July 24, 2009
To: Peace Corps Director-Designate Aaron Williams
From: Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff1
Subject: Plan to Strengthen and Expand the Peace Corps:
Priorities for President Obama's First Term
This Twenty Point Plan to strengthen and expand the Peace Corps—drafted over four years by a couple of two-time Volunteers and circulated widely for comment within the Returned PCV community—proposes an ambitious road map for President Obama and Peace Corps Director-Designate Aaron Williams and his leadership team.
Point One focuses on the budget crisis at the Peace Corps and President Obama’s pledge during the campaign to “double the size of the Peace Corps from 7,800 volunteers to 16,000 by its 50th anniversary in 2011 and work to partner volunteers with people from other nations.” (December 5, 2007, Mt. Vernon).
Points Two to Eighteen concentrate on strengthening the Peace Corps. The premise of this plan is that a stronger, more effective Peace Corps will make a persuasive case for expansion. Conversely, without fundamental reforms, expansion will be difficult to justify and could undermine the performance and reputation of the Peace Corps. Many of these strengthening steps have been part of the Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act (S. 732), introduced by Senators Christopher Dodd and Ted Kennedy in the last Congress, the authors’ testimony in favor of that legislation at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 25, 2007,2 and the Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act (S. 1382), introduced by Senator Dodd in this Congress.
Point Nineteen examines the competition that the Peace Corps will face from a new international voluntary service program—Volunteers for Prosperity—authorized by the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (Public Law 111-13). This plan argues that if the Peace Corps does not implement fundamental reforms, it is likely to fare poorly in this competition and its franchise may weaken over time.
And Point Twenty proposes a political campaign to secure the needed reforms.
Almost 50 years after its founding, it is timely and appropriate to ask penetrating questions about the Peace Corps. Why the Peace Corps? What is its mission in the 21st Century? Those of us who revere the Peace Corps should take the lead in asking these questions. Those who care the most—PCVs, RPCVs and PC managers—should ask the hardest questions. The Peace Corps is an historic and romantic vestige of the values of the 60s and the New Frontier, but that role is not sufficient to explain and justify its role in the 21st Century. The ultimate act of loyalty to the Peace Corps is to ask the tough questions before outsiders do.
This report argues that the first budget priority for the Peace Corps should be to fund implementation of an ambitious plan to strengthen the Peace Corps; its second should be funding to reverse the recent cutbacks; and its third should be to expand. The authors are campaigning to increase Peace Corps appropriations—principally to fund reform—and have proposed a detailed budget for reform. (See Appendix D) The first step in decisions over funding is to acknowledge the evidence demonstrating that the agency has deep-seated problems, Early Termination (ET) rates of Volunteers are too high, that tensions exist between Volunteers and managers, that First Goal (development) results are substandard, and that substantial reforms are needed to bring the agency into the 21st Century.
The Twenty Points are as follows:
Point One: Address the Three Peace Corps Funding Priorities
Point Two: Make Listening the Hallmark of the Peace Corps Culture
Point Three: Place More Emphasis on Achieving Sustainable First Goal Results
Point Four: Reduce the High and Costly Early Termination Rates
Point Five: Recruit More Older, Experienced Volunteers
Point Six: Reconnect RPCVs for Life-long Service
Point Seven: Take Initiative to Build Peace
Point Eight: Protect Volunteers’ Rights and Hold Managers Accountable
Point Nine: Strengthen Standard of Medical Support for Volunteers
Point Ten: Enhance Third Goal Opportunities for Returned Volunteers
Point Eleven: Substantially Modify the Five-Year Rule
Point Twelve: Adopt Incentives to Improve Management and Retain Staff
Point Thirteen: Strengthen Peace Corps Financial Management
Point Fourteen: Transfer Authority and Resources to the Country Posts and Volunteers
Point Fifteen: Implement Tough Evaluation Processes
Point Sixteen: Increase Transparency of the Peace Corps
Point Seventeen: Ensure Peace Corps Office of Inspector General Again Leads Investigations of
Violent Crimes Against Volunteers/Staff
Point Eighteen: Enhance Congressional Oversight
Point Nineteen: Meet Competition from New International Service Programs
Point Twenty: Get Organized to Press for Implementation of Reforms
We have developed this reform plan because it aggrieves us to see the Peace Corps mismanage the Volunteers and fall short of its potential. While we strongly support confirmation of Aaron Williams, our focus is on ensuring that the fundamental reforms proposed here become permanent elements of the Peace Corps culture and practice and do not depend on the qualifications, good will and policies of individual appointees at the agency.
The authors welcome comments on this plan. Please use the contact information provided in Footnote 1.
Table of Contents
Executive Summary page 1
Table of Contents page 4
Plan to Strengthen and Expand the Peace Corps page 5
Introduction page 5
Rationale and Overview of the Twenty Point Plan page 6
Calls for Reform From the Volunteers page 11
Biennial Survey of Volunteers Echoes Calls for Reform page 19
Twenty Points page 39
Point One: Address the Three Peace Corps Funding Priorities page 39
Point Two: Make Listening the Hallmark of the Peace Corps Culture page 51
Point Three: Achieve Greater Sustainable First Goal Results page 56
Point Four: Reduce the High and Costly Early Termination Rates page 63
Point Five: Recruit More Older, Experienced Volunteers page 67
Point Six: Reconnect RPCVs for Life-long Service page 71
Point Seven: Take Initiative to Build Peace page 72
Point Eight: Protect Volunteer Rights and Hold Managers Accountable page 73
Point Nine: Strengthen Standard of Medical Support for Volunteers page 77
Point Ten: Enhance Third Goal Opportunities for Returned Volunteers page 80
Point Eleven: Substantially Modify the Five-Year Rule page 81
Point Twelve: Adopt Incentives to Improve Management and Retain Staff page 82
Point Thirteen: Strengthen Peace Corps Financial Management page 82
Point Fourteen: Transfer Authority and Resources to the Country
Posts and Volunteers page 83
Point Fifteen: Implement Tough Evaluation Processes page 85
Point Sixteen: Increase Transparency of the Peace Corps page 86
Point Seventeen: Ensure Peace Corps Office of Inspector General Again Leads
Investigations of Violent Crimes Against Volunteers/Staff page 87
Point Eighteen: Enhance Congressional Oversight page 92
Point Nineteen: Meet Competition from New International Service Programs page 93
Point Twenty: Get Organized to Press for Implementation of Reforms page 99
Conclusion page 104
Appendix A: Email Affidavits From PCVs in 28 Countries Regarding
Peace Corps page 105
Appendix B: Using the Triple Convergence (Internet) to Listen to
and Empower Volunteers page 124
Appendix C: Robert Strauss Viewpoint on the Peace Corps page 129
Appendix D: Proposal to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees
Regarding Peace Corps Reform and Expansion page 133
Appendix E: Amendments Proposed to S. 1382 (Dodd) page 138
Appendix F: Biographical Information on Authors of 20 Point Plan page 145
July 24, 2009
To: Peace Corps Director-Designate Aaron Williams
From: Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff
Subject: Plan to Strengthen and Expand the Peace Corps:
Priorities for President Obama's First Term
President Obama has pledged to “double the size of the Peace Corps from 7,800 volunteers to 16,000 by its 50th anniversary in 2011 and work to partner volunteers with people from other nations.” (December 5, 2007, Mt. Vernon) The following comprehensive reform plan urges the President and Peace Corps Director-Designate Aaron Williams to pledge to also strengthen the Peace Corps as proposed by Senators Christopher Dodd and Ted Kennedy in the last Congress—the Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act (PCVEA)(S. 732)—and Senator Dodd’s proposal in this Congress—the Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act (PCIEA)(S. 1382). A stronger, more effective Peace Corps will make a persuasive case for expansion. Conversely, without fundamental reforms, increasing the number of Volunteers may not be feasible and may undermine the performance of the Peace Corps. In addition, without fundamental reforms, the Peace Corps may fare poorly in competition with a new international voluntary service program—Volunteers for Prosperity—authorized by the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (Public Law 111-13).
The authors have presented this reform plan because they love the Peace Corps, feel privileged to have served twice as Volunteers, and have attempted to dedicate their lives to the Peace Corps values. It aggrieves us to see Peace Corps mismanagement of the Volunteers and its falling short of its potential. While we strongly support confirmation of Aaron Williams, our focus is on ensuring that the fundamental reforms proposed here become permanent elements of the Peace Corps culture and practice and do not depend on the qualifications, good will and policies of individual appointees at the agency.
Founded by Executive Order of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on March 1, 1961, the Peace Corps has sent nearly 200,000 Americans to serve abroad as America's ambassadors of good will to assist the developing world to achieve its development objectives. Many believe that dollar-for-dollar, no U.S. government international program is more effective. The impact of the returned Volunteers on America has been substantial, giving millions of Americans a better sense of the strengths and needs of the majority of the world's peoples. To strengthen and expand this program is in the humanitarian and strategic interests of the United States.
The Peace Corps will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2011 with events on March 1 (the anniversary of the Executive Order) and September 22 (anniversary of the enactment of the Peace Corps Act and scheduled date for an anniversary celebration on the National Mall). President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama may well play a central role in celebrating this milestone. The Peace Corps and National Peace Corps Association, including the country-of-service Friends groups and regional RPCV groups, should closely cooperate with the Obama Administration in planning and managing these events. Celebrations and programs should be held in every country where Volunteers are serving, and every region of the U.S. Successful implementation of plans to strengthen and expand the Peace Corps should be touted as a major accomplishment during the celebration. Congress has already enacted the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which seeks to enlist 1 million Americans annually in community and international service in addition to authorizing the Volunteers for Prosperity program. So community, national, and international service—including Peace Corps service—should be the theme for the entire year.
Rationale and Overview of Twenty Point Plan
The Peace Corps mission is cross-cultural, so it is appropriate to begin this plan to strengthen and expand the Peace Corps with a reaffirmation of the Peace Corps’ central cultural values—listening to and respecting the individual Volunteers who carry forth its core mission and empowering them to inspire and, in critical respects, to lead from the grassroots. Only by supporting and empowering Volunteers can the Peace Corps achieve its goal to serve as an effective agent of grassroots development and cross-cultural exchange. Volunteers should succeed in partnership with the Peace Corps, not in spite of the Peace Corps.
At a time of uncertainty and hardship in the world and challenges to peace and tolerance, the Peace Corps entrusts Volunteers with responsibility for bringing the best of American values and traditions—respect for the individual generosity and entrepreneurship—to the high calling of economic development and cross cultural exchange. Nearly five decades ago the Peace Corps was founded as an organization ruled by egalitarianism in which command and control mechanisms did not stifle the power and initiative of the individual Volunteer.
The corollary of these values is that headquarters staff in Washington, D.C. need to listen to the staff in each country. Every focus of the headquarters’ operation should be to support and empower the country staff, allocate to them every available resource, and not impose burdens that distract them from supporting and empowering the Volunteers.
The Peace Corps is justifiably proud of its tradition of taking risks, defying conventional wisdom, and combining the best of American idealism and resourcefulness. In reaffirming these core cultural values, the future of the Peace Corps and its Volunteers is bright. The Peace Corps can demonstrate to other government agencies that it’s possible to structure a government agency as an inverted pyramid where the inspiration, and, in crucial respects, the leadership, come from those who carry forth its mission at the grassroots: the country staff and the Volunteers.
The premise of this plan is that Volunteers and country staff understand, better than anyone else and better than Headquarters staff, the Peace Corps strengths and weaknesses and what the agency must do to achieve the greatness that it promised nearly half a century ago. To quote Colin Powell, "The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proven otherwise."
In terms of the twin goals—to strengthen and to expand—Senator Dodd has said,
[A]s we grow the Peace Corps—as we get it the volunteers it needs and the increased funding it deserves—we must respect its roots. We must work to make it more decentralized, because service at its best is personal and spontaneous, and because volunteers know far more about conditions on the ground than we in Washington ever will." [W]e ought to work to make the Peace Corps bigger, and more decentralized, at the same time. I believe we can, at the same time, [emphasis added] extend its worldwide reach and honor its grassroots past. Doing both is the best way to be true to the spirit that created it: the spirit that turned student activism into government action, that combined Cold War diplomacy with the spontaneous need to serve. (Speech to the National Peace Corps Association's Director's Circle, March 7, 2008)
The Dodd/Kennedy PCVEA from the last Congress includes 16 provisions that mandate reforms at the Peace Corps. These included empowering Volunteers to review personnel and programs, providing reimbursement to Volunteers for their work-related expenses, reforming the agency’s arcane fundraising rules, recruiting more experienced Volunteers, launching the Peace Corps into the digital age, reforming the medical screening process, and protecting Volunteer rights. These are mandates, not requests for reports or plans. The mere fact that Senators Dodd and Kennedy introduced the PCVEA has been extremely useful in spawning a much-needed and long overdue debate about reforming the Peace Corps.
The mandates in the Dodd/Kennedy PCVEA had strong support in the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) community. Early in 2007 the PCV and RPCV members of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) overwhelmingly endorsed, in an online poll, these mandates. Here are the key findings from the RPCVs:
Seed funding: 84% in favor
Fundraising: 82% in favor
Third Goal: 84% in favor
Recruiting experienced Volunteers: 79% in favor
Removing disincentives for service by experienced Volunteers: 93% in favor
Digital Peace Corps: 89% in favor
Volunteers review of Senior Staff and Programs: 94% and 95% in favor
Volunteer Advisory Committees: 85% in favor
Reform of the medical screening process: 96% in favor
Health care benefits of retirees: 91% in favor
Equal tax benefits for Volunteers who own homes: 90% in favor
Protecting rights of Volunteers: 96% in favor3
So by margins of from 79% to 96%, the NPCA members supported enactment of the Dodd/Kennedy PCVEA vision to strengthen and expand the Peace Corps.4
On June 25, 2009, Senator Dodd Introduced the Peace Corps Improvement and Empowerment Act (S. 1382). The PCIEA calls on the Peace Corps Director to prepare a “new forward-looking strategy” that “analyzes and accounts for the strengths and weaknesses” of the agency. It would require the Director within 180 days to prepare an “assessment and strategic plan for improving and expanding the Peace Corps” that would address many of the substantive policy issues included in the Dodd/Kennedy PCVEA.
The authors infer that since the Obama election, there has been substantial debate within Senator Dodd’s office about how to spur Peace Corps reform. On February 26 his staff had transmitted to us a “discussion draft of the latest version of the Peace Corps Modernization and Empowerment Act” noting, “We are planning to introduce [it] next week.” The February draft included all the mandates of the Dodd/Kennedy PCVEA plus a call for development of a strategic plan and imposition of a limit on the number of political appointees. The authors applauded the new draft and suggested including a requirement that the Peace Corps report accurate and meaningful ET rates, avoid switching Volunteers to different programs or countries without their consent, and publish all information that it has supplied to the public in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Then on April 24, 2009, the same staffer emailed us, stating, “After much thought, discussion and debate, we have finalized our Peace Corps legislation.” And adding,
As you know, this bill represents a serious undertaking to build on the Peace Corps strengths, while at the same time, hone in on and address some key issues facing the Peace Corps in a positive way. These issues are critical for our boss, and he strongly believes they need to be faced head-on and addressed as quickly as possible. Unlike previous versions, this bill does not stick the Peace Corps with any specific mandates, instead, it asks for an assessment and plan, and requires the Peace Corps to really think about and analyze its key strengths and weaknesses and develop a robust plan going forward so it can both reform and grow.
The text of the PCIEA was attached and, as stated above, it was introduced on June 25.
The authors are optimistic that enactment of the PCIEA will be the beginning and not the end of the reform process. Larry Leamer, an RPCV and champion of the Peace Corps,5 has stated,
[In his statement upon introduction of the PCIEA] Dodd…suggested that many Peace Corps supporters were uncomfortable with the idea [of reform] but said that it must be faced straight on. Dodd is the only politician in America with the power and knowledge to say that and write this bill. It is the work of a man who loves the Peace Corps but understands its flaws and knows that you cannot mindlessly grow the agency but must reform it from the bottom up. There could have been dozens of specific reforms in this bill but it fundamentally puts the agency on notice. It orders the new director to do a serious study of the agency and how it should be reformed and then carry the mandate out. Dodd ran through a litany of questions that must be answered and then acted upon. It is clear that if this is not done quickly and well, the wrath of Dodd will be visited upon the agency. In the past few years, Dodd has not given the agency the oversight that he should have given it. But Dodd is not going to strut boastfully about because of the mere passage of [the PCIEA]. He promises to be there overseeing the agency and its new director helping to ensure that volunteers head out into the rich variety of the world, well prepared to help and to learn. (June 25 Huffington Post)
In an interview with NewsMax on June 16, Larry said,
The Peace Corps has to be held to the highest standards. Rajeev [Goyal] [, another RPCV and champion of the Peace Corps,6] and I are not in this for the short term. I’ve told Chairwoman Lowey and I’ve told Senator Leahy that we’re going to be just as relentless and tough on the Peace Corps once they get the funding, making sure that they are true to the vision of what the Peace Corps can be. And if they squander it, we’ll be back on the Hill next year blowing the whistle. This approach should apply to the Volunteers in the field, the Peace Corps staff, the appropriations and authorizing committees, OMB, NPCA, the Friends groups, and individual RPCVs.
The authors trust that this is the “tough love” approach that Senator Dodd will take if fundamental reform is not forthcoming in response to the PCIEA and that the mandates of the PCVEA are waiting in the wings to be enacted. We believe Senator Dodd understands the depth of the malaise at the agency and continues to support these specific reforms. We believe that his change in tactics arises from a sincere hope that the new Peace Corps management will address these reforms, obviating the need to enact them into law. The authors trust Senator Dodd as the longtime champion of the Peace Corps, give him the benefit of the doubt on his choice of tactics to achieve reform, and take him at his word that his highest priority is to defend the Volunteers. We will always remember the warm welcome he gave to us when we flew to Washington from Senegal to testify at the July 2007 hearing in support of the PCVEA.
Despite our support for and confidence in Aaron Williams, the authors are less hopeful than Senator Dodd that the needed fundamental reforms will be implemented—and become permanent features of the Peace Corps culture—without being mandating. The reforms should not be dependent on the commitment of the Director. Regarding the PCVEA provisions that establish mechanisms for listening to and respecting Volunteers, a more prudent approach—to ensure that these reforms become embedded in the Peace Corps culture—is to enact them into law. We are concerned that decades of complacency and inadequate oversight on the Hill and in the RPCV community have contributed to and enabled the deeply embedded dysfunctions in the Peace Corps documented in this report. All of us who love the Peace Corps must watch closely, keep up the pressure, and hold the agency to account. Ultimately, the Peace Corps legislative and oversight process has no time limit.
The new PCIEA would call on the Peace Corps to assess seventeen issues, including the “adequacy of the current program model of the Peace Corps,” “the medical care received by volunteers while serving,” “the causes of the early termination of service…using the cohort and other statistically appropriate methods,” “the prospects for partnerships with international and host country nongovernmental organizations,” “how the Peace Corps could utilize information technology to improve…communication among Volunteers,” and “mechanisms for soliciting the views of volunteers serving in the Peace Corps, on a confidential basis, regarding (i) the support provided to such volunteers by senior staff of the Peace Corps and (ii) the operations of the Peace Corps, including (I) staffing decisions; (II) site selection, (III) language training, and (IV) country programs…” In preparing the assessment and plan, the legislation calls on the Peace Corps to “draw on the knowledge” of “current Peace Corps volunteers,” RPCVs and “host country nationals.” Based on this assessment, the Director would be required to prepare—within the same 180 days—a strategic plan and report it to the House and Senate foreign relations committees. The plan would include one-year and five-year goals and benchmarks. It calls for the development of strategies for “distributing volunteers to countries in which they have maximum value-added for the host-country,” “reducing or closing” programs with “less strategic relevance to Peace Corps goals,” and “ensuring that Peace Corps operations and goals are not adversely affected in situations where the bi-lateral relationship between the host country and the United States is problematic.” The bill also contains two substantive provisions: one limits the number of political appointees to 15 and the other raises the authorization for the Peace Corps to $450 million in FY 2010, $575 million in FY 2011, and $700 million in FY 2012.
The authors believe that the PCIEA could be strengthened, and so by email of June 30, 2009, we transmitted amendments to Senator Dodd that we hope will be adopted. See Appendix E below. References to the PCIEA provisions and to our amendments are inserted at appropriate places below.
In addition to strengthening the list of subjects to be assessed by the Peace Corps, we have raised two major procedural points about the PCIEA process. First, the PCIEA requires that the assessments “be built on a review of past experiences and studies;” “draw on the knowledge of—(i) current Peace Corps volunteers and staff, at all levels of seniority; (ii) returned Peace Corps volunteers and staff; and (iii) host country nationals and officials who have worked closely with Peace Corps volunteers.” In an amendment, we have proposed that this outreach go also to “officials of government and non-government entities with expertise in managing volunteers and programs for sustainable development and cross-culture exchange.” We have also proposed that the Peace Corps be required to “offer these parties the option to submit their views on a confidential or non-confidential basis.”
Second, the PCIEA requires that the Peace Corps assessment and strategic plan be submitted to “the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate” and “the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives.” In an amendment, we have proposed that the Peace Corps “publish the draft strategic plan for a period of public comment and comments by volunteers and Peace Corps staff of not less than 90 days and shall report to the appropriate Congressional Committees its response to these comments.” We believe both amendments would lead to a more complete and penetrating assessment and plan by the Peace Corps.
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