Williams Bridgers: Assessing the Finer Aspects of U.S. Foreign Policy
Jacquelyn Williams-Bridgers (Sam Kittner/Kittner.com)
The Parnership for Public Service via The Washington Post
Jacquelyn Williams-Bridgers was on the eleventh floor of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, last July when a bomb exploded in the lobby, and then another detonated five minutes later at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel across the street.
“I was getting ready for breakfast when the suicide bombers struck. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I knew instinctively when the first bomb went off that I was in trouble,” Williams-Bridgers said.
The harrowing incident, which killed nine people and injured 50, illustrates one of the risks Williams-Bridgers and her colleagues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) face on the job. They travel to world hot spots assessing U.S. foreign policy and how U.S. tax dollars are being spent – missions that sometimes mean putting their lives on the line.
“It really brought full circle the work that I do, feeling the wrath of those who look to do us harm,” William-Bridgers said of the incident in Jakarta.
As director of the GAO’s 140-member International Affairs and Trade team, William-Bridgers has spent the past few years overseeing U.S. efforts to secure, stabilize and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. Her group has also worked in Saudi Arabia, examining government efforts to prevent money from reaching terrorists.
The group traveled to Pakistan in hopes of visiting the tribal regions where al Qaeda is believed to have taken sanctuary, but the regional fact-finding trip was postponed for safety concerns.
Her next stop was Jakarta, where she consulted with a government audit agency and was caught in the middle of the deadly terrorist bombing.
Williams-Bridgers said her team’s typical inquiry as an agency of Congress may take eight or nine months to fully develop, often requiring a first-hand look at what is happening in remote and dangerous locations.
“We try to speak truth to power. Our client is Congress-the decision makers-and we try to ask the tough questions and provide them with the information they may not have,” said Williams-Bridgers.
Under her direction, the GAO has reported on the multi-billion dollar budget surplus in Iraq, deficiencies in accountability for weapons in Afghanistan, the challenge of training the military and civilian security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, narcotics trafficking moving through Venezuela, and the small arms trade between the United States and Mexico.
In some cases, missions are considered politically sensitive. In others, GAO investigations are well-received. For instance: , her team’s finding last January that the Department of Defense (DOD) could not account for thousands of small weapons that were supposed to be going to the Afghanistan security forces.