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Politics
Second Interior nominee goes before Senate


It's nearly two months into the administration of President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar remains the sole confirmed nominee at his department.

The picture could be changing soon with the confirmation of David J. Hayes as deputy secretary of the Interior Department. The former Clinton administration official went before the Senate last Thursday and vowed to keep Indian issues on the top of his agenda.

"I look forward to working with Native American communities," Hayes told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "When I was at Interior first time around, working with Native Americans was one of the most rewarding aspects of the job."

Hayes, an attorney, testified that he was interested in helping tribes improve economic development opportunities on reservations. He said his first assignment under former Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt was to settle outstanding Indian water rights disputes.

"We made some progress but we have much more to do," Hayes said. "I look forward to spending a lot of time on Native American issues should I be confirmed."

Hayes, who is the only the second Interior nominee Obama has announced, faced some criticism from Republicans on the committee who raised concerns about the new administration's policies on energy, climate change and endangered species. And there was a minor controversy about his record as a lobbyist.

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking Republican, said a bipartisan investigation failed to substantiate allegations that Hayes violated a one-year "cooling off" period by lobbying the Bush administration after he left government service. Hayes categorically denied contacting former deputy secretary J. Steven Griles and P. Lynn Scarlett, another former top Interior official, in 2001.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), however, said he was leaning against the nominee, partly because Hayes was a registered lobbyist who worked at the same firm as Babbitt up until December 2008. Obama, who has promised to clean up Interior after a slew of corruption and ethical scandals, imposed a strict ban on former lobbyists serving in his administration.

"They did pretty well, Latham and Watkins, lobbying here in Washington," said McCain, who cited millions of dollars in lobbying fees the firm collected with Hayes and Babbitt on board.

Hayes said he meets Obama's policy because he stopped lobbying on behalf of clients two years ago. Documents from the Senate Office of Public Records do not show him with any activity since early 2007.

During his time at Latham and Watkins, Hayes did not represent any tribal clients and the firm does not have an Indian law practice.

The committee will consider and vote on Hayes at a business meeting on Wednesday. If approved, his nomination will go to the full Senate.

Other than Hayes, Obama has yet to announce more nominees at Interior. He is expected to name Larry EchoHawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, as assistant secretary for Indian affairs, and Hilary Tompkins, a member of the Navajo Nation, as Solicitor of the Interior.

Confirmation Hearing:
Full Committee Hearing: to consider the nomination of David Hayes to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior (March 12, 2009)
Note: Hearing starts about 22 minutes into the archived webcast.

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