But some people advising Mr. Biden are concerned about management at one of the federal government’s most sprawling agencies, which oversees conservation and oil and gas drilling on public lands and off the nation’s coastline; a vast network of dams and reservoirs across the West; the Fish and Wildlife Service, a major federal science agency; the U.S. Geological Survey; and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, which manages the financial assets of American Indians held in trust.
They also worry that the confirmation of Ms. Haaland to a cabinet post would temporarily diminish Democrats’ already narrow majority in the House — until a special election could be held in her Democratic district.
Those people back the appointment of Mr. Connor.
In an emailed statement, Mr. Connor wrote, “It would be an honor to serve in the Biden-Harris Administration and carry out the important work necessary to address the country’s most pressing challenges.”
Mr. Connor worked in the agency throughout the Clinton administration, including four years as director of the Secretary’s Indian Water Rights Office, managing negotiations between tribes and the federal government on water issues. He later worked for former Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, on land, water, energy and Native American issues before returning to Interior during the Obama administration, where he became the first Native American to hold the No. 2 post.
“It’s more about who has the qualifications than who is the public face,” said Sianna Lieb, a progressive activist who co-launched the petition urging Mr. Biden to name a Native American as Interior secretary. “Having been in the Interior Department is a good start — the qualifications are knowing how to run the department.”