Obama picks Afghanistan IG with years of federal experience

Kabul Kabul Musadeq Sadeq/AP

President Obama has announced he will appoint Washington law firm partner John Sopko as special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, a position that’s remained open for more than 470 days.

Sopko is currently at the private Akin Gump firm, but he brings more than eight years of experience within the federal government to the demanding watchdog role. The Case Western Reserve University School of Law graduate left a prosecutor position in Dayton, Ohio, to join the Justice Department’s organized crime and racketeering section as special attorney, where he stayed from 1978 to 1982. In addition, he held various director, secretary and counsel roles in the Commerce Department between 1999 and 2003.

From 2005 to 2007 Sopko was deputy director of the Homeland Security Institute, a federally funded research center operated on behalf of the Homeland Security Department.

In addition to stints with the executive branch, Sopko spent time on Capitol Hill in several capacities, with his longest tenure being 15 years (1982 to 1997) as the deputy chief counsel at the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations. His most recent public position was as the chief counsel for oversight and investigations for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which he held from 2007 to 2009.

Inspector general appointments -- or, rather, the lack of them -- have been a major point of contention for Congress lately. House Republicans recently criticized President Obama for leaving watchdog positions vacant, some for months or years according to the Project on Government Oversight.

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., praised the appointment while lamenting the wait time.

“The White House took too long to fill this critical position, but now that we have someone ready to jump in, it offers us a new chance at accountability,” McCaskill said. “As we work to cut spending and rein in the national debt, billions of taxpayer dollars have been lost in Afghanistan through waste, fraud, and abuse -- and that’s why it’s so important that the taxpayers have a dedicated set of eyes and ears over the massive amounts of money being spent there.”

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