The post has been vacant for more than 470 days, according to an inspectors general vacancy tracker maintained by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Project on Government Oversight. It is one of seven inspector general vacancies that have been open longer than a year.
Steven Trent has been acting special inspector general since September.
Obama also appointed Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the state of New York and chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, to the board of directors of the State Justice Institute, which awards grants to state courts.
“The extraordinary dedication these individuals bring to their new roles will greatly serve the American people,” Obama said in a statement. “I am grateful they have agreed to serve in this Administration and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”
Sopko has more than 30 years experience in investigative and oversight work, according to the administration and Sopko’s biography on his company’s Web site. He joined Akin Gump in January 2009 as an investigator after two years as chief counsel for oversight and investigations for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. At the firm, he focuses on congressional and federal investigations.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich), who was chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee during Sopko’s tenure, called him a “smart, able, tough, patient investigator.”
“He will ferret out wrongdoing wherever it is possible to do, and he will serve with distinction,” Dingell said. “He’s the kind of guy we want in that job. . . . You’ll be pleased with him, and so will I. And so, more importantly, will the administration.”
From 2005 to 2007, Sopko was deputy director of the Homeland Security Studies & Analysis Institute.
Sopko served as a prosecutor in Dayton, Ohio, where he battled organized crime. That led him to the Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, where he started in 1978.
The previous inspector, Arnold Fields, a retired Marine major general, resigned in January 2011 after a review by the Council of Inspectors General found that many of his office’s audits barely met minimum quality standards and that Fields had not laid out a clear strategic vision.
There are now 10 inspector general vacancies, which has drawn criticism from Congress.
Sopko did not immediately return calls and e-mails seeking comment.