Bill Josephson Has Something To Say About Thomas M. Hall

In a note from Bill Josephson, Founding Counsel of the Peace Corps from 1961-66, Bill wrote about Thomas M. Hill’s essay entitled The Peace Corps, A lot of bucks for very little bang? saying:             

The United States Consumer Price Index by Major Group 1915-2015 All Items was 31.5 in 1965.  In 2015, it was 237, an increase of 7.5 times.  Another way to make the point is that what cost $31.5 in 1965 would cost $205.50 more in 2015.

From 1961 to 1966, the Peace Corps said that it held the per volunteer cost steady at $30,000 each.  $30,000 times 7.5 is $225,000.

If my math is right, which it may not be, it’s no longer (at 83) one of my strong points, the Peace Corps at $56,500 a volunteer is even more of a bargain than it was in 1965.

Comments and criticisms more than welcome.

Bill Josephson


Bill Josephson



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  • Hmm, … it’s $56,500 per volunteer – per year, right? (Is that total Peace Corps budget divided by the total number of Volunteers?) So, $56,500/12 = $4,708 per month x 27 months = $127,125 per volunteer. Is that right?

  • Hill got his statistics from the Peace Corps. Here is the link:

    I was not successful in copying it. Peace Corps listed the direct costs for each Volunteer. I do not think they pro-rated all the administrative costs.

  • Bill is on the right track–so inflation has increased the cost of everything. But let’s look at where the country gets the best bang for the buck for its budget. How many weapons systems would it take to cover the cost of all the Peace Corps volunteers in a year? And let’s compare the impact of the Peace Corps by showing what RPCVs have accomplished over the years in comparison to the cost of lets say one war–Afghanistan–where the basic problems seem as great as ever.

  • Without plunging into an orgy of accounting, I think it would be sensible to do what every auditor does, and separate out DIRECT from INDIRECT costs. The reason is that much of the latter is “inflicted” on a federal agency, totally apart from the mission.

    Another thing which is blithely ignored by Mr Hill, is trying to cost elusive/subjective things like the Second Goal and Third Goal. Other volunteer organizations don’t formalize these things (even though, I suspect there are some hopes and presumptions). To attempt to measure PCV “performance” as USAID might do, simply according to economic development criteria, is highly misleading. To wit: is a PCV judged successful if he/she did extremely well by the First Goal, but in the process antagonized and alienated every host country person he/she met ? Mr Hill should be asked THIS question. As I wrote earlier to another posting, all those Friday night payday gatherings at the village bar with my prospecting crew, not only cameraderie but actual communication and understanding. How does one equate a scene like that, with a crowd of inebriated guys celebrating payday, with “development goals ?

    Trying to make an intelligent comparison between assigning a PCV versus (to use Mr Hill’s example) the Fulbright Scholarship program) is totally misleading, as European universities and American universities all are heavily subsidized by governments to begin with, as well as highly organized for receiving and housing students.

    I think that a lot of recruiting/selection cost can be eliminated by former volunteers working with paid PC recruiters. With some variety of volunteer experience, the process itself might be significantly improved. Some of this already happens, no doubt. My own experience is that the PC Agency always has been a little wary of returned volunteers. Like University Presidents at “Homecoming”. They want them all at the football game, cheering, and at the alumni ball, but the LAST thing they want is all those alumni telling them how to run the university. Thank you, PC Director and NOT a volunteer, Mark Gearan, for being such a good listener ! !

    Lastly, having said all this, I personally am an economizer, and believe that a figure like $56,000, if indeed this is a valid figure, can be much-reduced — provided the structure itself is open to modification. So, Mr Hill’s sour grapes perspective may be useful, anyway. John Turnbull Ghana-3 Geology and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment. 63, 64, 65.

    • Unfortunately, those who become sick or injured due to service are relegated to lives of near poverty upon return home, suffering in silence and living on 66 2/3 of a GS 7, Step 1 FECA “disability income,” if they are fortunate enough to obtain a claim. Most fall through the cracks assuming tremendous medical debt. Prior to the ACA those who became sick from PC service and couldn’t get a FECA claim accepted or effectively functioning or were not told they could even file, were not insurable in the US due to their PC incurred “pre-existing” illness. Some have ended up homeless, moved back to their countries of service, where they can live on their disability income and pay for healthcare.

      I think that a re-examination of “cost” is required.

      Nancy E. Tongue
      Founder Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers
      An NPCA Affiliate Group

  • Nancy, Do you know the approx number of volunteers who have suffered permanent disability due to PC service ? It never occurred to me that these RPCVs would be uninsurable due to such a disability. Can you contrast with, say, military service caused disability ? This certainly says a lot about the present insurance biz approach to health care in this country, and the desirability of a Single Payer system. Also, what is the designation and title of the legislation Joanne refers to ? Thanks, John Turnbull New Mexico

  • Nancy, If you know of any such permanently disabled RPCVs in the difficulties you describe, located here in New Mexico or S and W Colorado, please let me know, and I’ll see what can be done for them, on the state level. Thanks, John Turnbull New Mexico

  • John,

    Nancy is the expert on all these real health problems of RPCVs as well as serving Volunteers have. She and her group “Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers have worked for years to correct these very serious problems. Here is an article about Nancy, posted here by John Coyne:

    The legislation she has worked to have introduced is :H.R.2259 – Sam Farr Peace Corps Enhancement Act
    Here is the link for more information from Congress:

    I hope she will have the time to respond to your questions and offers of help.

    The pre-existing condition is a very real problem for many – it does not have to be a serious medical condition, just a pre-existing one.

  • The vast majority of the $400M or $56K per volunteer goes to support the lavish lives and jobs of the staff. The volunteers aren’t doing anything to truly improve the lives of the host nationals, but instead they’re decimating their values and keeping the host nationals stuck. I’ve written a book called My Piece on Peace Corps, based on my experience with the organization as a volunteer. You can find the preface, introduction and a chapter on language and culture on my FB Page Lea Ann Sherry.

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