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Watchdog Found: White House Fills SIGAR Vacancy with Veteran Investigator

Good news for accountability fanatics: a leadership void at a key oversight position will soon be filled. 

The White House announced yesterday that President Obama will appoint John Sopko to lead the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the watchdog tasked with rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse in U.S. taxpayer-funded projects to rebuild the war-torn country. 

Sopko has exactly the kind of oversight pedigree that we like to see for this kind of watchdogging.

“This vacancy was among the most important positions to fill, and they have found an excellent person for the job,” said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian, who also tweeted enthusiastically after hearing the news. “We look forward to seeing serious oversight of the tens of billions of dollars being spent on Afghanistan reconstruction under Sopko.”

Some of the more notable investigative roles in Sopko's career include working as chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (2007-2009), serving as minority general counsel and chief of investigations for the House Select Committee on Homeland Security (2003-2005), and putting in 15 years as deputy chief counsel on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (1982-1997). 

Sopko has also been a panelist on POGO's Congressional Oversight Training Series

The White House deserves credit for identifying a great candidate for the job and finally moving to fill the SIGAR vacancy, which reached the 474-day mark yesterday. Now that Sopko has been nominated, the number of inspector general (IG) offices suffering from a leadership vacuum is down to nine. 

As erstwhile POGO investigator Jake Wiens recently testified to Congress, IG offices are less effective without permanent leadership. Acting IGs have less credibility, less independence from the agency they are tasked with overseeing, and are in less of a position to set strategic direction for their office. 

Most IGs also run the gauntlet of a Senate confirmation—a process that involves thorough vetting and helps instill confidence in Congress, agency officials, and the public that a nominee is up to the task. The SIGAR, however, is an exception, and does not require Senate confirmation. 

Steven Trent currently leads SIGAR as the acting special IG. The last SIGAR was Arnold Fields, who tendered his resignation in January 2011 following a peer review that identified serious problems with his office's operations and audit quality. Four Senators later called for Fields’ ouster—a call that POGO echoed.

Congress has provided over $89.4 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to A-stan as of March 2012. The Commission on Wartime Contracting found that one in every six dollars that taxpayers spent on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan went to waste.

You can track the remaining inspector general vacancies, which currently includes the IGs of the Departments of Defense, State, and the Interior, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission, over on POGO's Where Are All the Watchdogs webpage. 

By: Bryan Rahija
Blog Editor, POGO

bryan rahija At the time of publication, Bryan Rahija was the blog editor for the Project On Government Oversight. In addition to those duties he also focused on open government issues.

Topics: Government Accountability

Related Content: Inspector General Oversight

Authors: Bryan Rahija

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