The Bureau of Land Management has appointed Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart's former chief of staff as the agency's new deputy director of programs and policy.
Brian Steed, who served as Stewart's chief of staff since 2013, has already started the job, according to sources. He is listed in the position on an organizational chart on the agency's website.
Steed's connection to Utah and its Republican-led congressional delegation is no accident. His appointment comes as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that President Trump reduce the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah. Grand Staircase-Escalante is managed by BLM, and Bears Ears is overseen by BLM and the Forest Service.
Stewart and other members of Utah's congressional delegation have been vocal critics of those national monument designations by Presidents Clinton and Obama, respectively. Steed would likely be in charge of overseeing any changes in management if both monuments are reduced in size or eliminated altogether.
BLM's deputy director of programs and policy position is a political appointment and separate from acting Deputy Director of Operations John Ruhs, a career Senior Executive Service employee who oversees the day-to-day functions of the agency's roughly 10,000 employees.
It's not clear what Steed's specific duties will be, though he is expected to help the agency carry out Trump administration priorities, including increasing oil and gas drilling and mining activities on federal lands.
As a political appointee, Steed likely will be heavily involved in the ongoing effort by the Interior Department to reorganize BLM and other agencies. That reorganization effort has already resulted in the removal of three BLM state directors in Alaska, Colorado and New Mexico.
A BLM spokeswoman declined to answer questions about Steed, referring inquiries to Interior. The department's communications staff did not respond to requests for comment on this story in time for publication.
But Steed was introduced to members of BLM's executive leadership team during a conference call this week, and sources said he made a positive first impression on the career employees.
Prior to becoming Stewart's chief of staff in January 2013, Steed served as the congressman's campaign manager, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Before that, he taught economics at Utah State University's Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, as well as political science at the university. He served as deputy county attorney in Iron County, Utah, from May 2003 to August 2005, according to the LinkedIn profile.
Steed was the co-author with other Utah State University researchers of a paper published in the fall 2016 edition of the Journal of Private Enterprise titled "Boon or Bust: Wilderness Designation and Local Economics."
Its authors concluded there is "no evidence that wilderness land designations result in positive economic outcomes for local economies." Rather, wilderness designations "impose costs on local economies" that call for the need to develop "a consensus-building approach to new wilderness area designations."
He earned a doctorate in public policy from Indiana University Bloomington in 2010 and a law degree from the University of Utah in 2002.
Sources said it is unusual for the agency to name a permanent top political deputy prior to the appointment of a permanent director.
BLM is currently being led by acting Director Mike Nedd.
Steed's duties are likely to be similar to his predecessor in the Obama administration, Linda Lance.
Lance was heavily involved in energy policy, helping BLM develop a rule regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal lands and mitigation plans for large-scale solar power projects.
Lance had decades of Beltway policy experience that was the polar opposite of Steed's.
She was senior counsel for former Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) before joining BLM. She was associate director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration and, after that, a lobbyist for the Wilderness Society from 2001 to 2008 (Greenwire, Jan. 14, 2014).
While at CEQ, Lance worked with then-Chairwoman Kathleen McGinty on the Clinton administration's designation of the 1.7-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.