Qualifications of Interior candidates Palin, Gillam questioned

DOI has nine departments, 70,000 employees

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and millionaire Anchorage investment firm owner Bob Gillam are among those believed to be vying with the incoming Trump administration to be the next Secretary of the Interior.

The post comes with a requirement to oversee nine technical bureaus, with a total of 70,000 employees, including scientists and resource management professionals in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, plus the National Park Service, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey.

Alaska’s 12 state agencies, by comparison, employ some 18,057 full time equivalent employees, according to the website www.governing.com

Are either Palin or Gillam up to the job?

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has posed the question.

In statements issued in late November, PEER said “no.”


“Elevating Sarah Palin’s abysmal record on the environment to a national level would be an unmitigated disaster,” said Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska professor and Peer Board member.  “Sarah Plain as Interior Secretary would be like having the fox operate a KFC franchise in the henhouse.”

Her fervid fossil-fuel advocacy, leading “Drill, Baby, Drill” cheers in the months leading up to the disastrous BP Gulf of Mexico spill, is only a small sample of what could be expected if she becomes America’s chief natural resource protection official, he said.

Palin, said Steiner, never met a mining proposal she did not like, and has yet to articulate any limits on extractive projects.

And Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, added that “it is hard to imagine a more divisive pick who seems predestined to mire Interior in more conflict and litigation than it has ever seen.”

As for Gillam, Steiner said, not much is known about his position on Interior issues.

Gillam is well known for the success of his investment firm, McKinley Capital Management, and for his donations to a number of charities in Alaska, his own Gillam Foundation, which has given scholarship awards to graduating high school seniors in Alaska who intend to pursue course work in a global commerce field.

“His opposition to Pebble is laudable, although it seems largely driven by the proximity of his lodge nearby.”  Gillam’s luxury fly-out Mission Lodge, (www.missionlodge.com) in the heart of the Bristol Bay region, offers sport fishing, bear viewing and more.

“If Mr. Gillam indeed has a strong, authentic conservation ethic, then he may make a good Interior Secretary.  But we simply don’t know at this point.”