Interior nominee Tara Sweeney lands hearing for Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs despite ethical questions

Possible conflicts of interest persist as her current employer has pending permit to drill in the Arctic

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will hold a hearing to consider Tara Sweeney to be Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior, a position in which she would be responsible for overseeing land held in trust by the U.S. Government for American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. If Sweeney is confirmed for the post, she will be yet another lobbyist-turned-government official in Secretary Ryan Zinke’s conflict-filled agency.

Sweeney is currently the Vice President of External Affairs for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), an Alaska Native corporation that works in the oil and gas industries. Sweeney has worked for ASRC for nearly twenty years in a variety of roles, including as a registered lobbyist from 2005 to 2007. While at ASRC, Sweeney has fought to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy development.

Sweeney’s company works closely with other oil conglomerates: ASRC leases millions of acres of land to Anadarko, Chevron Texaco, and BP for oil drilling, including all of their land within ANWR, and is currently looking for a coal development company “to explore and develop its coal deposits located on its lands in the western Arctic.”

Like the administration she is potentially about to join, Sweeney also has ties to Russian interests: ASRC’s subsidiaries work with Russian oil and gas companies, and Sweeney previously served on a council with the COO of Russia’s largest shipping company.  

Sweeney’s current employer is poised to reap the benefits of Secretary Zinke’s oil-drilling friendly Interior Department. Ten percent of the “controversial Liberty project” is owned by Arctic Slope Exploration, an ASRC subsidiary. If approved, the Liberty project — which has been opposed by conservation groups because of the dangers of drilling in icy Arctic water — would be a nine-acre gravel island that would be the “nation’s first oil production platform in federal Arctic waters.” Interior is in the final stages of permitting the project.

Tara Sweeney’s nomination has been held up for months by the Office of Government Ethics, the office responsible for making sure administration appointees don’t have conflicts of interest. She finally filed her ethics paperwork in February, nearly four months after she was nominated. In her paperwork, she promised to resign from ASRC upon confirmation and has pledged that in her new position she will “not participate personally and substantially” in matters where ASRC is involved. Nonetheless, over the thirteen month period from January 1, 2017 to February 6, 2018, ASRC paid Sweeney over a million dollars. And for at least some of this time, ASRC has known Sweeney was awaiting confirmation for a top position at Interior.

In addition to her own ethics complications, Sweeney’s husband stands to benefit from oil and gas development in Alaska. Kevin Sweeney’s firm, Six-7 Strategies, recently landed a subcontract with Black Rock Group (run by former Trump staffer Mike Dubke), and is currently getting paid $15,000 a month to work on messaging to promote a natural gas project for the state of Alaska. Kevin Sweeney also happens to be a former longtime aide to Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Tara Sweeney’s confirmation hearing comes after a tumultuous string of resignations from Secretary Zinke’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development – Indian Affairs Gavin Clarkson had to resign in November after Interior’s Inspector General issued a harsh report into the tribal loan program that Clarkson oversaw. A second IG report found that Clarkson encouraged his employees to pay out a controversial tribal loan that he had helped arrange before he started working at Interior and that he displayed “‘disturbing'” behavior that he asked DOI to hire his relatives and former business partners. Less than two weeks ago, former Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Bryan Rice abruptly resigned following allegations that he harassed and bullied a female subordinate.

View Tara Sweeney’s full profile, including details of her conflicts of interest, at the Department of Influence website.

With Secretary Zinke’s record of filling the Interior Department with special interest cronies and lobbyists, it can be hard to keep track. So Western Values Project created the Department of Influence website to document the revolving door between special interest lobbyists and political appointees at Interior. Learn more at

Also published on Medium.

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