RPCVs had the opportunity to meet and greet the Peace Corps Director at the Denver University reception, on Tuesday, January 24th.  As the crowd gathered, Williams agreed to talk about Peace Corps Response. I introduced myself as a blogger on John Coyne’s Peace Corps Worldwide, with some questions.

Williams said, “Fine, I know John Coyne, everybody knows John Coyne.”

Then, all I had to say was  “Peace Corps Response,” and Williams launched into a speech about the John Coyne posting last Saturday, January 21st, describing the policy change allowing non- RPCVs to be members of Peace Corps Response Teams. First, Williams wanted to know why the issue of the CIA was even raised. He said that the standard policy about prohibiting those who had worked for intelligence agencies was in effect for non-RPCVs applying for the Response Team.

I told him I could not find that on the website.  He said they would change the website to highlight the traditional restrictions. He turned to someone next to him and said, “Write that down. Change the website.”

Next, Williams said that the controversy over non-RPCVs on Peace Corps Response was a ”tempest in a teapot.” He explained it was an experiment because Peace Corps was getting more requests for highly trained personnel than could be filled from the ranks of RPCVs. He said the “bar would be raised very high” for non-RPCVs.  He gave the example of a university, perhaps in Middle East, that needed a highly skilled anthropologist to work with some very valuable tapestry, on a short-term basis.

“But,” I said, “A quick review of the positions being advertised on the Peace Corps Response website as Open to All did not appear to require highly specialized or unique skills.”
Williams said he would check the website.

My next question was about Peace Corps employment. I prefaced it with  ”I know that you all are reviewing the Five Year Rule.”

Williams corrected me, immediately, and said, “We are not. The IG (Inspector General) is.”

I asked if he would be supportive of legislation reserving a high percentage of Peace Corps jobs for RPCVs. He said he hadn’t thought about that. He did say that the Equal Opportunity Rules could restrict such a proposal. Williams pointed out that recently returning RPCVs could use the non-compete eligibility rule to secure Peace Corps jobs.

This was the very first time I had ever spoken with a Peace Corps Director.  Williams was attentive, candid, and responsive. I had many more questions, but there was a crowd waiting to speak with him, so I thanked him and relinquished my spot. I believe that I have quoted the Director correctly. We know he reads Peace Corps Worldwide, so if I didn’t get it quite right, I think we might expect a correction!

In our conversation, Williams had noted my nametag with my Country of Service. He asked me about Colombia and my time there. He listened to me. He asked those same questions to each RPCV as he moved through the crowd and listened attentively to each response. He seemed to be particularly interested in the RPCVs who had recently returned.

The reception was to meet the Director. It was also for seeing old friends and doing the RPCV version of Speed Dating: Check the nametag and Country of Service; “When were you there?” What did you do?” “Did you know?” “Have you been back?” and now, more frequently, “Have you written anything?” The RPCV community is rapidly becoming a literary one.

Jane Albritton, Editor of the series, Peace Corps at 50 was there.  As were contributorsPhilippine RPCV Arleen Lipman and Bruce McDonald of Bulgaria. The RPCVCO book club will be reading The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengeshu.  Of course, there was an RPCV from Ethiopia who had met the author and had much to share.

I heard laugher coming from the groups surrounding Director Williams.  I knew that the meet and greet time was over and the best part, storytelling, had begun.  All in all, it was a good night for the Peace Corps.