Comprehensive Agency Assessment June 2010 Part I Executive Summary
I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Fifty years ago, President Kennedy launched an innovative new program to spearhead progress in developing countries and promote friendship between the United States and the people of the world. Fifty years later, the mission and the three goals that inspired the birth of the Peace Corps are still relevant. The passion that drove the creation of the Peace Corps is still very evident in the lives of the Volunteers who serve around the world today. The Peace Corps at fifty is ready for a strong new beginning—rooted in the vibrant past of those early years, yet ready to harness twenty-first century American intellectual power, innovation and commitment to results.
The Peace Corps' mission—to promote world peace and friendship—has three goals:
- Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
- Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
- Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
The Peace Corps is still very much in demand from both its host countries and the American public. Presidents and cabinet ministers in dozens of countries credit their start to Peace Corps Volunteers who touched their lives at an early age. Peace Corps Volunteers in 77 host nations are kindling a fire in the leaders of tomorrow. The fact that requests for Volunteers still far exceed the Peace Corps’ capacity to place them within its budget is a clear and convincing measure of the Peace Corps’ importance to many nations and its impact around the world. Peace Corps Volunteers are America’s best and most cost effective grassroots development workers, magnifying the impact of government and donor investments at the community level and ensuring that efforts funded by others are community-owned and sustained. Peace Corps Volunteers are America’s best ambassadors, building relationships with strategic partner countries from the ground up in communities across the globe.
The assessment team asked the question, “If the Peace Corps were created today, what should it look like?” The answer:
“The Peace Corps will be a leader, in partnership with others, in the global effort to further human progress and foster understanding and respect among people.”
Excitement, engagement, and effectiveness are the terms that should characterize the Peace Corps as it moves into the future. As the agency prepares to turn fifty, the agency needs to position itself to be one that looks less in the rear-view mirror at its rich history, but rather, looks forward firmly believing its best days are yet to come.
The Peace Corps is not only still relevant—it is more important than ever in this increasingly complex twenty-first century world. The Peace Corps’ leadership is ready to take the agency to a new level of engagement, with an inspiring new strategy to both revitalize the Peace Corps and achieve even greater impact in the nations it serves.
B. THE PEACE CORPS’ MISSION AND THREE GOALS
The agency’s mission and three goals have historically provided the framework for defining its vision—and should continue to do so in the future. However, the three goals are not sufficient for setting the agency’s future direction, articulating its role in the world, and establishing the baseline and reference points for strategic decision-making in the future. While the three goals still remain paramount, the Peace Corps needs to clearly articulate its strategies for how it will meet its three goals in a world very different from the one in 1961 when it was founded. The Peace Corps’ new strategy must take into account the changing face of both the United States and the countries it serves. The twenty-first century Peace Corps is fully capable of achieving more than ever before, but needs a better roadmap to strategically guide its future.
As the world has advanced and become more sophisticated through new technologies, as new problems have arisen and old problems have revealed their complexity and intractability, the Peace Corps needs to evolve in order to better prepare and support Volunteers and their partners in addressing community needs.
Countries worldwide now have university trained leaders and national development strategies. They also have high expectations of the Americans who come to live and work in their communities. No longer can the agency send Volunteers to serve without ensuring that there is important work awaiting them and that they have received the very best training and preparation for completing their assignments.
No longer is the Peace Corps the only American volunteer organization operating internationally. Today’s Volunteers have many other options for service and are aware of those options. The agency needs to recognize that it operates in a far more competitive environment and adopt a new recruiting model so that it can continue to attract the very best Volunteers.
Finally, Americans hold the Peace Corps accountable for using scarce resources in the most effective ways possible. The agency needs to maximize its impact, and doing so requires a rigorous decision-making process to optimize resource allocation, and an active monitoring and evaluation function that measures progress and strengthens management decisions.
These messages came through loud and clear in the interviews the assessment team conducted, the reports the team reviewed, and the hundreds of responses the team received from Volunteers, returned Volunteers, agency staff, host country partners, Members of Congress and their staff, and others. If the Peace Corps is to meet the demands of the 21st century, it must develop a dynamic plan of action with clearly articulated strategies to take it into the next 50 years.
As stated at the outset, the assessment team believes this is a key moment to renew excitement for the unique experience that Peace Corps service provides, to increase engagement with the international community through creative and innovative partnerships, and to enhance the effectiveness of the Peace Corps worldwide.
C. THE AGENCY ASSESSMENT
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 (Public Law 111-117) enacted on December 16, 2009 provided the Peace Corps with the largest year-to-year funding increase in more than a decade. It also included a provision requiring the Director of the Peace Corps to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations on the findings of a comprehensive assessment in the areas listed below:
- Improving the recruitment and selection process to attract a wide diversity of highly and appropriately skilled volunteers;
- Training and medical care for volunteers and staff;
- Adjusting volunteer placement to reflect priority United States interests, country needs and commitment to shared goals, and volunteer skills;
- Coordinating with international and host country development assistance organizations;
- Lowering early termination rates;
- Strengthening management and independent evaluation and oversight; and,
- Any other steps needed to ensure the effective use of resources and volunteers, and to prepare for and implement an appropriate expansion of the Peace Corps.
The Director of the agency also asked the assessment team to address how the agency can best strengthen third goal activities and agency reporting mechanisms.
C.2. Assessment Methodology
The assessment methodology is described in greater detail in chapter III of this report. A major hallmark of the agency assessment was the outreach effort utilized by the team to gather a large number of diverse opinions from all stakeholders. The observations, conclusions, and recommendations presented in this report are based on this major outreach initiative that generated strong input from multiple sources, including:
- An extensive literature review included internal documents and external documents from both supporters and critics of the agency;
- Meetings and interviews with stakeholders, including current and former Peace Corps staff, returned Peace Corps Volunteers, currently serving Volunteers, and members of Congress and congressional staff;
- Surveys on currently serving Volunteers, returned Volunteers, and newly recruited Volunteers as they prepared to travel to their posts;
- A strong outreach effort soliciting input from currently serving Volunteers and Peace Corps staff through an e-mail address created by the assessment team for this purpose;
- Strategic planning sessions with the agency’s management team; and,
- Participation in agency conferences with country directors, program and training officers, and internal working groups.
The outreach effort yielded some important cross-cutting themes that in turn led to the development of the vision, the six supporting strategies, and the implementation plan presented in this report.
C.3. Organization of the report
The report is divided into eleven chapters that respond to the seven areas listed in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 enacted on December 16, 2009.
Each chapter of the main body of the report consists of three sections:
- Observations on the current system;
- Recent changes in the organization; and,
- A summary of findings, recommendations, and a strategy for implementation.