- Read more about the January 2011 letters between NPCA and PC headquarters: http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/Whistle_Blowers_get_no_mention_in_NPCA_Letter_to_Director_Williams_and_Response
- 1 Brief History
- 2 March 2007
- 3 July 2009
- 4 March 2010
- 5 January 2011
- 6 August 2011
- 6.1 I. Background and Summary of Issues
- 6.2 II. I Had A Right and Duty to Report Reasonable Concerns and Violations of Policy and Law Without Fear of Retaliation
- 6.2.1 A. I Followed Peace Corps Policy on Reporting Legitimate Concerns and Allegation Regarding Violations.
- 6.2.2 B. Peace Corps Failed to Ensure my Safety and to Protect Me From Retaliation and Provide Whistle-blower Protection
- 22.214.171.124 1. Peace Corps had an affirmative duty to keep me safe in my home-stay and throughout PST.
- 126.96.36.199 2. Once I reported allegations of wrongdoing Peace Corps failed to keep me safe from further violations and protect me from retaliation
- 188.8.131.52 3. Peace Corps sent me home because I complained and was deemed a “trouble-maker.”
- 184.108.40.206 4. Peace Corps had a duty to review and resolve my concerns and allegations; It did not.
- 6.3 III. Conclusion
- 7 Oct 2011
- 8 Sources
The history of the Congressional debate about the rights and protections for Volunteer whistle blowers, and NPCA and Peace Corps opposition to these rights and protections, is extensive.
In March of 2007, two years before Kate was murdered, Senator Chris Dodd introduced legislation (S. 732, the PCV Empowerment Act) that mandated that the Peace Corps solicit the views of Volunteers on a confidential basis regarding Peace Corps staff and programs. It also mandated that Volunteers be provided whistle blower protections under the Federal Whistle Blower Act. In July of 2007 Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff flew in from Senegal where they were serving as Volunteers – at their our own expense and over the vociferous objections of the Peace Corps – to testify in favor of this legislation before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The first priority in their testimony was the issue of confidentiality and whistle blower protection. The Peace Corps belittled the Dodd bill, opposed it, and with the enthusiastic help of Kevin Quigley, NPCA President, killed it. Then Kate was murdered in March of 2009 precisely because her confidentiality as a whistle blower was blown and she was afforded no protections as a whistle blower. When she blew the whistle on a Peace Corps Benin staff who was raping and sexually assaulting Beninoise students, Kate had pleaded for confidentiality and protections. When the Peace Corps staff blew her cover as the whistle blower--possibly through the staff member's brother, himself the Small Enterprise Development Program Director--the staff member murdered Kate by slitting her throat.
In July of 2009 Ludlam and Hirschoff published a comprehensive plan for reforming the Peace Corps and the second point of the plan focused on Volunteer whistle blowers. Throughout 2008-2009 and into 2010 they pressed the Congress to include Volunteers in pending legislation to amend the Whistle Blower Act. Throughout 2009 they lobbied the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to fund Peace Corps reform, always noting that empowering Volunteer whistle blowers carried with it no cost. The Peace Corps and Quigley pressed only for funding for expansion.
In March of 2010 Ludlam and Hirschoff attempted to secure adoption of an amendment to Senator Dodd’s 2009 Peace Corps legislation to provide for confidentially and protections to Volunteer whistle blowers. Again, the Peace Corps and Quigley opposed the mandates and killed them. So, when it comes to these to these crucial issues for Volunteer whistle blowers, there is no difference between the Bush and Obama Peace Corps. At all times, both the Peace Corps and Quigley have been opposed to empowering Volunteer whistle blowers just as Ludlam and Hirschoff have always pressed for empowering them as their first reform priority.
On Mar 27, 2009 and January 14, 2011 the Peace Corps promulgated procedures for “handling of Volunteer / Trainee Allegations.” These two documents focus on “misconduct, mismanagement, or violations of law or policy by Peace Corps staff or contractors or in connection with Peace Corps programs or operations; and on the handling of allegations or other concerns of Volunteers or Trainees about the conduct of host country nationals who are not Peace Corps staff regarding behavior and other matters that are beyond the legal jurisdiction of Peace Corps.” The documents give Volunteers the right to report violations to the Peace Corps Office of Inspector General. They state that “Any Peace Corps staff member who receives or has knowledge of a V/T allegation or concern must treat the information with the utmost discretion and confidentiality” and “appropriate measures must be taken to ensure the V/T’s safety [and if] there is any uncertainty, it is critical that managers err on the side of caution and take every measure to ensure V/T safety.” They also state that “No Peace Corps staff person may retaliate in any manner against a V/T because the V/T reported an allegation or concern under this subsection.” It is unconscionable that it took the agency 50 years to adopt these policies. These statements are welcome, but they focus only on the most egregious conduct, put the onus on the Volunteers to act, and are likely to be utilized only when the conduct reaches a crisis point.
They do not establish a mechanism for the agency actively soliciting the views of the Volunteers on a confidential basis (e.g. annual 360 degree reviews where the Volunteers review the staff), do not focus on the professionalism and support of the staff (short of illegal conduct), do not mandate that the agency give substantial weight to these reviews in considering whether or not to extend the contracts of the staff, and do not focus on the views of the Volunteers regarding programs, training, and sites. In short, they are limited and are no substitute for establishing listening mechanisms that are routinely available in well managed companies and NGOs – as mandated by the provisions of the 2007 Dodd bill. If the Peace Corps is serious about listening to Volunteers, it will endorse these provisions and secure their enactment into law.
All of these problems would be more effectively addressed if the confidentiality of Volunteer whistle blowers was protected and they were protected against retaliation. Without these protections, Volunteers are reluctant to speak out and those who do are routinely ignored, harassed, or Administratively Separated . Recent developments make it clear that the Peace Corps opposition to empowering Volunteer whistle blowers continues and is implacable. 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 he did demand an assessment. In June of 2010, responding to the Dodd request, the Peace Corps issued its “comprehensive assessment.” 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. The adamant refusal of the Peace Corps even to assess protections for Volunteers like Kate Puzey shows the contempt of the Peace Corps to Volunteer whistle blowers. Even when the Chairman of the Peace Corps Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the only RPCV serving in the Senate, requests this assessment, the agency refuses to comply. Needless to say, NPCA has raised no objections to the failure of the Peace Corps to address this issue. Some may wonder why the Peace Corps and its sycophants are so opposed to empowering Volunteers. As Ludlam and Hirschoff explained in their testify in 2007
Section 201 (a) of the 2007 Dodd bill mandates that the Peace Corps consult with Volunteers confidentially before renewing or extending the contract of any manager…Peace Corps personnel should be judged primarily by how well they support Volunteers because Volunteers are the most valuable asset that the Peace Corps has…All of the bill's provisions mandate that the Peace Corps bureaucracy listen to, respect, and empower Volunteers. But only Section 201 (a) tells managers that their tenure depends on how well they do so. Because these reviews might seem to threaten their tenures, Peace Corps managers might not welcome Volunteer participation. Indeed, we believe that Section 201(a) is the provision that the Peace Corps is least likely to implement effectively on its own. That's why enacting this provision into law is so important.
So, the Peace Corps perceived the Dodd bill provisions as a threat to staff prerogatives and even their jobs. When it perceives such a threat, it’s response is predictable: the interests of the staff always trump the mission of the agency or the interests of the Volunteers. The iron law of bureaucracy prevails. Staff fear Volunteer whistle blowers, who are sure to comment on the miserable management of the agency and the high handed way in which they treat Volunteers. Empowering Volunteers cannot be tolerated.
Submission to Peace Corps Wiki of a letter from a former volunteer that tried to use the whistle blower procedure and was sent home.
Dear Ms. Buller:
On August 12, 2011 Peace Corps sent me home during my last week of Pre-Service Training (“PST”) in Kenya just three days after I filed a written request for protection under Peace Corps newly promulgated Whistle-blower rules. The underlying problem involved living in a rat-infested home-stay for eight weeks and my efforts to address it. But as challenging as the rats were, the real issue is the failure of Peace Corps and the Office of the Inspector General (“IG”) to protect me from retaliation despite my Whistle-blower status in contravention of its own long-held policies and new rules, and despite all the steps I took to follow them precisely and completely.
Attached are copies of emails between me and Jeffrey Reichert, Criminal Research Specialist at the IG, referencing my call on August 2 to describe the deteriorating rat situation and violations of Peace Corps policy and law, and to request Whistle-blower protection; my Memo dated August 8 to John Vreyens at the Country Director’s Office regarding the same; Mr. Vreyens August 9 Response; and photos evidencing the rat infestation. For your reference I’ve also included copies of a letter dated December 2, 2010 to Deputy Director of Peace Corps Carrie Hessler-Radelet and an email from the Kenyan Country Director Steve Wisecarver to me, dated May 10, both of which have a bearing on this matter.
I can also provide the rat-eaten clothing items are for review upon request.
As described below, my home-stay infestation was no ordinary “hardship,” even by Peace Corps/rural Africa standards. But when I voiced concerns about that and other violations of Peace Corps policy and law, including abuse of authority, mismanagement and misconduct, Peace Corps retaliated and failed to protect me as a whistle-blower. I took appropriate steps and followed Peace Corps protocol in alleging my concerns and allegations according to Peace Corps policy as set forth in IPS 1-09 and the new Whistle-blower protections rules promulgated in January 2011, MS 271. During my PST, I behaved reasonably and professionally, broke no Peace Corps or other rules, and received no warnings prior to the actions taken against me. But compliance with Corps policies and rules notwithstanding, I was sent home only four days prior to swearing in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
I. Background and Summary of Issues
The following supplements the information provided to Mr. Reichert on August 2, my Memo complaint of August 8, 2011, and other verbal and written accounts I have provided:
- 1. On June 12 I was placed in a Kenyan home-stay infested with rats. Initially I’d tried to resolve it quietly on my own and with my home-stay Mama. But she showed me her rat-eaten couch and responded, “they were here when you came in and they will be here after you leave,” and did nothing to resolve the problem or allay my concerns. I was hesitant to tell Peace Corps for fear that I would be labeled “difficult.” So I shared about it informally in language class, wrote about it in my journal, and confided in friends. But as the rat problem worsened I began bringing it to the attention of Peace Corps staff up the chain of command.
- 2. On June 30/31 my language instructor [ ], and I notified [Peace Corps local staffer] that the rats were keeping me up at night, making me sick, and appeared to be congregating in dusty papers on a shelf my Mama kept near my bed. [Peace Corps local staffer] had my Mama remove all the papers but took no other action to combat the rats.
- 3. On July 11 I spoke with [Peace Corps local staffer] about the rat problem again, as I’d now discovered the rats were eating my clothes. [Peace Corps local staffer] suggested placing all my belongings in closed, locked suitcases and laying rat poison around my bedroom while I was away in Taveta for training.
- 4. On July 12 before leaving for Taveta I called the Peace Corps Medical Office in Nairobi to report the rats had entered my bed while I was sleeping the night before and had shredded my pillowcase. I was concerned about being bitten and their progressive invasion of my bedroom.
I reported this to [Peace Corps local staffer], along with my disappointment about an argument my Mama and I had had that morning. Mama blamed me for having the papers removed and resented my discussions with Peace Corps about the rats, which she viewed as serious complaints about her. She also seemed threatened that my complaints would end her work with Peace Corps as a home-stay family and the additional income it provided. Later that day [Peace Corps local staffer] visited my home-stay to help lay rat poison throughout my bedroom.
That night in Taveta I also spoke with [Peace Corps local staffer]. I requested to be removed from my home-stay, particularly if the problem worsened. [Peace Corps local staffer] refused to consider moving me, but acknowledged the rat problem and promised to resolve it. He also asked me to repair my relationship with my Mama, and I tried my best to do so.
- 5. On July 22, the day after returning from Taveta, I spoke to John Vreyens, DPT, about the rat situation and its effects on my home-stay relationship. I told him both problems seemed better since I’d been gone, but I still felt frustrated about my Mama’s unresponsiveness and worried about the rats return. He suggested I just buy a nice gift for my Mama and apologize to her regarding the rats.
The rat problem, which had abated for a few days, soon worsened, with the rodents larger, more numerous, and now roaming freely, day and night, throughout the kitchen, living room, and my bedroom. Most nights I went to bed with my headlamp on, and when I slept, it was poorly.
- 6. On August 1 I notified the PCMO in Nairobi and [Peace Corps local staffer] that the rat situation had became intolerable and I insisted I be removed from the home. I also notified [Peace Corps local staffer] of SSC.
- 7. On August 2 Peace Corps staffers relocated me from my home-stay into a nearby guesthouse. On the way [Peace Corps local staffer] ridiculed my rat concerns, accused me of having “phobias”, and otherwise humiliated and embarrassed me in front of the others. He then privately threatened to send me home and otherwise intimidated me.
I informed [Peace Corps local staffer] that I would be filing a complaint with the Inspector General against him for retaliation, mismanagement, misconduct, abuse of his position, and other improper behavior, and requesting Whistle-blower protection from further retaliation. I asked him to text me the phone number and email address for the IG, which he did.
Later that day I called the IG’s office and filed a complaint of retaliation and request for Whistle-blower protection with Jeffrey Reichert, Criminal Specialist.
Mr. Reichert acknowledged my call in a three-sentence email of August 3, asking that I report retaliation.
- 8. On August 4 I emailed Mr. Reichert that I was writing up a complaint, and that there had been retaliation.
- 9. On August 6 I called Mr. Vreyens in Nairobi to advise him of the situation and said I would be sending him a Memo.
- 10. On August 8 I emailed Mr. Vreyens my Memo, which included a description of the situation and retaliation, and another request for whistle-blower protection.
- 11. On August 9 Mr. Vreyens hand-delivered his letter of response dated August 9.
- 12. On August 11, [Peace Corps local staffer] and Mr. Vreyens informed me of Peace Corps decision to send me home. They did not give me a reason nor provide any documentation. However I surmised it was payback for my complaints and Whistle-blower filing, as I had broken no rules, received no warnings, nor had any other issues. They gave me 15 minutes to pack and the choice of immediate resignation or administrative separation. (I chose “resignation” in part because I was feeling pressured, and they had said I would not be able to reapply to Peace Corps if I were administratively separated. But in fact, I was forced to resign in retaliation for filing my complaint and whistle-blower request, and I wrote this on my completion of service form. I now know the real reason they pressured me to “resign” was that I could not Appeal a “resignation.”)
I immediately called Mr. Reichert. He said he could do nothing. Later that day he sent a three-sentence email requesting any documentation I’d received on the separation decision. I had none to give.
That evening I also called the Regional Director, Dick Day, and we spoke for nearly an hour. He said he appreciated hearing my side of the story, that it sounded reasonable, and encouraged me to present my account of the matter to Mr. Wisecarver the next day. He also asked if I would consider staying on in Kenya as a volunteer - I answered “yes” – and that he would speak to Mr. Wisecarver on my behalf prior to my meeting with him.
- 13. On August 12 I met with Mr. Wisecarver (PCMO [ ] was also present). Mr. Wisecarver refused to believe anything I said and treated me as an outright liar. Notwithstanding my request for whistle-blower protection and request for further inquiry from the IG, he made it perfectly clear that nothing and no one could change his mind. (I do not know if Mr. Day ever spoke to Mr. Wisecarver prior our meeting).
That night Peace Corps sent me home to the U.S.
II. I Had A Right and Duty to Report Reasonable Concerns and Violations of Policy and Law Without Fear of Retaliation
The real issue here is not the underlying rat infestation - as great a threat as it was to my own and others health and safety - but Peace Corps fundamental failure to follow its own rules and abide by the protections provided to Trainees and Volunteers who report violations of law and policy. But given the Country Director’s flat-out refusal to believe my account of the rat infestation (or any of my other allegations), the risk that such improper behavior poses for the health and safety of other Trainees and Volunteers, and the importance of the details as setting the stage for this monumental failure of law and policy, it bears repeating here:
Everyone acknowledged the rat problem. It was the dry season, there was a terrible drought, and everyone in the community grew, ate, and/or stored maize/corn, the single biggest staple - and draw - for rats in that region. Loitokitok residents experienced the problem in the community; Peace Corps volunteers (i.e.[ ]) and Staff (i.e. [ ]) experienced the problem at their sites and in their homes; and other Trainees (i.e. [ ] ] serving with me experienced the problem in their home-stays.
My home-stay compound included a sizeable corn/maize garden and a garbage dump. The two homes on premises - my home-stay and a rental unit my home-stay mama rented to her neighbor, Margaret – were already rat-infested the day I moved in. Yet remarkably there were no cats, rat poison, traps, or other deterrents in my home-stay to eradicate the rodents.
The health and safety consequences of rats and exposure for long periods of time to them and their feces, diseases, and toxins/poisons are many. The rats ate my clothing and bedding and invaded my bedroom and bed; rat feces, hair, and poison contaminated my books, food, and other personal property. The rats kept me up at night, gave me nightmares, and made me anxious and sick throughout the nearly eight weeks I was forced to live with them. (See also my August 8 memo).
A. I Followed Peace Corps Policy on Reporting Legitimate Concerns and Allegation Regarding Violations.
Peace Corps has strict policies on reporting concerns and allegations of violations of policy and law. IPS 1-09, Handling of Volunteer/Trainee Allegations, Section 2.1, Policies, reads “Volunteers/Trainees (V/Ts) must be informed that they should report to the Inspector General (OIG) any activity which they reasonably believe constitutes a violation of federal law, rule, or regulation; mismanagement; serious misconduct; gross waste of funds; abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to the public health and safety relating to the programs and operations of the Peace Corps.” (Emphasis added).
MS 271, Handling of Volunteer/Trainee Allegations, Section 3.0 Policies, sub-section (a) provides “Volunteers/Trainees (V/Ts) must be informed of their rights and Peace Corps expectations with respect to bringing to the attention of Peace Corps allegations of misconduct, mismanagement, violations of law or policy that relate to Peace Corps staff, contractors, programs, and operations. Section 4.0, Inspector General, provides “With respect to the rights and Peace Corps expectations referred to in Section 3 (a) above, V/Ts must be informed that they should report to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) any activity which they reasonably believe constitutes (1) a violation of federal law, rule, or regulation; (2) mismanagement; (3) serious misconduct; (4) gross waste of funds; (5) abuse of authority; or (6) a substantial and specific danger to the public health and safety relating to the programs and operations of the Peace Corps.” (Emphasis added).
1. Peace Corps had a duty to advise me of my rights.
Peace Corps had an immediate duty to advise me of my right to voice concerns over matters which I reasonably believed posed a danger to my own health and safety as well as the health and safety of then-current and future Trainees. Yet Peace Corps did not inform us until the end of PST, almost two months after training started, in Week Eight of PST. Peace Corps failure notwithstanding, I took it upon myself to notify Peace Corps of my concerns, as described below.
The purpose of such rules is to give Trainees/Volunteers the right and freedom to voice concerns without fear of pushback and reprisal. Had I been apprised of these rights earlier I might have put those concerns in writing and approached staff at higher levels much sooner. Instead I tried to “stay under the radar” so I wouldn’t been seen by Peace Corps staff as “difficult” and risk alienating Peace Corps so early in my 10 week PST. (See my letter, attached, dated December 2, 2010 to Carrie Hessler-Radelet which describes that even my “most reasonable and legitimate questions” posed during the long application process were met with “non-responsiveness,” “severe pushback” and other “negative implications” by Peace Corps staff at Headquarters.) Also, as further described below, I had legitimate reasons for believing that the Country Director, Mr. Wisecarver, had already put me on his radar and might have intentionally placed me in an untenable situation – i.e., a rat infested home – as an excuse to send me home.
2. I had a right – and a duty – to report my concerns and allegations.
Given Peace Corps own failure to inform me of my rights to voice concerns, it cannot now suggest that I did not provide timely notice of the rats. But more importantly Peace Corps is just wrong. In fact I shared my concerns about my home-stay rat problem with my Kiswahili teacher, [ ] and my Trainee-classmates during the mandated “Home-family Debriefing” portion of language class almost from the start. Then two weeks after moving in I informed Peace Corps Local Staff ( [ ] ) and, as the problem worsened I gradually notified Peace Corps at higher levels and with greater urgency, including July 11 and 12 ([ ]; [ ] PCMO) and July 22nd (John Vreyens, DPT). Then on August 2 after confronting [Peace Corps local staffer] about his retaliatory behavior and remarks I immediately contacted the IG to report the situation, and also the Country Director’s office on August 8.
3. I followed Peace Corps protocol completely and appropriately
ISP 1-09, Section 2.2. (a) states that “V/Ts may also report such allegations to senior staff at post or to the appropriate Regional Director. Section 5.0 subsection (a) of MS 271 states that “V/Ts may report allegations and concerns referred to in Section 3.0 to senior staff at post, the appropriate Regional Director, Associate Director for Safety and Security, Associate Director for Global Operations, or other appropriate officer at Headquarters.”
With the exception of the Director of Global Operations, I notified Peace Corps staff at all of these levels and over the course of almost seven weeks.
B. Peace Corps Failed to Ensure my Safety and to Protect Me From Retaliation and Provide Whistle-blower Protection
1. Peace Corps had an affirmative duty to keep me safe in my home-stay and throughout PST.
MS 271 section 5.0 section (c) states that “Based upon the nature of the allegations or concerns and the totality of available facts, appropriate measures must be taken to ensure the V/T’s safety. If there is any uncertainty, it is critical that managers err on the side of caution and take every measure to ensure V/T safety.” And 1-09, Section 2.2 (e) states (e), “Based upon the nature of the allegations and totality of available facts, appropriate measures must be taken to ensure the V/T’s safety.” (Emphasis added).
Peace Corps had a responsibility from the outset to make sure that that my home-stay home did not pose a significant risk to my own or others health and safety. As noted previously, the rats had already infested both properties on the compound and had destroyed the couch in my home-stay living room when I moved in. Also there is evidence that this home had problems in the past and that Peace Corps placed me there anyway. Also as noted Peace Corps had a duty to advise me of my right to report any such health and safety concerns, as well as the other allegations I’d eventually raised (i.e., mismanagement, misconduct, abuse of authority) but didn’t until the end of PST.
Even if Peace Corps staffers weren’t aware of the situation before I moved in, when I brought it to their attention right after I moved in they failed to take appropriate measures to address them. For example, staff removed dusty papers where the rats congregated but failed to address the rats themselves, either through the laying of traps, poison, asking my Mama to get cats, or paying for an exterminator. (Then, having bluntly demanded that my Mama remove her papers from the shelf in my bedroom the morning was she leaving to visit her sick mother, Peace Corps created a hostile home-stay environment and contributed to an increasingly difficult relationship with my Mama.) By the time Peace Corps staff did lay poison, a month after I’d first notified them, the problem had worsened dramatically. When I finally insisted that I be removed from the home, they humiliated, slandered, threatened to send me home, and then did send me home.
Even if 271 section 5.0 doesn’t, or wasn’t meant to apply to my rat infestation problem, it clearly does apply to the retaliation I faced after I complained about it.
2. Once I reported allegations of wrongdoing Peace Corps failed to keep me safe from further violations and protect me from retaliation
As noted at the outset, the real issue here is not the rats, my relationship problems with my Mama, or timely notification. It is the violation of my rights as a Trainee to be free from retaliation after making my allegations, and Peace Corps’ failure to prevent such retaliation and ensure my safety from harassment/humiliation, slander, and other violations.
Both 1-09 Section 2.2 subsection (c) and MS 271 Section 5.0 sub-section (c) state that “No Peace Corp staff person may retaliate in any manner against a V/T because the V/T reported an allegation [or concern] under this subsection.”
Also, MS 271 Section 3.0 Policies sub-section (c) provides “V/Ts must be provided open access and appropriate channels in which to raise the types of allegations and concerns referred to in subsections (a) and (b) above, with an understanding and commitment that their allegations and concerns will be given appropriate attention; that no V/T will be retaliated against by Peace Corps staff for bringing forth allegations and concerns; and that management will take every step necessary to ensure the safety of any V/T.
Peace Corps retaliated on two levels. The first occurred when I voiced concerns about the rats; [Peace Corps local staffer] and [Peace Corps local staffer] retaliated by ignoring and minimizing my concerns, blaming me, and failing to resolve the problem. Then after I requested to be removed from the home [Peace Corps local staffer] slandered and humiliated me, then threatened to send me home (violations of mismanagement, misconduct, and abuse of authority, slander, and other violations of policy and law). The second level occurred three days after I complained about [Peace Corps local staffer] and [Peace Corps local staffer] treatment and behavior in writing and requested whistle blower protection (the second such request). To this Peace Corps responded by making me out to be a liar and summarily sending me home. And it did so just three days after I sent my memo, without giving me any warning, documentation or any other avenue or “channel” to be heard.
Peace Corps also retaliated against me through threats to those who helped and supported me. As previously stated, Peace Corps threatened my language trainer, [ ], with job termination if she continued to speak to me about previous rat problems in my home, prior complaints by previous Trainees in the same home, and/or other rat problems other current Trainees were having, all of which supported my claims and provided corroborative evidence on my behalf. Also, Peace Corps’ threats to [ ] created a chilling effect on anyone wishing to come forward with supporting or other information and allegations of mismanagement, misconduct, and abuse of funds. (And there is also reason to believe that Peace tried to silence any support I received from other Trainees, through threats of being sent home or otherwise disciplined).
As such, Peace Corps intentionally and malevolently deprived me of an essential mechanism for dealing with the general challenges and hardships presented by PST – talking to other Trainees – and made a mockery of its own teachings. Of course Peace Corps had much to lose: information that previous Trainees in the same home-stay had had similar problems and that Peace Corps placed me there anyway smacks of a “set-up.”
3. Peace Corps sent me home because I complained and was deemed a “trouble-maker.”
I had had no discipline issues, broken no rules, nor received any warnings during PST. I was well respected by the language trainers (Nina and Sam) SED instructors (Louis and Emmanuel), and I had no issues or problems with Peace Corps staff or volunteers other than those related to the rat problem and my complaints of retaliation. I conducted myself in accordance with Volunteer Conduct rules.
Clearly I felt overwhelming frustration with the rats, my Mama’s unresponsiveness and resentment towards me, and Peace Corps failure to take what I believed were prompt and adequate steps to resolve the situation. And though Mr. Wisecarver tried to paint me as lacking cultural sensitivity, I acted as professionally, reasonably, and with as much cultural sensitivity as was humanly possible under immensely challenging circumstances. I would not change anything about how I handled or responded, the actions I took, or how I behaved during my entire PST. So Mr. Wisecarver is full of hogwash.
Note that the two invitees sent home with me - a young woman accused of sleeping with Kenyan locals and riding on a motorcycle and a man accused of proposing marriage to dozens of local women – did brake Peace Corps rules. They had been previously warned that their behavior posed risks to their own and other’s safety. Other Invitees with me had also broken Peace Corps rules, including Josh, whose own home-stay had a rat problem, though of a much smaller magnitude.
In his response Mr. Vreyens stated that Peace Corps is reluctant to move Trainees out of home-stays. However, other Trainees and volunteers had reported having rats and other problems with their home-stay families, and had been relocated as well. For example, Volunteer [ ] was moved from her site to another the day after she complained of rats, and other invitees in my group who’d also complained of rats and other home-stay problems were relocated to another hotel (Kivo Slopes) around the same time as I. Moreover, other Trainees who’d had relationship problems with their home-stay families were also relocated. For example, [another Peace Corps Trainee] was re-located the same day and to the same guesthouse as I because she’d had frequent fights with her Mama and other relationship problems with her home-stay family.
But none of these Trainees and Volunteers had lodged complaints, filed for Whistle-Blower protection, or made allegations sufficient to draw Peace Corps ire. Unlike me, none apparently were on Mr. Wisecarver’s radar.
The hesitancy to re-locate Trainees aside, Peace Corps also has an overriding duty to keep them safe. When Director Williams presented testimony before Congress earlier this year he stated that Peace Corps had plenty of places to house volunteers and can easily re-locate them to protect their health and safety. Apparently that doesn’t apply to Whistle-blowers like me. And it is clear that out of dozens of volunteers and Trainees who encountered rat and other home-stay and family relationship problems, I was singled out and accused of being “culturally insensitive” and having “phobias.”
4. Peace Corps had a duty to review and resolve my concerns and allegations; It did not.
MS 271, 5.0 HANDLING ALLEGATIONS AND CONCERNS, sub-section (e) provides that “All allegations or concerns identified by V/Ts will be given serious consideration and review and will be handled, resolved or disposed of, as appropriate, by management and/or the OIG.”
Peace Corps Medical Officers’ one brief, pre-announced visit to my home-stay during almost 10 weeks of PST and Mr. Vreyens response surely fall short of the above requirement of “serious consideration and review.” So did my meeting with Mr. Wisecarver the day he sent me home.
That meeting should have been the opportunity for the Kenyan Country Director to get to the bottom of the matter, hear my side, and only then, with facts in hand, make a decision on my fate. In fact it was merely a charade. As any recording Peace Corps took of this meeting would indicate, Mr. Wisecarver had no intention of giving me a chance: my ticket home had already been booked and Peace Corps staff had sought to close out bank accounts and finalize all departure matters even before meeting with Mr. Wisecarver, and this despite Mr. Day’s assurance that he would speak to Mr. Wisecarver on my behalf.
My dealings with the IG’s office have proved no better. Mr. Reichert’s few three-sentence emails cannot reasonably suffice as meeting Peace Corps’ review requirement. Indeed, at the time I called him to report Peace Corps’ precipitous termination of my training, Mr. Reichert hadn’t even received any documentation - not my August 8 Memo, Mr. Vreyens August 9 response, or anything. In fact, he asked me to provide them to him in Washington, notwithstanding I was in Kenya with no access to the internet and about to board a plane home. But most disturbing is the lack of investigation and oversight given this in the six weeks since I left. From the Office of Inspector General, whose mandate is to investigate such matters, I have received only one email asking to see photos. Even after sending them as attachments in three different emails on September 5, I’ve not received a single response of receipt or acknowledgement for those, nor my latest email dated September 21.
If Peace Corps cared to investigate, I could present ample evidence supporting my allegations, including, but not limited to journal entry excerpts from at least 16 different days throughout my PST about this matter on June 19 and 22; July 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 11, 15, 16, 21, 27, 28, and 29; and August 5. These entries should be well received by Peace Corps, as its Medical Officers [ ] and [ ] repeatedly emphasized keeping a journal as a mechanism for dealing with stress and as a reliable source of information.
I could provide emails to and from friends and associates regarding the matter, nearly 15 in total. I could also provide names, dates, and contexts of discussions I’ve had with other Trainees, volunteers, and language instructors (including Volunteers [ ] and Peer and Diversity Support Volunteers [ ] and [ ]; trainees [ ], [ ], [ ], [ ], [ ], [ ] and others, and language instructors [ ] and [ ]) all of which would corroborate my account of the extent of the rat infestation and concerns about Peace Corps staffers’ retaliatory response.
And I could provide several pairs of rat-eaten underwear. Here it is important to note that Mr. Wisecarver initially demanded to see this evidence, apparently betting that they were no longer available and he could “call my bluff.” He was wrong. In fact I’ve retained several pairs of rat-eaten underwear. When I offered during the meeting to produce them, he quickly changed the subject.
The detailed accounts I’ve provided and the amount of corroborating evidence I have to support them begs the question, why I would lie? But denying the entire matter makes Peace Corps’ job easier. That way they don’t have to investigate or review corroborating evidence. Because if it did it might find evidence of abuse of funds and further mismanagement, particularly as it relates to the Kenyan Home-stay Program. It was commonly known among Trainees, language instructors, and staff, for example, that the [Peace Corps local staffer] was having trouble finding sufficient appropriate home-stays for the high number – 52, almost twice as many as previously – Trainees in my group, particularly with the poor Kenyan economy and drought conditions. [Peace Corps local staffer] had to beg, borrow and steal to find appropriate home-stays. [Peace Corps local staffer], [Peace Corps local staffer] and other Peace Corps staff at the local and Country Office level had every interest to downplay my problems at my home-stay, shut me up, and get me out of the country. Or as [ ], my language instruction said, “Stay quiet and just deal with it,” (meaning the rats), or risk repercussions for her, and for me.
A month before leaving for Kenya I was startled to receive an email from Mr. Wisecarver, whom I’d never met or had had any dealings or contact with before. The subject line read, “Anywhere But Africa: A Journey with the Peace Corps”, the title of an article I had written which was published in a small local online newspaper. It seemed odd to be getting a personal email from the Director of a program I hadn’t even started training for yet, particularly when he was in Kenya, and the article was published locally. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll try to keep the tick fever and cholera at bay….” Though I tried to sound positive in the email I sent him in response, I couldn’t help feeling like his communication was a veiled warning: that he wasn’t happy with me, was watching me, and once I was under his control in Kenya, he was going to get rid of me during training.
I was right. He raised the article again in my first meeting with him in Kenya during PST, and in our last, just hours before he sent me home. His parting words were, “But Karen, anywhere but Africa? – an obvious snarky wink to my article and his May 10 email warning. (As a Trainee, Mr. Wisecarver could cut me loose for no reason, whereas under Peace Corps policy if I were a Volunteer he would have needed reasonable grounds. But even Peace Corps policy doesn’t allow him to retaliate against me as a Trainee, nor to send me home for improper reasons.)
From this episode, and everything presented above, it is hard to draw a conclusion other than that Peace Corps’ own policies and rules, even those recently promulgated to address matters like mine – the new Whistle-Blower protection Rules – are fundamentally flawed. Its procedures for reporting health and safety concerns and violations of policy and law are just a sham. There is no accountability. Even more insidious, Peace Corps’ new Whistle-blower protection rules work only to perpetuate a blame-the-victim culture of retaliation and self-preservation at all costs.
Please let me know if you would like to see any additional evidence or can answer any further questions.
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Congressional testimony by NPCA and Peace Corps Director and others. Whistle blower protections were generally not discussed.