The government official tapped for the Labor Department’s number two spot previously worked with notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff to try to shield a tiny cluster of Pacific Islands from federal labor and immigration laws.

Patrick Pizzella, whose nomination for deputy labor secretary was submitted to Congress June 20, cut his teeth working for Abramoff in the 1990s. Abramoff was the subject of one of the largest congressional lobbying scandals in recent history and was sentenced to federal prison after pleading...