NPCA: Declining to Empower Peace Corps Volunteer Applicants

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Peace Corps Wiki has approached the National Peace Corps Association about posting the early quit rate data and the Volunteer survey responses on its website. It has also urged NPCA to post the data about the shortage of applicants. This information empowers applicants. Indeed Peace Corps Wiki said that if NPCA would do so, Peace Corps Wiki would be transferred to NPCA. NPCA has declined these invitations and offers – and refused to act to empower applicants – so Peace Corps Wiki has remained independent.

Founded in 1979, NPCA has struggled financially because so few of the returned Volunteers find it in their interest to become members. As a consequence, NPCA has become financially enmeshed with the Peace Corps and has no appetite to defend applicants and the Volunteers because this might jeopardize this financial life-line. NPCA’s entanglement with the Peace Corps is clear: from 2003 to 2010 the Peace Corps provided $790,639.44 to NPCA to pay for operating expenses. Source: FOIA Request Number 10-065.

NPCA’s annual report for 2013 reveals NPCA’s financially vulnerable condition. Its membership revenues were only $198,120 compared to membership expenses of $147,962. It raised $247,137 in donations but its fundraising expenses were $102,097. The bottom line is troubling: NPCA ran a deficit of $148,000. It comes then as no surprise that this annual report emphasizes the bottom line for NPCA: “A close and collaborative relationship with the Peace Corps is fundamental to our organizational goals.”

The NPCA won’t act to empower the applicants. It won’t defend the interests of the Volunteers in the field or press the Peace Corps to act more professionally in managing them. That’s too risky given its shaky finances and financial dependence on the Peace Corps.

WorldView - A Peace Corps-Controlled Publication[edit]

The NPCA’s vulnerability to Peace Corps pressure was most evident in December of 2007. The NPCA has acknowledged that the Peace Corps, which bitterly opposed the then-pending Dodd Peace Corps reform bill, threatened to cancel its subscription to NPCA’s flagship publication – WorldView – if NPCA did not give the Peace Corps an opportunity to review the articles prior to publication to make sure that they did not offend the Peace Corps, e.g. did not include articles that criticized management or advocated reform.

The Peace Corps purchases copies of WorldView to distribute to all of the Volunteers in the field. If it did not do so, the finances for WorldView would immediately collapse and NPCA would need to suspend publication. The article that led to the Peace Corps demand and threat apparently was an article given “final” approval to be published by the dozen-year WorldView editor, Dave Arnold, by Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff calling for Peace Corps reform, including protection for Volunteer whistle blowers.

Apparently because of the Peace Corps threat, the President of NPCA – compromising the editorial independence of WorldView and the independence of NPCA – cancelled the offending article. He has acknowledged the Peace Corps’ threat but denied that the article cancellation had any connection to it. Immediately after the article was cancelled, Arnold left NPCA and refused to explain why he did so.

Cancelling the WorldView article was part of NPCA’s joint campaign with the Peace Corps to kill the Dodd Peace Corps reform bill. That bill included whistle blower provisions – designed to empower Volunteer whistle blowers. Sadly, two years later, after the bill had been killed, Kate Puzey, a Volunteer whistle blower, was murdered by those staff in retaliation for her blowing the whistle on them. At the time, the Peace Corps was the only agency of the government that did not grant its staff and employees whistle blower protection. It had no rules to protect Kate, to preserve her confidentiality, or to provide here with security protection. The shame that has blanketed the Peace Corps regarding this horrific incident also blankets the NPCA.

Developments During the Obama Administration[edit]

More recent developments under the Obama Administration make it clear that the Peace Corps opposition to empowering Volunteer whistle blowers runs deep. The 2009 Dodd bill (S. 1382) – as reported form the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – requested that the Peace Corps prepare an assessment of

(Q) 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; (IV) country programs; and (V) dialogue with host country partners and ministries; (R) mechanisms for incorporating the views solicited in subparagraph (Q) into programming and management decisions…

To be sure, Dodd’s 2009 call for a Peace Corps assessment of the whistle blower issues is a trivial gesture compared to the provisions of Dodd’s 2007 bill that mandated that the Peace Corps set up these listening mechanisms and protect Volunteer whistle blowers. But Senator Dodd did demand an assessment.

In June of 2010, responding to the Dodd request, the Peace Corps issued its “comprehensive assessment” of the Peace Corps. Not surprisingly, the assessment fails to mention the concept of whistle blower “confidentiality.” It fails to mention the word “whistle blower” or discuss protection of Volunteer whistle blowers. This report was issued after Kate Puzey had been murdered, so the Peace Corps was well aware of the consequences of not protecting Volunteer whistle blowers. No word of objection to this omission came from NPCA.

Only when ABC's 20/20 program publicized the Puzey case did the Peace Corps finally issue (weak) rules protecting Peace Corps Volunteers. (It published these rules the same day the program aired.) It did not issue rules to protect Peace Cops staff whistle blowers. No word of objection to this embarrassment came from the NPCA.

Rather than protecting Volunteers, a higher priority for the NPCA is the construction of a “commemorative” monument to the Peace Corps on or near the National Mall – with a budget of up to $7 million.

Peace Corps Wiki had hoped that the new management of the NPCA would reconsider its priorities, starting with publishing the early quit rate data and survey rankings – and the shortage of applications. They have refused to do so.

The Wiki continues to invite the NPCA to join it in empowering applicants and championing the interests of Volunteers, including Volunteer whistle blowers. It invites the NPCA to post the early quit rate rankings and the country rankings found in the Volunteer surveys. Wiki invites the NPCA to explain to applicants why the shortage of applicants empowers those applicants who survive the medical screening process.

The issue for NPCA is existential: Does it truly represent the interests of the Volunteers and applicants or serve as a lapdog to the Peace Corps?