Dear Peace Corps Community:
The two of us, Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff, have pressed for fundamental reform of the Peace Corps since 2004. As background for the Peace Corps reform effort, let us provide an overview of our efforts to secure fundamental reform and then our recommendations for where to focus next.
- 1 Overview of Peace Corps Reform Campaign: 2005-Present
- 1.1 Before departure to Peace Corps
- 1.2 Service in Senegal
- 1.3 Ron Tshetter's Nomination
- 1.4 Introducing a Bill to give Volunteers Whistle Blower Rights
- 1.5 Kate Puzey Tragedy and Chuck's involvement with NPCA
- 1.6 Misrepresentation of Early Termination Rates
- 1.7 Country by Country Volunteer Surveys
- 1.8 Political Appointees
- 1.9 Transfer of Authority to Investigate Crimes Away from Inspector General
- 1.10 Gutting Reform from Congressional Bill
- 1.11 NPCA's Expansion campaign
- 1.12 20/20 Expose on Kate Puzey Murder
- 1.13 Peace Corps Mall Monument
- 1.14 Denial of Country by Country Surveys
- 1.15 Lack of Investigative Coverage
- 2 Agenda for Reform
- 3 Summary Observations
- 4 Sources:
Overview of Peace Corps Reform Campaign: 2005-Present
We both served as PCVs in the '60s (Kenya and Nepal). We went back to serve again in Senegal (05-07) because we had loved our experiences as Volunteers and looked forward to serving together.
Before departure to Peace Corps
Two years before our departure for Senegal, while Chuck was serving as legal counsel in the Senate, he pressed the Peace Corps to support legislation pending in the Congress to suspend the “two out of five” capital gains tax rules for home ownership sales during the service of a Peace Corps Volunteer or Peace Corps staff. The pending legislation would suspend these rules during the service abroad in the Foreign Service and CIA. Only the House bill included Peace Corps service. Despite its professed interest in recruiting older Volunteers, the Peace Corps did nothing to support application of the legislation to Peace Corps Volunteers and staff and it died. In 2007, Chuck resurrected this issue, asked for the support of the Peace Corps, received an email from Director Ron Tschetter belittling his efforts, and went on to secure enactment of the tax rule change. The Peace Corps did nothing to support this legislation. This measure eliminated a disincentive for service by older Volunteers and staff.
A year before leaving the US for training in Senegal, we secured an agreement from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that it would promulgate rules to permit Federal retirees receiving health care benefits (Chuck’s situation) to suspend their premium payments during service and re-enroll upon completion of service. This new rule would mirror ones that permit other Federal retirees to suspend enrollment when they have other health insurance coverage, and OPM agreed that such a rule would be appropriate for Peace Corps Volunteers. Without this rule change, we would have had to pay $7,000 for health insurance that we didn’t need. Despite its professed interest in recruiting older Volunteers, the Peace Corps offered virtually no assistance in securing promulgation of these new rules and it took over a year to get them finalized. This measure eliminated a disincentive for service by older Volunteers.
The day we left for Senegal, we also filed a FOIA request for the Peace Corps Medical Screening Guidelines and six months later when they were produced, Chuck had them published online with a guide to the medical screening process. We felt strongly that applicants should know what guides Peace Corps in determining their medical eligibility.
When Chuck retired from Capitol Hill in 2005 (after working there off and on over 40 years), the Washington Post had written an article praising Chuck for not cashing in to become a lobbyist on K Street. After the Senegal Country Director read it (months before he met me), he told staff at a meeting that he'd "sit on" Chuck the moment he arrived so that he couldn’t cause trouble. The Senegal training staff told us this soon after we arrived.
Service in Senegal
As we went through training and started our service in Senegal, we were shocked at the agency mismanagement we encountered. Our Country Director treated the Volunteers with contempt. He sabotaged any serious development work, including fundraising through the Peace Corps Partnership Program. There were no Best Practices Guides available to the Volunteers. Training was marginal. Even language training was marginal. Three of the development programs were so poorly crafted that Volunteers had virtually no opportunity to achieve sustainable results within program guidelines. Site placement and counterpart recruitment was haphazard. The most important priority seemed to be enforcement of the out-of-site regulations. One staff program officer was sexually harassing female Volunteers. Morale among the Volunteers was low. The Early Termination rate was high. When we decided to serve again, we had no idea that there were any issues regarding the professionalism of the Peace Corps or in its treatment of the Volunteers.
After he’d learned that he’d been assigned to service in serve as a forestry agent in Senegal, Chuck had spent three months getting prepared, learning to graft, assembling resource manuals, and recruiting experts to provide him with technical support. Chuck had no interest in serving in agriculture (cereal crops), which had been his assignment in Nepal. The day he arrived in Senegal, Chuck was informed that he’d serve in agriculture (cereal crops) and said if he didn't like it he could Early Terminate. He objected but there was nothing he could do. Chuck had retired, we’d rented our house and sold our cars, and if Chuck was terminated, Paula would have to leave as well. Chuck was assured that despite the switch, he could focus on forestry. It soon became clear to him that the agriculture program was an abysmal failure. It focused on distributing new hybrid cereal crop seeds on the theory that the farmers would like them so much they’d buy the seeds themselves. In the eight-year history of the program it seems that no Senegalese farmer had ever bought the seeds.
Six months into his service, when he was doing all he could to work on forestry as well as cereal crops, the Country Director tried to terminate his service for not working enough on seed distribution. Chuck mentioned being Shanghaied into the agriculture program, and he was accused of lying about the switch. When Chuck produced a copy of the invitation proving that he had been recruited as a forestry agent, the Country Director refused to apologize for accusing Chuck of lying.
We had gone to Senegal hoping to become bee keepers and extend it in Senegal. The Country Director made this impossible.
We proposed an overhaul of the language training program to give more written materials to older Volunteers, who often struggled to learn Wolof. This proposal was ignored.
Ron Tshetter's Nomination
When Ron Tschetter was nominated to be Peace Corps Director in 2006, Chuck went to his Senate friends and they let him write the questions for his nomination hearing (focusing on issues of concern to Volunteers); he answered none of these questions. After Tschetter had been confirmed, Chuck sent him a detailed reform plan focusing on empowering Volunteers and reform. Director Tschetter refused even to acknowledge it. Chuck pushed for six months for a response and got none.
So, Chuck went back to his former Senate colleagues and Dodd introduced Chuck’s plan as the Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act (March 1, 2007; S. 932). It was a bold plan to empower Volunteers and hold the Peace Corps staff accountable. The key features of the bill included giving protections to Volunteer Whistle Blowers, including confidentiality and protections against retaliation.
Introducing a Bill to give Volunteers Whistle Blower Rights
All other federal employees were granted Whistle Blower rights in 1978, but the Peace Corps had chosen not to give Volunteers or staff these rights. The legislation also directed the Peace Corps to conduct annual confidential surveys of the Volunteers regarding staff professionalism and program effectiveness and use the results in personnel reviews; it designated a small portion of the annual Peace Corps budget for Volunteers to use as seed funding for demonstrations at their sites; it loosened the restrictions against fund raising by Volunteers; it brought the Peace Corps into the digital age by establishing websites and email links for Volunteers to use in-country; it removed certain medical, healthcare and tax impediments that discourage older individuals from serving; and it created more transparency in the medical screening and appeals process.
When Senator Dodd scheduled a hearing on the bill in July of 2007, he invited us to fly in from Senegal to represent the current Volunteers. The Peace Corps threatened to terminate our service if we testified. We testified anyway and told them if they terminated us, we'd seek to have the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hold them in contempt for obstructing a Senate hearing, and they backed off of their threat. We paid our own airfare, which cost half of our combined readjustment allowances.
The key issue in the hearing was Whistle Blower rights for Volunteers -- our testimony at the hearing is posted on the Peace Corps Wiki. The Peace Corps vociferously opposed the Dodd bill, belittled it, and said, in effect, that there was no need for reform.
The House had been all set to introduce the bill, but after the Peace Corps objected, it was never introduced. Senator Dodd ran for President in 2007-08, abandoned the legislation, and it languished and died at the end of the Congress (Fall, 2008).
Kate Puzey Tragedy and Chuck's involvement with NPCA
In January 2009 Volunteer Kate Puzey blew the whistle on a Peace Corps staffer in Benin. Her confidentiality was blown to the accused, who slit her throat while she slept. Kate might have lived had she been afforded protections as a Whistle Blower (confidentiality and protection against retaliation) as provided in the 2007 Dodd bill.
In February of 2009 Chuck was appointed as an adviser to the Obama Transition Team for the Peace Corps, which was led by a former Peace Corps staffer who had never been a Volunteer. He raised all the reform issues from the 2007 Dodd bill and our testimony but the team ignored them, writing a bland report overlooking the problems and calling only for expansion. Chuck tried unsuccessfully to block the team report.
Chuck was elected to the Board of NPCA. His goal was to stop NPCA executive director Kevin Quigley from pressing for a doubling of the number of Volunteers – the “More Peace Corps” campaign. Quigley had become the leading opponent of the 2007 Dodd bill reforms because it would undermine Quigley’s campaign for expansion.
In 2009 Chuck worked successfully to help secure enactment of an authorization for the Volunteers for Prosperity (VfP) program in the Kennedy Serve America Act. VfP would place volunteers with NGOs at 1/10 of the Peace Corps cost of $104,000 per Volunteer (over two years). VfP has languished at USAID, unsupported by the coalition that secured enactment of the Serve Act so that it cannot provide an alternative to the top-heavy, more expensive Peace Corps model.
Misrepresentation of Early Termination Rates
Working with Peace Corps Wiki Co-Founder Michael Sheppard, we found that the Peace Corps was misrepresenting the Early Termination rates of Volunteers, reporting them to be 1/4 as high as they really are. The Peace Corps had changed the method for calculating the rates when it was compelled by the Office of Management and Budget to begin complying with the Performance and Results Act. That act requires agencies to set metrics for their performance and report how well they perform. With a worldwide Early Termination rate of 35%, the Peace Corps found a ingenious way to report it as 8%, a much less embarrassing figure. Because the Peace Corps misrepresents the Early Termination rates, it does not use them to identify the troubled programs in need of fundamental reform.
We filed a FOIA request for any documents at the Peace Corps that explained the change in methodology and the Peace Corps reported that there were none. In 2011 we filed another FOIA request and were able to secure the accurate Early Termination rates and published them country-by-country on Wiki. We found that there are 35 countries where the Early Termination rates have exceeded 40%. With this data now public, the Peace Corps no longer mentions Early Termination rates in its Performance and Results Act reports. In publishing the accurate date, we seek to empower applicants to make choices and put pressure on the Peace Corps to reform the country programs with the highest Early Termination rates.
Country by Country Volunteer Surveys
In 2009 we secured copies of the country-by-country breakouts of the 2008 Peace Corps surveys of the Volunteers and published them on Peace Corps Wiki in a spread sheet so the applicants could compare the countries against each other. This was to empower applicants to make choices and put pressure on the Peace Corps to reform the poorly ranked programs. We interpreted the surveys to indicate that about 15 country programs were well-managed. Because the Peace Corps refuses to publish the country-by-country survey breakouts, it does not use them to identify the troubled programs in need of fundamental reform.
We learned that the Peace Corps has the highest number of slots for political appointees per capita of any agency in the Federal government and that it has been a dumping ground for the political well-connected.
Transfer of Authority to Investigate Crimes Away from Inspector General
We learned that the Peace Corps had transferred authority to investigate crimes against Volunteers away from the Peace Corps Inspector General. The motive was that the Peace Corps IG took these investigations seriously and sought to prosecute the perpetrators, which prolonged the bad publicity arising from these crimes. We later learned that after the Kate Puzey murder the Peace Corps had waited two months before sending anyone to Benin to investigate the case and then sent two auditors who had no experience investigating crime scenes. Because the investigation was botched, the Country Director in Benin has informed Volunteers in Benin that that the Peace Corps staff who perpetrated the murder will be released for lack of evidence against them. Director Aaron Williams was aware of this when he testified at the May 2011 hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee but failed to mention these developments.
Gutting Reform from Congressional Bill
Senator Dodd told us that he'd reintroduce his 2007 bill at the start of the new Congress in 2009, but the Peace Corps persuaded him to gut the bill and require that the Peace Corps publish only a comprehensive report. The new Dodd bill contained no substantive commandments, no empowerment of Volunteers, no mandate for reform. In his 2009 bill Dodd explicitly directed the Peace Corps to address the Whistle Blower issues in the report.
In July of 2009 we published a comprehensive Peace Corps reform report. It’s posted on the Peace Corps Wiki. It analyzed the 2008 surveys, the high Early Termination rates, the Peace Corps' failure to organize effectively as an agency of development, and, for the first time, exposed how the Peace Corps de-emphasizes investigations of crimes against Volunteers. It included affidavits from Volunteers in nearly 30 countries testifying about the mismanagement at the Peace Corps. We sent the report to every Peace Corps staffer but not a single one got back to us with any comments or reaction.
In response to the new Dodd bill, in June 2010 the Peace Corps published its "comprehensive assessment" of itself. It was a white wash that addressed none of the issues raised in the 2007 Dodd bill or hearing or our mega reform report. Shockingly, in its report the Peace Corps refused even to assess Whistle Blower mechanisms – ignoring Senator Dodd’s explicit request that it do so. This is more than a year after Kate was murdered because she was a Whistle Blower.
NPCA's Expansion campaign
In 2009-10 we lobbied against NPCA’s expansion campaign and in favor of a focus on quality and reform. We proposed budgets for reform and quality to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. We got nowhere because of the NPCA/Quigley expansion campaign.
Through FOIA we found that, contrary to the campaign’s claims, Peace Corps has no surplus of applicants to fuel expansion: 97-98% of the applicants who survive the medical screening process are invited to training. There is no selectivity.
We filed a FOIA request for the list of “20 countries” shovel-ready for Peace Corps programs – another of the expansion campaign’s claims – but the Peace Corps refused to provide any such list. We argued that with a worldwide Early Termination rate of 35%, it was fair to say that the Peace Corps was already wasting about 1/3 of its budget. To expand the number of Volunteers without addressing the root causes of the high Early Termination rates would yield a costly and scandalous treadmill of new trainees and early quitters.
20/20 Expose on Kate Puzey Murder
In 2010 we became involved in the 20/20 expose that aired on January 14, 2011 about the Kate Puzey murder and the mistreatment of Volunteers who had been raped or sexually assaulted. 20/20 took a two-hour tape of our views. We had emphasized that a Peace Corps staffer murdered Kate Puzey because she was a Whistle Blower who had exposed his misdeeds and that the Peace Corps had killed the Dodd bill Whistle Blower protections. Our interview was expunged from the program that aired.
It was not a coincidence that the first Peace Corps rules for Whistle Blower rights for Volunteers were issued on January 14, 2011, the date of the 20/20 expose on the murder in Benin and on rapes of Volunteers. We analyzed the rules and found them confusing, filled with loopholes, and not well designed to protect Volunteer Whistle Blowers: our analysis is posted on Wiki. To this day Peace Corps staff have no Whistle Blower rights.
Since the rules were promulgated, we have documented a case where the Peace Corps has clearly violated the new rules and terminated the service of Volunteer Whistle Blowers – retaliation against them for blowing the whistle. We also have documented a case where staff Whistle Blowers have been fired.
We were deeply involved in the planning for the May 2011 hearings of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in response to the 20/20 program. We were invited to testify but then our invitation to testify was cancelled. Nonetheless, we submitted testimony for the hearing, which is posted on Wiki.
After the hearing we lobbied Members and outsiders who were drafting the reform bill – as their response to the 20/20 scandal – to resurrect the tough and comprehensive provisions of the 2007 Dodd bill. Sadly, the sponsors insisted on negotiating the bill with the Peace Corps to ensure that it would “hurt the Peace Corps.” The Peace Corps remained adamantly opposed to reform, and as a result, only one provision from the 2007 Dodd bill was included (surveys of the Volunteers). The Kate Puzey Act became law in November 2011. It’s a weak version of the 2007 Dodd bill.
Peace Corps Mall Monument
Chuck came out publicly against the Peace Corps Mall monument in August 2011 because it would undermine our campaign for reform. From his service on the NPCA Board, he knew that the monument proposal was designed to support the expansion campaign and undermine Hill oversight. Quigley had Chuck ejected from the Board of NPCA for opposing the monument, even though Chuck had been elected by NPCA members.
Denial of Country by Country Surveys
Even though in 2009 the Peace Corps had acknowledged that the Volunteer surveys and the country-by-country breakouts of these surveys are subject to production under FOIA, the Peace Corps has recently denied our FOIA request for the 2009-11 surveys. We found a law firm to file a FOIA lawsuit for us pro bono. We understand that the Peace Corps will not settle the case. We are confident that we’ll win the case; when we secure the country-by-country breakouts, we’ll post hem on Peace Corps Wiki in a spread sheet so applicants can rank the countries.
Lack of Investigative Coverage
Throughout these years of efforts we have met with many reporters urging them to write accurate and penetrating reports on the Peace Corps. Some of them end up writing puff pieces, while others never publish anything, perhaps deciding that reform they don’t want to write critically about an American Icon or that the reform story is too complicated. The NPCA remains implacably opposed to reform. The only good news is that the budget squeeze has killed the Peace Corps expansion campaign.
Agenda for Reform
So, where do we go from here? Here are our recommendations:
The Peace Corps must abandon its decades-long quest to expand the Peace Corps and focus instead on improving the quality of the Volunteer experience. If this leads to a smaller Peace Corps, as it inevitably will, this is the right outcome. The insane quest for quantity is killing the Peace Corps; improving quality might save it.
The Peace Corps should dramatically expand its Peace Corps Response program. This program places Returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs) in specific, well-designed jobs with high expectations for achieving results. The Response program is the model for the Peace Corps going forward. It focuses on quality in ways that the regular Peace Corps does not.
It has become clear that the Peace Corps model of service – an expensive top-down government bureaucracy – is a 1960’s approach that is out-of-date and ineffective. Just as VISTA morphed into AmeriCorps, which places Volunteers with NGOs at a fraction of the cost of VISTA, a good portion of the Peace Corps budget should morph into Volunteers for Prosperity, which would place Volunteers internationally with NGOs at a fraction of the cost of the Peace Corps. VfP has the potential to become a decentralized, non-bureaucratic, bottom-up, and cost-effective version of the Peace Corps. With VfP the NGOs become the counter-parts for the Volunteers, which enhances the prospects that the service of the Volunteers will achieve sustainable results.
The VfP authorizing statute needs to be amended to make it a full-blown alternative and competitor to the Peace Corps model and it should be managed by the Peace Corps, not US AID, which has no interest in VfP. This reorientation, along with the expansion of Peace Corps Response, will enable the US government to support many more international Volunteers, avoid the harsh and ineffective results that come with the Peace Corps bureaucracy, and lead to more sustainable results.
The regular Peace Corps must enable and encourage Volunteers to enter into more partnerships with NGOs and USAID. For decades the Peace Corps has pursued a go-it-alone approach that squanders the advantages that come with these partnerships. Where appropriate, the Volunteers should be placed inside NGOs, especially local NGOs. Placements with well-managed NGOs is the best approach to sustainable development.
The Peace Corps should make First Goal grassroots development its paramount objective. Today’s Volunteers want a job, and an opportunity to achieve sustainable results. The egregiously high Early Termination rates are due in large part to the failure of the Peace Corps to give Volunteers meaningful jobs. When Volunteers don’t have well-crafted assignments, and strong relationships with local counterparts, they gravitate to the district centers and the capital, where they carouse and take risks. The way to keep them in their villages, where they are far safer, is to give them powerful reasons to stay there.
The Peace Corps must document successful and unsuccessful projects and develop hundreds of Best Practices Guides for Volunteers. The failure of the Peace Corps to do this over the past 50 years has, in effect, squandered the learning of 200,000 Volunteers.
When the Peace Corps identifies an exceptionally successful development strategy, it should take this strategy to scale in multiple countries. That the Peace Corps has never done this represents a egregious and catastrophic failure.
The Peace Corps should develop site-by-site strategies where it documents every project pursued at a given site and charts a “next steps” strategy for subsequent Volunteers. Volunteers going to a site where Volunteers have served before must be given a detailed dossier on the site and information about everything that has been tried there, with recommendations on the appropriate next steps.
Volunteers should each be given a $1000 account to draw on during their service to reimburse them for project-related expenses. This was a commandment of the 2007 Dodd bill.
Volunteers should be permitted to solicit contributions for demonstration projects from persons personally known to them, including family members, friends, and members of their home community in the United States, and from government and nongovernmental agencies, including, but not limited to working through the Peace Corps Partnership Program. This was also a commandment of the 2007 Dodd bill.
The Peace Corps should move towards requiring that Volunteers have at least five years of experience before they serve as Volunteers, the standard set by VSO, the British volunteer agency.
The Peace Corps should become selective and invite no more than 1/3 of the number of applicants who survive the medical screening process instead of 97-98% of them. Teach for America invites 1/8 of its applicants to serve. If this selectivity leads to a substantial downsizing of the Volunteer corps, it’s the right result. Being more selective should help to reduce the Early Termination rates.
The Peace Corps should be much more transparent with applicants. It must give them the country-by-country break outs of the Volunteer surveys so that they can see how the country to which they have been invited to serve ranks against the others on each question. We will continue to prosecute our FOIA lawsuit to secure the country-by-country breakouts of the 2009-10 and subsequent surveys of the Volunteers and post them on line for the benefit of applicants. We want applicants to be able to rank the countries before they decide whether or not to accept an invitation to serve. We hope that the Peace Corps will find it difficult to place Volunteers in the worst managed countries because this will put pressure on the Peace Corps to reform these programs.
The new Peace Corps reform legislation calls on the Peace Corps to conduct this type of surveys of the Volunteers. These surveys, which are fundamentally the same as the previous surveys, should be made public on a country-by-country basis and given to applicants. Again, we want applicants to be able to rank the countries on each question before they decide whether or not to accept an invitation to serve. We hope that the Peace Corps will find it difficult to place Volunteers in the worst managed countries because this will put pressure on the Peace Corps to reform these programs.
We urge Volunteers in each country to use this opportunity to provide specific and forceful comments on the quality of their managers, the programs, the training, site development and support. Basically we urge the Volunteers to organize themselves – much as unions do – to demand change.
Applicants should also be given the country-by-country Early Termination rates. This will give them useful information in determining whether or not to accept an invitation to serve. We want applicants to be able to rank the countries before they decide whether or not to accept an invitation to serve. We hope that the Peace Corps will find it difficult to place Volunteers in the countries with the highest Early Termination rates because this will put pressure on the Peace Corps to reform these programs.
The Peace Corps should divulge – especially to applicants and the Congressional Appropriations Committees – accurate data regarding the Early Termination rates of Volunteers. This means it must present Early Termination rates that measure the percentage of Volunteers who complete and do not complete their service – the cohort rates.
The Peace Corps should set as a paramount goal reduction of the worldwide Early Termination rates to less than 20% and it must launch a major reform intervention in any country where the rate exceeds 30%. This will lead to reforms in selection, training, site preparation, counterpart recruitment, program design, program support, and medical support.
The Peace Corps should shutter the 25 worst managed country programs, especially the ones with the highest Early Termination rates and poorest survey results.
The Peace Corps should set metrics for Volunteer performance as development agents. It should review their performance and in cases where the Volunteers are clearly not devoting themselves to their work as Volunteers, the Peace Corps should send them home. Entirely too many Volunteers are “hanging out” in the Peace Corps, not spending substantial time in their villages, not becoming proficient in the local languages, and not achieving sustainable results.
Headquarters staff should be substantially reduced – cut by at least 25% – and the savings distributed among the country programs. Paperwork requirements imposed on country staff should also be cut drastically – by at least 50%.
Associate Peace Corps Directors should supervise no more than 30 Volunteer and Medical Officers should manage the medical care for no more than 40 Volunteers.
The 5-year rule should be repealed. In its place staff should be given 5-year contracts that can be renewed indefinitely. This will enable the Peace Corps to retain the best staff and not be bound to keep the worst. In practice the 5-year rule often leads staff to begin to look for a new job 2 to 2 ½ years into their contract. The constant turnover creates chaos. It also means that the civilian staff cannot stand up to the dysfunction of the political appointees.
Peace Corps staff should be given the same personnel rights as Foreign Service Personnel under 22 USC 3905. Today staff, including staff Whistle Blowers, can be fired without due process.
Peace Corps staff should be given pay and cost of living, and “hardship post” benefits on a par with the Embassy staff. This same parity should apply to home leave and professional development benefits.
We should drastically limit the number of political appointees at the Peace Corps.
The selection of Country Directors must become much more transparent and the Peace Corps should adopt procedures that prevent political considerations from influencing the choices. The Peace Corps should comply with the FOIA commandments. If the Peace Corps has not responded to a FOIA request within the statutory deadline, the agency should be prohibited from withholding any portion of the records under "discretionary" authority and the agency shall be required to release it. Also, the Peace Corps should not charge requesters any fees for any FOIA request which is not answered within the statutory time limits. And it should publish on line all information that it has supplied to the public in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. Both Michael Sheppard and Will Dickinson of Wiki have performed brilliantly in utilizing FOIA to pry open the secrets of the Peace Corps. We need to secure permanent funding of Peace Corps Wiki so that it can continue to serve as the beacon for Peace Corps reform. Without the Wiki we will never be able to secure reform at the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps should publish the Medical Screening Guidelines on line to make the selection process more transparent. Even though in 2005 it provided these Guidelines to us under FOIA, it has recently denied a FOIA request for the updated guidelines. The Peace Corps should again authorize its Inspector General to take the lead in investigating crimes against Volunteers or staff. The Peace Corps should be forced annually to issue a detailed report on the status of investigations of crimes against Volunteers and staff and prosecutions of alleged perpetrators.
The Peace Corps should comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (e.g. permitting interested parties the opportunity to comment) in promulgating rules, manual amendments, and similar guidances. Within one year it should publish all existing rules for public comment.
The Peace Corps should establish a system for promoting, by electronic means, improved communication among Peace Corps volunteers and staff, including the establishment of websites and e-mail links for use on a password-only basis by Peace Corps Volunteers in country to discuss development strategies, funding sources, best practices guides, Peace Corps management practices and policies, and other issues. (The Peace Corps might oppose this because it enables Volunteers to organize for reform and hold Peace Corps staff accountable.) Such websites need an alumni section for returned Volunteers with an interest and experience in supporting Volunteer goals and programs, and this section would be integrated into the larger system accessible to all Volunteers. All close of service reports shall be available on such websites or e-mail links.
When it comes to Volunteer health, the Peace Corps should not cut corners. The Peace Corps should discontinue use of Lariam as a malaria prophylaxis because of its high and troubling history of side effects. Instead it should use Malarone or Cortem. It does not switch because these newer products cost more than Lariam.
The members of the National Peace Corps Association must demand that the Association support reform, hold the Peace Corps staff accountable, and champion empowerment of Volunteers.
Realistically, we will not secure fundamental reform at the Peace Corps until it is led by someone who understands and embraces reform. It is clear that Aaron Williams does not support and will not implement fundamental reforms.
Our reform effort has focused largely on enacting reforms into law. We have done this because we do not believe that the Peace Corps will embrace reform unless Congress forces it to do so. Only if reforms are enacted into law do they become permanent. Also, because Chuck worked as staff on Capitol Hill over a 40-year period, we are familiar and comfortable with the legislative process. The 20/20 expose presented an existential challenge to the Peace Corps and led to the enactment of a few reforms, but overall a major opportunity to enact reforms was lost. So, it is unlikely that the Congress will enact another reform bill any time soon unless additional scandals on the scale of those exposed by 20/20 come to light. This means that the main reform thrust must come from pressure from applicants and current Volunteers.
For sight years we have pressed for fundamental reform, focusing on empowering the Volunteers, improving quality rather than increasing quantity, and improving First Goal performance. We are championing a more transparent and accountable Peace Corps. Because we are prominent critics of the Peace Corps, we continue to receive many sad and outrageous reports from Volunteers about the pervasive mismanagement at the agency. At all times we’ve been constructive in our criticism and proposed reforms. We have not engaged in Ad Hominem attacks on individuals.
We see nothing at the Peace Corps that indicates that it is focusing on quality rather than quantity, organizing itself effectively for First Goal accomplishments, or empowering the Volunteers. We see a secretive agency, extremely risk averse, lacking any clear sense of its mission. It’s a defensive, rule-bound agency mired in paperwork and obfuscation. We see widespread malaise, debilitating high early quit rates, and a sparse record of accomplishments. The agency continues to misrepresent the Early Termination rates, remains intentionally opaque with applicants (e.g. refusing to give applicants the country-by-country Early Termination rates and survey results), and minimizing the dysfunction in the agency in its annual performance reports. The highest priority of the Peace Corps remains to avoid bad publicity.
Overall, we need to overhaul the culture of the Peace Corps so that it respects and empowers the Volunteers. The service of the Volunteers is the only way the Peace Corps can accomplish anything. That the Peace Corps is unable to focus on its own culture is a sad commentary on its failure to fashion a program that assists other cultures.
We have not once been invited to meet with the Peace Corps to discuss any of these issues. The culture of the Peace Corps has not changed with the Obama Administration.
It is clear that the Peace Corps remains adamantly opposed to reform or any suggestion of a need for reform. To admit that reform is needed would generate bad publicity for an agency that believes that it is sacrosanct and can do no wrong. The agency remains impenetrable and monolithic. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy reigns supreme at the Peace Corps; the imperatives of the bureaucrats trump the agency’s mission.
Individual Volunteers accomplish great things but they will say that this is in spite of the bureaucracy. Volunteers know to “fly under the radar” to avoid becoming a target. We’ve heard this same phraseology innumerable times.
We have campaigned for Peace Corps reform because we love the ideals of the Peace Corps. That bureaucrats are crushing the idealism of thousands of Volunteers is sad and outrageous. We have no desire to damage the Peace Corps. We seek to enhance its effectiveness and to get back to the ideals upon which it was founded.
We will continue our reform effort. We know that thousands of dedicated Volunteers and staff as well are seeking to make the Peace Corps ideals a reality.
We invite Peace Corps Wiki users to join the discussion, to comment on our reform efforts, and especially to press the Peace Corps for fundamental reform. Without a dedicated corps of reformers, we cannot go forward with this effort.
This is our history and these are our recommendations. We do not assume that we have all of the answers for the Peace Corps or have followed the best strategy in pursuing reform. We are sure that some will take issue with some of them and offer others. We invite comments on our reform activities and our proposed agenda.
Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff
Peace Corps Nepal (68-70)(Chuck)
Peace Corps Kenya (68-70)(Paula)
Peace Corps Senegal (05-07)(Chuck and Paula)