The lengthy process of selecting a new United States attorney for the Philadelphia region, now almost 18 months old, is in the hands of the White House, says U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

The office, which oversees federal criminal and civil cases in nine counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania, is occupied on an acting basis by veteran prosecutor Michael L. Levy.

Sources have told The Inquirer that Casey and fellow Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter have nominated a former federal prosecutor, Zane Memeger, for appointment by President Obama.

Memeger, now a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P., spent much of his career as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District, which includes Philadelphia. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither senator has commented on Memeger, but this week the Towanda Daily Review, in far northeast Pennsylvania, reported that Casey had reiterated that nominees for federal prosecutor in Pennsylvania had been forwarded to Obama.

"After many, many months of people saying, 'Have you guys done your work yet?', I can say clearly that it's in the hands of the White House," he said. "We're hoping that one, if not two of the three, will be in the near term. I don't know what that [near term] means."

Three Pennsylvania posts have to be filled - the Eastern District, which includes Philadelphia; the Middle District; and the Western District, which encompasses Pittsburgh.

Larry Smar, the Washington-based communications director for Casey, confirmed in an e-mail that "recommendations" had been fowarded to the White House.

Specter's office distributed a January 2010 letter about the selection process that said, "The recommendations made to the White House will produce nominees committed to the rule of law and will ensure tough prosecutions of those who violate that law."

Traditionally, senators have waited for completion of a background check and a White House announcement before discussing a nominee they had forwarded to the president.

A number of federal prosecutors' slots around the nation are filled with acting appointees, and for months attorneys in Philadelphia have expressed puzzlement at the long delay in announcing a local nominee, who then has to be confirmed by the Senate.

"I think it's somewhat surprising . . . they have taken this long for them to get through this process," said Michael Engle, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "Having said that, the installation of Mike Levy as the acting U.S. attorney has provided substantial stability and strong leadership."

The office has about 130 prosecutors and 105 support staff.