Alum acts as taxpayer watchdog in final days of US war in Afghanistan
A Department of Politics and Government alum is getting a close-up view of momentous changes in Afghanistan as the United States military plans to leave the country by the end of 2014 after 13 years of war.
Jacob Beier ’06 has been serving a six-month assignment with the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) three-member unit in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. His tenure ends this summer.
“The transition from a military-led presence to civilian—it’s an exciting time to be there,” Beier said.
Beier was also in Afghanistan April 5 as the country held national elections and attempts a peaceful and democratic transition of power.
“To be there in 2014 was certainly a pull,” said Beier, explaining why he sought the competitive placement. “And starting with my studies at ISU, academically this is always something I studied, whether it was the war in Iraq or the engagement in Afghanistan. It just seemed to be consistent with what I had done in school and been taught by some very capable professors both at ISU and Syracuse.”
Beier has worked as an analyst with the GAO since 2009. He grew up in Normal, the son of then-Illinois State Professors Lucinda McCray and Augustus Beier. He received an undergraduate degree in political science from Illinois State before earning master’s and law degrees at Syracuse University.
In Afghanistan, Beier has been stationed with the small team of GAO analysts in the United States Embassy.
“We investigate all sorts of federal expenditures of dollars. So we follow the money,” Beier said. “Many people refer to us as auditors; my background is in the law. Congress seeks GAO assistance in reviewing how federal dollars are spent throughout the government with a focus on any fraud, waste, or abuse.”
When asked about work that he has been proud of, Beier noted a follow-up report related to the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which released a 2011 report that found that at least $31 billion, and up to $60 billion, of federal money had been lost to contract waste and fraud in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Beier said he could speak only for himself and not for his agency: “But certainly as with most military conflicts there are going to be expenditures of federal dollars that go to very legitimate, well-overseen programs. But on the other hand there is a clear track record in certain conflicts, most recently Iraq and Afghanistan, where programs were not overseen properly and were not managed as much as the average American taxpayer would hope.”
Beier spends most of his time within the walls of the embassy, with his travel outside the compound limited by security restrictions. Though he arrived in Afghanistan about a month after the Taliban attacked the embassy with rockets on Christmas Day, he said he feels absolutely safe and the embassy lives up to its reputation as somewhat of an American bubble.
Can he even tell a war is going on in the country?
“In large part no, to answer you honestly,” he said.
Beier credits his parents, Associate Professors Kam Shapiro and Julie Webber, and his experiences at Illinois State, including participation on the mock trial team, in the Model United Nations, and in classes in international relations and political philosophy, with preparing him for a job that requires close attention to detail, critical thinking, and being able to work within a team.
“It’s an exciting experience and certainly one that ISU prepares you for,” he said.
Kevin Bersett can be reached at kdberse@IllinoisState.edu.