Another Book Beating Up on the Peace Corps (But just the Recent Directors & of course, the Agency's Lawyers)

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Peace Corps: The Icon and the Reality is a 54 page ebook that you can get free off of Amazon. It was published in 2014. Take a look. Here is the copy of text from the Amazon page on what the book is about. Basically it looks at recent (since about 2000) changes at the agency and the deaths within the corps of PCVs. It is not kind to the Peace Corps administrations, at least not kind to former PCVs who became Peace Corps Directors, i.e. Aaron Williams (DR 1967-70), Ron Tschetter (India 1966-68). Mark Schneider (El Salvador 1966-68) comes off better, but, of course, Gaddi Vasquez (not a PCV) get beat up as usual.

Here’s what the flap copy says:

The body of literature critical of the Peace Corps is disturbing. The first real criticism of the Peace Corps in mainstream media came from the Dayton Daily News in 2003. This seven-part series of articles revealed a frightening negative trend in Peace Corps behavior toward crime victims and Volunteers who get ill during service. Lack of support, according to one Volunteer, caused her to lose her right eye. Murders were kept quiet. Victims were blamed and ostracized. Agency mismanagement was repeatedly implicated. The series revealed conscious misrepresentation and manipulation of data. It would be one of many times the Peace Corps would stonewall and resist acquisition of its documentation through the Freedom of Information Act.

Following a year behind the 2002 GAO Report citing safety concerns for Volunteers, this type of criticism had the agency touting its prioritization of safety and security for years afterward. Indeed, structural changes were made to enhance the safety and security of the Volunteers, but this did not stop the agency from trying to downplay and even manipulate statistics regarding the safety concerns. Manipulation of statistics was not new to the Peace Corps, and it has not changed to this day.

The Early Termination Rate, for example, appears to be the bane of the agency’s existence. It has been trying to obfuscate and misrepresent this number for at least the past decade. This number is the percent of Volunteers who do not complete their full service term, for one of four reasons: administrative separation (when a Volunteer gets “fired”), medical separation due to illness, resignation on the part of the Volunteer, or by an interruption in service beyond anyone’s control. This number has been at around a third or more for the agency’s whole history, meaning one out of three Volunteers do not complete their full service term.

In the early 2000’s, the Early Termination Rate – always calculated appropriately as the number who terminate early from a cohort of Volunteers – was replaced by a calculation of the Annual Rate of early terminations, which does not measure the percentage of Volunteers who complete their two years of service. When the Early Termination rate quietly changed to the “Annual Early Termination Rate,” the fraction of early terminators suddenly seemed to drop. The Peace Corps had changed the way it calculated this statistic, a calculation method it had been asked to use by the GAO in 1981. Instead of representing the percent of Volunteers who fail to complete their full term, this percent took the number of dropouts and put that number over all Volunteers who had been active that year, including incoming, outgoing, and short-term Volunteers. This much smaller percent obfuscated the earlier performance indicator, the Early Termination rate, considered by many to be an accurate metric of program performance. Mike Shepphard is a co-founder of Developmentary, Inc., the non-profit which owns PeaceCorpsWiki.org and PeaceCorpsJournals.com. He wrote a report detailing the difference between the two measurements which is posted on PeaceCorpsWiki.org.

In 2009 Chuck Ludlam, who had been campaigning for reform since 2004, filed a FOIA request to the Peace Corps for any documents that explained why the Peace Corps had switched from the cohort to the Annual Rate in calculating ET rates. The agency said that no documents existed to explain the switch — a clear indication of a coverup. The timing of the change explains why the change was made; the Peace Corps was under pressure from the Office of Management and Budget to file “performance and results” reports together with metrics of its success. The Peace Corps had to find a way to cover up the 35% ET rates, an embarrassing and expensive scandal.

Read on. I have no idea who Anthony Watkins, the other is, do you?

4 Comments

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  • …negative news sells, universities and the press know that. If there is a natural disaster and no bodies, the press is not interested. If the body count is high…front page stuff!

  • “Watkins’ analysis of the Peace Corps is incomplete and his history investigation evidently stops abruptly with the Agency Assessment of June 2010. He summarizes well the various studies done in the last ten years documenting problems with the Peace Corps. He lauds, and rightly so, the comprehensive analysis done by Ludlam and presented to Congress in 2007. That legislation which was designed to reform Peace Corps did not pass and the then Bush administrations political appointed Director did not support the legislation. Fast forward, however, to 2011. The Obama appointed Director, Aaron Williams, worked with Congress and a brilliant group of RPCV women, First Response Action, to create and PASS the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011. That legislation goes a long way to correct the problems of Peace Corps safety. It is a model for all organizations. The opposition to this legislation did not come from the “Peace Corps bureaucrats,” but rather from some of the “old hands” of the Peace Corps. Ironically, Watkins also lauds Dickenson’s important website: Peace Corps Wikipedi. That website highlighted the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, for months. It is a serious omission to fail to cite that legislation. CORRECTION; I apologize. Watkins does cite the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011.

    Watkins also does not adequately describe the unique personnel system of Peace Corps. Tenure is limited to five years and successful service as a Peace Corps Volunteer is NOT a prerequisite for employment with the agency. So, the “bureaucrats” are leaving all the time; there is constant turnover and turmoil. He is absolutely correct about the extraordinary high number of political appointees in decision making positions.
    When he attacks the Peace Corps, he leaves the impression that the Peace Corps is a monolithic bureaucracy and always responds in the same institutional way. It is more like a floating political crap game.

    “As any Peace Corps Volunteer learns, in order to solve a problem, you have to define it, first. Watkins has failed to do that.”

    The above is a customer review I wrote back in 2012. I still don’t know who Anthony Watkins is. When I google the name. I get thousand of entries. His author page on Amazon is blank.
    The pattern of problems he describes ALL happened in a time of transition from one administration or one director to another. Serving Volunteers are incredibly vulnerable during such transitions, because no one is really in charge and most political appointees and schedule C employees are looking to jump ship. The political season has started really early this time. I hope so much, that Washington remembers it has responsibility for over 6000 Volunteers in the field. Attention has to be paid.

  • My impression (no stats) is that it is true that probably one-third of volunteers do not complete their service. Of course, within that one-third, some drop out in training and others within only a few months of a full term. A few others, like me, extend or return for additional terms. Although I’ve not joined the Peace Corps again after my almost 3 ½ years in Honduras, I have returned there 11 times so far in the 11 years since I left service to volunteer with medical brigades and other projects, even though the Peace Corps has left Honduras. Many volunteers return to their countries of service later to provide humanitarian or technical assistance under different auspices. So raw statistics about early departures are misleading about the net positive effect of Peace Corps service both for the volunteers and the countries where they serve. It seems to me that the Peace Corps now bends over backwards to protect volunteers, but, let’s face it, most volunteers are young people who may not be as careful of their own safety as they should be, especially in a foreign country. College students in the US die or are injured in auto and other accidents, by hazing, and sometimes by suicide or even murder. Rape is not uncommon among college students. Yet parents rarely consider going to college as risky, while they hold the Peace Corps to a higher standard. Of course, any institution can be improved, but, I believe, books like the one cited here do not really help that happen.

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