Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Neil Ashdown

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s chief of staff, Neil Ashdown, is expected to fill the same role in Beijing, once the governor is confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to China.

Sources told the Deseret News that Ashdown, a self-described policy wonk who has served as Huntsman's top aide since 2005, will be the only member of the governor's staff heading overseas.

Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said it was too soon to comment on any potential appointments. However, Roskelley said, "Neil has been a trusted friend and adviser to the governor throughout his tenure and will continue to work closely with him."

Huntsman, who was named U.S. ambassador to China earlier this month by President Barack Obama, is reportedly in Washington, D.C., this week to prepare for his confirmation hearings.

Darby Holladay, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, confirmed Huntsman would be able to hire someone to assist him in his new position. "Beijing, like several other large embassies, has historically had a temporary foreign-service appointment to assist the chief of mission," Holladay said. The title and duties of that appointee are up to the ambassador, or chief of mission.

It is not known when the U.S. Senate will vote on Huntsman's nomination, but preparations are already under way for Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert's transition to governor. Huntsman has said although he won't resign until he is confirmed as ambassador, he is turning over many of his public duties to Herbert.

Herbert told the News in a recent interview that he was looking not just for a new lieutenant governor, but also for a chief of staff, a spokesperson and possibly other senior-level advisers. Calling the appointments he'll make "minor adjustments," Herbert said there won't be any "big, dramatic change" in the executive branch.

Huntsman hired Ashdown as his deputy chief of staff after he was elected to his first term as governor in 2004. When Huntsman's first chief of staff, now-Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, resigned a year later, Ashdown, then 35, was promoted.

The governor described Ashdown then as "a numbers person, most importantly" who understands both budget-making and the legislative process. "Neil is a perfect professional," Huntsman said in 2005. "By virtue of temperament, there is no better."

Ashdown, who grew up in Lander, Wyo., has degrees from the University of Utah and a doctorate in political science from the University of Albany in New York. He published a book titled, "The Impact of Banking Policy on Trade and Global Strategy" and toyed with the idea of teaching in a foreign country after college.

Instead, he ended up at the state Office of Planning and Budget under former Gov. Mike Leavitt, a Republican like Huntsman, and soon became the state's chief economist for both Leavitt and former Gov. Olene Walker.

When he became the governor's chief of staff in 2005, Ashdown told the News he didn't see government "as my full, long-term career. If you ask me where I'll be in five years, I couldn't tell you at this point."