A review of Thomas M. Hill’s article, Peace Corps: A lot of bucks for very little bang?
Is Mr. Hill’s article the opening salvo in an attempt to discredit, diminish and perhaps even ultimately destroy Peace Corps? Or is the article just a simple reflection of former Foreign Service Officer Hill’s disdainful dissatisfaction with the Peace Corps? I don’t know.
What I do know is that discussion and analysis about improving Peace Corps or any organization is always necessary and should be encouraged. What I also know is such analysis must be rooted in evidence. Opinion should be labeled and not paraded as fact. Assumptions need to be questioned. As we go about such a task, we should be mindful there are about 7000 serving Volunteers doing difficult work in an increasingly unstable world and their service must be respected,
I intend to cite the public record to challenge some of the statements Mr. Hill has made. Mr. Hill knows Peace Corps World Wide because he references Marian Haley Beil’s excellent bibliography of RPCV Books about the Peace Corps experience. He is invited to return and critique this article, as is everyone.
“Unfortunately, Congress has not held the Peace Corps accountable to its development mission, allowing the agency to operate in a non-competitive environment and implement programs independently of what other development organizations might be also be doing in the same country or with the same goals and objectives.”
The public record says otherwise. In 2009, Congress directed Peace Corps to do a comprehensive agency assessment and report back to Congress. The result was: The Peace Corps: A Comprehensive Agency Assessment. It was delivered to Congress in June of 2010. http://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/opengov/PC_Comprehensive_Agency_Assessment.pdf Congress accepted the report and Peace Corps Directors have implemented the strategies. files.peacecorps.gov/manuals/cbj/2013.pdf
This section of the Agency Assessment describes coordinating policies contrary to Hill’s assertion that Peace Corps operates independently of other development agencies: IX. COORDINATING WITH INTERNATIONAL AND HOST COUNTRY DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATIONS.. pages 155-169
Today, some of those efforts include: participation in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and other global health efforts, including the Global Health Service Partnership, Ebola prevention, Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths, and the Saving Mothers, Giving Life program. https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/documents/open-government/peacecorps_cbj_2018.pd
Mr. Hill implies that Peace Corps doesn’t consult with Congress. Here is what the record states:
“ In September 2012, the agency conducted outreach to the appropriate congressional committees based on the FY 200 9–– 20 14 Strategic Plan.. In October 2013, the draft FY 2014 – 20 18 Strategic Plan was sent to the Peace Corps’’ authorizing, oversight, and appropriations committees for their review and comments. The agency engages in ongoing discussions with congressional off ices on issues of policy and budget importance and takes the views of Congress into consideration in its strategic planning.” https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/documents/open-government/peacecorps_cbj_2018.pdf
There is more to review. For example, Mr. Hill complains about ”the agency’s insistence that it operates independently.” Peace Corps is a federal agency and can’t insist on anything. Executive authority and Legislative mandates govern it. In 1961, President Kennedy’s Task Force established the independence of the Peace Corps and Congress concurred when it passed the Peace Corps Act of 1961. President Nixon wanted all volunteer agencies combined under one umbrella agency, ACTION. Congress concurred despite first Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver’s strong objections. Peace Corps became ACTION’s unit of “overseas operations”, losing its independence and almost its identity. It was President Reagan with the encouragement of Peace Corps Director Ruppe, who signed the law reestablishing the independence of Peace Corps. Neither Ruppe nor Reagan were Peace Corps alumni.
Mr. Hill goes on to state that Peace Corps ignored President Trump’s Executive Order to “submit a plan to reorganize the agency, if appropriate…”. This is a very serious allegation and I don’t think it is true.
“ In response to President Trump’s executive orders, Acting Peace Corps Director Shelia Crowley announced a 20 % staff reduction.”
Speculation as to where Mr. Hill gets his information only increased as I tried to track down this statement:
“According to Current Population Survey data from 2014,Peace Corps volunteers make up only slightly more than 10 percent of the total number of U.S. citizens engaged in international volunteer programs lasting longer than 26 weeks”.
The link that Mr. Hill thoughtfully provided brings one to the home page of the Census Bureau and the Department of Labor surveys. There I found 10 pages with titles for 200 reports from 20 years or so, none that seemed to address Mr. Hill’s information. I gave up and called the Census Bureau. I was referred to a statistician who was very helpful and tried to find the data supporting Mr. Will’s claim. He could not find the exact data, but did find a questionnaire from September 2014 that did ask various questions about volunteering, but had no tabulations. Mr. Hill is asked to share either his work or a more specific link to his data.
Here is what the Census Bureau emailed to me:
“Here is the document we discussed: https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/techdocs/cpssep14.pdf . The volunteer questions begin on Page 8-1. I think the organization question is item S4A “ and “For reference, this documentation comes form the “Complete Technical Documentation” page (https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/technical-documentation/complete.2014.html) on the Current Population Survey website.”
Finally, Mr. Hill suggests that Peace Corps really doesn’t need federal funding. It can just ask its alumni, like Chris Matthews, Paul Theroux, and Reed Hastings, to chip in $400 million annually to fund the Peace Corps. That is like asking members of the American Legion to buy an US Army Division or the Veterans of Foreign Wars to come up with the money for an US Navy Battleship.
It shouldn’t be a problem, according to Mr. Hill, after all Peace Corps in 2016 raised some three million dollars. Mr. Hill may not realize that unlike foreign aid programs, Peace Corps’ budget does not include any money for projects. That small amount of donations goes to support grass root efforts of Peace Corps Volunteers and their communities. Mr. Hill should take the solemn scroll through the list of contributions to the Peace Corps fund, many of which honor Volunteers who have died. https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/fund/global/
Finally, Mr. Hill complains about the “clout” of Peace Corps alumni have with Congress. That “clout” represents 55 years of the service of over 200,000 Peace Corps Volunteers who come from every state and represent every political party affiliation, every race, ethnic background, religion and gender. Mr. Hill, “clout” like that can’t be bought, it has to be earned.