Fifty Years Ago Today, Sunday, December 11, 2011

Today I find myself reminiscing about this day fifty years ago, when I was serving as the first full-time cultural anthropologist in Peace Corps/ Washington.  I had begun my consulting role the previous June, at the request of various officials of the then-fledgling organization.  Since I was a Thailand specialist, my original assignment was to help plan the training program for Thailand One.  Pretty soon, however, “mission creep” set in, and I was working on other assignments as well — notably for the Talent Search, to find linguistically, culturally, and otherwise qualified people to serve overseas as ” Peace Corps Representatives,” or “Reps.”

By December, 1961, after six months of the most frenetic work imaginable, it had become clear to me that I ought to plan to leave soon, and return to academic life.  (I had a nice grant waiting to be used, and a post-doc appointment at Harvard.)  So, the following month, after the graduation ceremony for Thailand One at the University of Michigan, I did leave.

By December 11, it was also clear to me that there was both a pressing need, and an enticing window of opportunity, to facilitate the creation of a very different kind of personnel system for the Peace Corps, than what one usually finds in a government agency.  I called my vision the “In-Up-Out” principle, and embodied it in a two-page memo that I sent to one of my bosses, the late Franklin H. Williams, Chair of the Talent Search Panel, with the hope that Frank would forward it to Sargent Shriver, which he did.  “Sarge” was the founding Director of this bold new organization, and he made all of the important decisions.  I am happy to report that he liked the In-Up-Out idea, and in due course pushed to see that it was adopted.

Long story short, within four years the In-Up-Out principle was embodied into the Peace Corps Law.  Amazingly enough, it remains in force today.  There is not much doubt that this principle (even though tweaked and administered in ways that I consider imperfect) has had the effect of ensuring that the Peace Corps was not only born young, but has stayed young.

December 11, 1961

To:              Franklin H. Williams, Chairman
                   Talent Search Panel

From:         Robert B. Textor, PDO/FE

Subject:     A Plan to Keep the Peace Corps Permanently Young,
                  Creative, and Dynamic

1. Recommendations for Immediate Implementation:
          a. Recommend that each new appointee to an overseas Representative job be told that Peace Corps is not a life-long career; that he will have to move on after a few years, to make room for a deserving PCV alumnus.
          b. Recommend [members of the Planning and Evaluation staff] be asked to keep their eyes open on field trips for promising qualified PCVs who might be promoted to Associate, Deputy, or Representative jobs, where needed, even before they have completed their full two-year hitches.

2. Recommendations for Implementation During 1962:
          a. Recommend that PC seek amendment to the Peace Corps Law to provide that PC may set up its own autonomous personnel system. As justification, it could be pointed out that PC, like the State Department, has peculiar needs and functions, and therefore should be independent of the Civil Service Commission.
          b. Recommend that the new autonomous PC Personnel system provide that:
                    (1) Almost all substantive jobs in PC should be filled, as soon as possible, by qualified PCV alumni. A “substantive” job is a job-high or low-which influences the shape and gusto of PC programs, e.g., officers in Recruitment, Selection, Training, and PDO, including overseas Representatives.
                    (2) PCV alumni, and all other staff employees, should follow the principle of “in-up-out”. The law should set a maximum number of years -perhaps eight years-after which all staffers are required to leave and find jobs elsewhere.

3. Advantages of this Plan:
          a. Excellence: Only the “cream-of-the-cream” of PCV alumni would be chosen for staff jobs.
          b. Sound Programs: Programs would be planned by ex-PCVs who have fresh valid field experience, who know field conditions intimately. Impetuous, impractical, and unsound projects would thereby be avoided.
          c. Effective Field Operations: Our PCRs would really know the language, customs, politics, family systems, economics, etc., of the host country, having learned all this as PCVs. PCRs’ orders would be sound, because the men giving the orders would already have been through the experience of having taken orders.
          d. High Morale: A Volunteer would know that he has a chance for a later staff position if he performs well, shows leadership, and truly masters the language and customs of the host country.
          e. Elimination of Inappropriate Applicants: This plan would discourage applicants who might be looking for a cushy life-long berth where promotion depends on seniority rather than dynamic creativity.
          f. Facilitation of Careers: Because of the eight-year limitation, there would always be “room at the top” for deserving staffers. PCV alumni could therefore move up rapidly.
          g. Impact on Foreign Policy: The “in-up-out” principle would result in immense benefit to American foreign policy. Young ex-staffers would move rapidly into jobs in State and AID, in foundations and universities, etc. And they would move in at high levels of responsibility, because they would already have worked at high levels of responsibility in PC. Thus we would reduce by many years the time it would otherwise take to make our impact felt at policy levels within key organizations connected with U.S. foreign policy.
          h. Youthfulness: Above all, this plan would make PC the first organization in U.S. administrative history that was not only born young, but stayed young!

For complete details, see: http://www.stanford.edu/~rbtextor/Cultural_Frontiers_of_the_Peace_Corps.pdf
and http://www.stanford.edu/~rbtextor/History_of_In_Up_Out_Policy.pdf.