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'It was a delight working for Secretary Clinton'

April 19, 2011 00:57 IST

Rahul 'Richard' Verma has become the second high-ranking Indian-American official in the Obama administration to resign and return to the private sector.

Verma served as assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, and at the time of his confirmation was the highest- ranking Indian American to serve in the State Department.

He will return to the top-notch international law firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP as a partner in its Washington, DC office, and will practice in the firm's international, national and homeland security, and government affairs and public policy groups.

Last year, Neera Tanden quit the administration after serving for a little over a year as senior advisor to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and after playing a key role in the formulation of President Barack Obama's health-care reform proposals.

Verma, who was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's principal advisor on Congressional affairs for nearly two-and-a-half years, played a lead role in a wide range of critical international initiatives and legislative actions, including securing ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Talks treaty with Russia, negotiating comprehensive sanctions against Iran, guiding nearly 200 presidential nominees through the Senate confirmation process, and obtaining passage of the United Kingdom and Australian defence cooperation treaties.

He was also instrumental in achieving a number of budget and policy-related victories on behalf of the State Department, and oversaw the response to several major Congressional investigations.

Verma told India Abroad that he had decided to leave the administration because he wanted to spend more time with his family after over 12 years in public service.

"With over two years in the administration on top of the prior 10 or 11 in Congress and the military and then one year with the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, this was quite a go around and quite demanding," he said.

"With three young kids, I wanted to spend more time with my wife, children and family."

He said the administration tenure had been "pretty robust and challenging, working on several issues like START, Iran sanctions, and all of the rest, it was such a great and amazing experience and opportunity and I really loved it. And, it was such a pleasure and delight working for Secretary Clinton."

Verma was first elected to Steptoe's partnership in 2007. The following year, while at Steptoe, he served on the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction as well as the Department of Defense Transition Team.

In March 2009, President Obama nominated him for his State Department post, and the Senate unanimously confirmed him shortly thereafter.

Before that, in a public service career that spanned over a decade, Verma served as senior national security adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and at the time was the highest ranking Indian-American Congressional staffer.

Verma was responsible for overseeing major legislative initiatives and crafting legislative strategies in the defense, homeland security and foreign policy arenas. He also served as senior counsel to Reid when the senator was Democratic whip, and prior to that as Reid's foreign policy adviser. 

Earlier in his career, Verma worked in the House of Representatives for the late congressman John P Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat.

Roger E Warin, chair of Steptoe, said, 'Rich's (Verma's) extensive experience at the Department of State in dealing with challenging international problems combined with his extensive experience on the Hill will be of unique value to our clients, as they seek to navigate complex regulatory and policy environments. Rich will be a strong asset to clients requiring a seasoned counselor and a committed advocate. He has all the tools needed to protect a client's interests and advance their policy objectives. Rich can deal with any crisis, sensitive investigation, or serious policy challenge with the steady hand and judgment that only comes from experience.'

Verma said about Steptoe that it "is a firm of enormously talented people with a significant international platform, and I am excited to be back and look forward to tackling the full range of legal and policy issues impacting our clients on a global scale."

He served on active duty in the US Air Force from 1994 to 1998, and was an associate at Steptoe from 1998 to 2002.  He received his LLM with distinction from Georgetown University Law Centre, and his JD cum laude from American University's Washington College of Law.

He had received his undergraduate degree from LeHigh University.

Verma, a former country director for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a senior national security fellow at the Center for American Progress, and on the board of advisers at the Center for a New American Security. 

He is also an outside strategic advisor to the global strategy firm Albright Stonebridge Group. In 2007, a special India Abroad magazine issue recognized Verma as one of the 50 most influential Indian Americans in the nation.

Aziz Haniffa