hampering innovation. What do you consider the most important or exciting transportation innovations on the horizon?


  • Given your leadership role on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, what do you consider the biggest transportation challenges facing our country, and what are some solutions?


  • What programs can help Hispanic-Americans access procurement, contracting and other opportunities?


  • Do you have any tips for entrepreneurial success from your own career?



Congressman Diaz-Balart, thank you again for joining us today and sharing your insights with the Department of Transportation. We are delighted to work with you to help improve the economic vibrancy and quality of life in Florida, and across the U.S.

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