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October 6, 2008    DOL Home > Newsroom > Speeches & Remarks   

Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

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Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
Executive Office of the President APA Heritage Month
Washington, D.C.
Friday, May 22, 2008

Thank you, Norm Thank you, Norm [Norman Mineta, Former Secretary of Transportation]. Secretary Mineta and I are good friends, having served together in the President's Cabinet for many years.

Each May, I have the pleasure of helping our country and our community celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This is always a great opportunity to help our fellow Americans appreciate Asian Pacific American heritage and the many contributions that our community has made to our country.

Our system of government is one of the most stable and secure in the world. And the support you provide to the President of the United States helps him do his job and helps preserve public confidence. Your dedication contributes to the success of the United States government and the long term strength and stability of our economy.

High public confidence in our federal government and our leaders is critical to maintaining a strong economy. As you know, our nation's economy is currently experiencing some short-term challenges due to the housing and credit markets. However, the long-term prospects for our economy remain strong. Over the past six years I have watched America's economy rebound against challenge after challenge with remarkable resiliency and consistency. One reason is because America's workforce is the most creative, innovative, and productive in the world. But it is also because our economic system is based on the rule of law, transparency, and accountability. These qualities comprise America's greatest competitive advantage.

Along with what you do on the job, who you are also makes a difference. As Asian Pacific Americans serving the President, you have a key role to play in helping to build bridges of understanding between mainstream America and the growing immigrant community in the United States.

Asian Pacific Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the U.S. Over the past 15 years, the Asian Pacific American population has grown from about 3 percent of America's total population to about 5 percent. And along with our increasing presence in mainstream America, the Asian Pacific American community has also grown in what we have been able to achieve. Asian Pacific Americans have much to contribute to this great country — strong family values and emphasis on quality education.

The percentage of Asian Pacific Americans in the federal workforce has increased from 4.5 percent in 2000 to 5.3 percent in 2007. I'm proud of the fact that this Administration has appointed more than 400 Asian Pacific Americans to highest level positions across the federal government. That's more than all the previous administrations combined. And the Department of Labor has the highest percentage of Asian Pacific Americans appointed to senior management of any Cabinet Agency.

But there is always more that can be done. So at the Department of Labor, we have launched several programs to help Asian Pacific Americans — and other underserved communities — take advantage of the opportunities available in this country.

For the first time ever, since 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics now reports monthly employment data on Asian Pacific Americans as a separate, independent category. That's how we now know that the unemployment rate for Asian Pacific Americans is right around 3 percent.

The Department has also made a special effort to target enforcement of our nation's wage and hour laws on industries that employ large numbers of immigrants. In 2007, the Department recovered more than $220 million for workers who did not receive the wages they were due, many of whom were vulnerable immigrants.

We have also created the annual Asian Pacific American Federal Career Advancement Summit, to help our community access the skills necessary to advance within the federal workforce. The very first one took place in May 2002 in the auditorium in the Frances Perkins Building. About two hundred people attended. Today, these summits are held at major hotels around town because the crowds are so large — more than 1100 people attended the last one. And, we had more than 1200 this year — the greatest number ever. We open the doors for all who are interested. And, in fact, we are also growing more diverse every year. I should also note that the training received there is officially approved by the Office of Personnel Management.

In addition, we institutedthe annual Opportunity Conference. This was specifically designed to help underserved communities, including Asian Pacific Americans, access greater opportunities in mainstream America. We've now had five Opportunity Conferences and these, too, have become very popular and have grown by leaps and bounds. Attendance has now reached over 1000.

Also, to help employers and workers, the Department has translated numerous labor law materials into multiple languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean so that those with limited English proficiency would know their rights and responsibilities.

And in an effort to help foster a new generation of leaders and promote diversity in the workforce, the Department established an internship program that over 100 Asian Pacific have participated in. In addition, every year I meet with all the Asian Pacific American interns in the Washington D.C. area to highlight careers in leadership.

There are tremendous possibilities ahead. Over the next 10 years, 60 percent of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement. And more than one-third of employees in SES positions are expected to retire. This upcoming wave of retirements presents a wonderful opportunity for advancement.

And as our country becomes part of an increasingly worldwide economy, diversity is emerging as a key competitive advantage for our country. As the private sector workforce increases in diversity, our government ranks should reflect this diversity as well.

I'm so proud of the many accomplishments Asian Pacific Americans have achieved over these last seven-plus years. So thank you for being here today and for allowing me to share in this celebration. Thank you for all you do for the President and our country. God bless you.


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