Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., asked President George W. Bush's nominee for secretary of labor to be mindful of just how much regulation small businesses can possibly comply with and to tailor the department accordingly.
Enzi's reminder came during the confirmation hearing of Elaine Chao held today by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Chao, former director of the Peace Corps in 1991 and later the director of the United Way, has been selected by Bush to head the Department of Labor. The agency employs more than 17,000 full time workers and has an annual budget of nearly $40 billion.
Senators of both the Republican and Democratic persuasion seemed favorable to Chao's nomination at today's hearing and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., hoped to have a vote on her nomination possibly as early as this evening.
The following is a statement Sen. Enzi made at today's hearing:
"You've been selected by the President of the United States for your management capability. I want to commend you for the outstanding list of achievements that you have in that area. I'm the subcommittee chairman for Employment Safety and Training Subcommittee and a number of these issues that have been mentioned come under the jurisdiction of that subcommittee.
"I will concentrate my very brief remarks on the area that I'm most concerned about which is the area of small business. I'm also on the Small Business Committee. We have a lot of discussions in there about what small business is. We've determined it's those businesses that employ fewer than 500 people. I've go to tell you I think that it's much smaller than that. That's the federal definition, but the real definition is the business where the person who owns it is also the person who sweeps the sidewalk, does the accounting and waits on the customer.
"If we can make the regulations of this country so that the person in that size business can understand them then all businesses will do well. We've made a lot of the rules, regulations and laws so that those businesses that have additional expertise, particularly the big businesses that can specialize in different areas, can handle it. We have our job cut out for us if we're going to actually have fairness in the workplace and job safety. We must include where most of the people work, which is the small businesses of this country.
"I will briefly mention one other area and that's worker training in the rural areas of this country and in some of the most rural areas, the Indian reservations in the country. There are tribal members that need additional help. I'll be placing some emphasis on that.
"I welcome you. I thank you for the expertise you bring to this job and I look forward to confirming you."
The following is the complete text of Senator Enzi's opening statement from the hearing:
Statement by SENATOR MICHAEL B. ENZI
in Support of
As Secretary of Labor
Before the HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE
January 24, 2001
Mr. Chairman, I'd like to thank the Committee for convening to consider the nomination of Elaine Chao. I am very pleased to see Elaine Chao here before this Committee. I have had the pleasure of knowing Secretary-designate Chao since I joined the Senate four years ago, and I have the highest regard for her both personally and professionally.
As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, I am keenly interested in the activities of the Department of Labor. I have spoken with Secretary designate Chao about many of the challenging issues that will confront her as Secretary of Labor, and I am confident that she already has an excellent grasp of these issues. Perhaps more importantly, she is willing to work extremely hard to learn even more about them. I am also very impressed by Ms. Chao's record as President and CEO of United Way of America, director of the Peace Corps, and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Transportation. I believe these experiences have given her the managerial and administrative experience that will prove invaluable in a Labor Secretary.
One of the reasons Ms. Chao's administrative experience is so crucial is because of the importance of having good administrative processes in the Department of Labor. The decisions of the Department of Labor deeply affect both our nations' workers and the businesses that provide jobs and incomes and help our economy grow. It is absolutely critical that both workers and employers feel that these decisions are reached in a fair, impartial and NOT arbitrary manner.
Sadly, I feel that this confidence has been lacking in recent years. How can the public have confidence when an agency issues outlandish edicts, only to recant them days later? And how can the public have confidence when an Agency rushes through a major rulemaking without fully considering all public comments?
I firmly believe Secretary-designate Chao has the experience and skills to ensure that the Department of Labor will inspire confidence in the fairness of its decisions, regardless of their popularity. This is a crucial responsibility of the Secretary of Labor, and I believe Secretary-designate Chao was well trained to fulfill this responsibility when she successfully restored public confidence in a scandal-tainted United Way system.
In my capacity as Chairman of the Employment, Safety and Training Subcommittee, I look forward to helping Secretary-designate Chao work her magic on the Department of Labor. And I welcome my fellow Committee members from both sides of the aisle to join us in this effort. I hope that together during this Congress we can take a careful and close look at some of the existing regulatory and enforcement procedures that Secretary Chao will inherit. We must ensure that good procedures are followed properly, and we must change procedures that are not working.
I also look forward to working with Secretary designate Chao to bring the Department of Labor into the 21st Century. We are in a very exciting time of more positive relationships between employees and employers. In this period of record unemployment, employers have learned the lesson that it makes good business sense to keep employees healthy and happy. In order to encourage this progress, we must change outdated attitudes about employer/employee relationships and ensure that our Department of Labor does not thwart the development of workplace arrangements and initiatives that benefit both employee and employer. This will take modern, innovative thinking and I am confident that Secretary-designate Chao is such a thinker. During her time at the Peace Corps, she exhibited a willingness to break through old barriers and stereotypes when she pursued initiatives to establish the first Peace Corps programs in the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.
I have always welcomed the many challenges that come with being Chairman of the Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, but as I sit here today at the confirmation hearing of Elaine Chao, I am especially excited about working with the Department of Labor and the new Secretary to find solutions to these challenges.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.