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September 16, 2020 3:30 PM, EDT

Senate Panel Advances USDOT IG Nominee Eric Soskin

Eric SoskinSoskin speaks at a hearing in August. (Screenshot via C-SPAN)

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Eric Soskin, the nominee to become the watchdog at the U.S. Department of Transportation, received approval by a Senate panel Sept. 16.

Along party lines, the Republican-led Commerce Committee advanced Soskin’s nomination to the Inspector General post at the department. Key Democrats objected to the nomination.

The committee’s ranking member, Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, emphasized that due to the position’s role in examining controversial affairs, “I am concerned about the independence and the questioning that we had before our committee.”

Maria Cantwell

Cantwell

The committee approved the nomination by a 14-12 vote. Floor managers have yet to schedule a vote on his nomination. If he is confirmed by the Senate, he would succeed acting Inspector General Howard “Skip” Elliott.

During a hearing with Soskin this summer, the ranking senator raised concerns regarding certain personnel practices during President Donald Trump’s tenure. Cantwell explained she was “very concerned about various positions in the administration that I think are overly, overly political.”

At that hearing, Soskin told the panel about a philosophy centered on pursuing investigations and remaining independent.

“We will investigate all allegations and issues without fear or favor and without regard to whether it involves a political nominee or not. The public is entitled to have oversight of everyone in the Department of Transportation, including political appointees,” Soskin said.

Responding to a questionnaire from the committee, the nominee noted: “The major national investments in infrastructure over the last several years and those expected in the coming years have only increased the significance and importance of the accounting and financial controls that are one of the essential functions of the Inspector General.”

He went on, “To ensure the integrity and effectiveness of DOT activities with regard to these investments, technologies and threats, the Inspector General will need to be a fluid, on-the-job learner who is able to assimilate facts and develop a thoughtful understanding of new subject areas in short order, and who understands the critical role of law enforcement in securing safety and economic prosperity.”

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According to background the White House posted online, Soskin’s experience includes a role as a senior trial counsel for the Department of Justice in the federal programs branch since 2006. He earned degrees from Williams College, as well as Harvard Law School.

Earlier this year, senior House Democrats, representing committees of jurisdiction, criticized the administration’s action on the office’s most recent occupant, Acting Inspector General Mitch Behm.

“We oppose President Trump’s removal of longtime public servant Mitch Behm from his position as Acting Inspector General of the Department of Transportation and urge that he be immediately reinstated,” Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Carolyn Maloney of New York, and Gerald Connolly of Virginia, wrote to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “Mr. Behm’s removal is the latest in a series of politically motivated firings of Inspectors General by President Trump. This assault on the integrity and independence of Inspectors General appears to be an intentional campaign to undermine their ability to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud and abuse.”

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