Former Elaine Chao staffer named director of White House Asian American Pacific Islander initiative

The commission provides advice to the president on strategies to bolster the AAPI community.
Tina Wei Smith.
Tina Wei Smith.via LinkedIn

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By Chris Fuchs

Tina Wei Smith, a former staffer at a conservative think tank who worked for Secretary of Transport Elaine Chao, has been named executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The Department of Commerce confirmed to NBC News that Smith has already started in her new role with the group.

The commission provides advice to the president, including strategies to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and ways to increase workforce diversity with greater inclusion of members from these groups.

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Smith worked in the Labor Department when Chao was secretary under President George W. Bush and later as Chao’s director of scheduling at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, according to Smith’s Linkedin account.

Smith replaces Holly Ham, who was in charge of directing efforts of the initiative and its associated presidential advisory commission.

Two thirds of the Asian American and Pacific Islander commission’s members had resigned in February 2017 in protest of Trump’s policies.

The initiative, established by President Bill Clinton in 1999, had been housed under the Department of Education, but was moved to the Commerce Department.

A Commerce Department spokesperson did not address emailed questions about Ham’s new role, Smith’s responsibilities or whether new commissioners had been appointed. An email sent to the White House was not immediately returned.

The Education Department referred comment to the Commerce Department.

In January, President Donald Trump announced his intent to appoint members to the presidential advisory commission for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Chao was named co-chair of the initiative.

Originally heavily centered on education, the initiative shifted direction in 2001 under Bush to focus on business and economic issues before being moved back to the Education Department under President Barack Obama. Trump put the commission under the Commerce Department with an executive order in May.