There is a piece today-June 2-in the LA TIMES on the Peace Corps. It was written by Chris Kraul, a special correspondent, who is in Sana Fe, Panama. The piece focuses on the new PCVs to Panama, but talks about President Obama’s commencement address at Arizona State University last month where he said the Peace Corps was an American institution that shows “our commitment to working with other nations to pursue the ideals of opportunity, equality and freedom that have made us who we are.” 

At the Peace Corps they are talking about the “Obama effect” and how the Internet requests for “starter applications,” is up 40% from last year. Requests are running around 25,000. That is on top of a 16% increase in completed applications submitted in 2008. (Was that due to the “I Hate Bush And Want Out Of  The Country Effect?”) By the way, requests from people 50 and over is up to 7%, (from 4%).

Kraul writes, “Even as some government programs are being scaled back because of the global financial crisis, the Peace Corps’ budget is getting a boost from Obama. If Congress approves the proposed 9% increase in the agency’s 2010 budget, the number of Peace Corps volunteers, now at 7,876, is expected to rise.

Then Acting Director, and Bush-Hold-Over, Jody Olsen, who, it seems, has had only one job in her long life, the Peace Corps, says, “We are just skyrocketing in applications.” She go onto selling out her mentor George Bush by saying, “Obama represents what Americans really want to be asked to do. We want to hear how important service is, whether it is domestic or international.” 

However, all this happy talk isn’t reflected in the budget numbers given out by the Obama White House. A 9% raise in revenue for next year will easily be consumed by cost-of-living expenses and the increasingly high cost that is paid for security for PCVs and Staff in the field.

I’ve noticed that the MorePeaceCorpsCampaign has moved away from its slogan of doubling the size of the agency to a new effort, one which embraces the Transition Team’s prose of wanting “to reform the Peace Corps.”

Kraul sums up in his LA TIMES piece, “These are good times for the Peace Corps, which was founded by President Kennedy in 1961. It has had its ups and downs, peaking at 15,000 volunteers in 1966 and hitting a low of fewer than 5,000 in 1982.”

The truth is that the Peace Corps hit 15,000 in 1966 because it was a clear alternative to Vietnam. Johnson was president and Jack Vaughn Peace Corps Director–a  Democrat and a Republican–both believed in the agency and Peace Corps Volunteers.

In 1982, when fewer than 5,000 Peace Corps Volunteers were overseas,  Ronald Reagan was president and the late Loret Miller Ruppe was in the middle of her record holding tenure as Peace Corps Director. And in 1966, Republican Jody Olsen was beginning her long career at the agency as a PCV in Tunisia. Jody is now old enough to qualify, in this “Age of Obama,” at one of those Senior Citizen PCVs.  

I wonder if anyone has sent Jody a “starter application”?