Carol Spahn will be Peace Corps Acting Director

Updated January 22, 2021: Peace Corps reports that President Biden has appointed Carol Spahn as Acting Peace Corps Director.

I wrote to Director Olsen about the transition planning and who would be “in charge” at Peace Corps until the new Director is confirmed.  Here is her response:

Thank you for reaching out.

The transition from one Executive branch administration to the next is a hallmark of our constitutional democracy. We have a succession plan in place to ensure a smooth and effective transition for the incoming administration. Our plan was shared previously with the General Services Administration (GSA), in accordance with government-wide guidance, and members of our Agency Review Team (ART).

I can now share with you the name of the staff member who will be stepping in as our Acting Director pending an appointment by the new Administration. I am pleased to say that our ART members have been working effectively and diligently to identify new appointees and I am very confident that new leadership will begin to move in smoothly and as quickly as possible into our wonderful agency.

Carol Spahn, former Country Director in Malawi, Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania, and most recently Africa ChOps, will take on the role in my absence until it is filled by a senate confirmed appointee.

For legal reasons related to the Vacancies Reform Act, Carol Spahn will not use the title “Acting Director” but, instead, will use the title “Chief Executive Officer.” I am thrilled that she will be taking on this role, and will be meeting with her every day until I depart for a seamless handoff.

I hope you are doing well and staying safe during these unprecedented times, and as always, thank you for your service in Colombia.


Jody K. Olsen






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  • Thanks, Joanne, for prompting this. I’m curious about who — if any RPCV — is among the Biden-Harris transition team.

  • Tino,

    Here are members of the Biden Transition Team which CNN published last June 20, 2020. I did not check out the bios of all the members. I will see if I can do that. My uneducated guess would be their experience does not include Peace Corps.

    ““Former Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman, Yohannes Abraham, a longtime staffer in the Obama White House who will handle the day-to-day operations. Avril Haines, former principal deputy national security adviser and deputy director of the CIA, will manage the transition team’s national security and foreign policy efforts.”

    “Other team members that will join in the coming weeks include Gautam Raghavan, the current chief of staff to Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Angela Ramirez, longtime chief of staff to Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan and former Congressional Hispanic Caucus Executive Director. Evan Ryan, who advised Biden in the White House and Julie Siegel, most recently Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s senior counsel for economic policy.”

  • I am a RPCV Malaw who served under Carol Spahn. I am in shock as to how she managed to achieve this apointment. Her managment of the Malawi program was poor at best. PC Malawi had more then a 50% attrition rate while I was there. Upon Ms Spahn finishing her posting and leaving Malawi I remember speaking with many staff. None had good things to say about her. A point that stuck out was staff telling me they went to the airport to make sure she got on the plane not because they wanted to send her off well.

    I do not wish to reveal my identity because of possible reprisals. Normally I would not comment but the times have changed my resolve on speaking my experiences. I pray for a good director soon who actually cares about PC and it’s more then 60 year legacy of promoting peace, unity, understanding and friendship with our worldwide partners.

  • RPCV Malawi,

    Please cite your source for your statement that the PC Malawi had an attrition rate of more than 50% during Spahn’s tenure. I am not disputing your statement. But Peace Corps stopped publishing the Early Termination Rate by “cohorts” in 2017.

    Now, the early termination rate is published by combining Volunteers and Trainees in-country during each fiscal year. Using that method, Malawi did not have an Early Termination Rate of over 50% in 2019, when I presume Spahn would have been leaving. So there is no record of the Early Termination, or Attrition Rate by “cohorts” published for 2019, that I could find.

    Early Termination Data by Country – Annual Method – FY 2007-2019 [CSV]

    Early Termination Data by Country – Cohort Method – FY 2003-2016 [CSV]


    • Joanne Roll,

      My use of the word attrition rate is taking into consideration volunteers arriving in country and leaving before their Completion Of Service irregardless of reason for not COSing. I was not referring to Early Termination rates which is only 1 official classification for non-completion. I am simply looking at the number of volunteers who arrived in a year(Malawi would have 1 annual intake for all programs) and how many COSed after 2 years.

      This account is based on my personal observations, experiences and opinion based on the time I was with her. She was the CD of Malawi for several years and this is not an accounting of her whole time there or her total performance metrics.

      I have not found the data online but I will keep looking, and post that here if I find it. I am sorry for stirring up controversy here and I understand if you want to delete my comments. But I needed to get this out. and at least you have seen them.

      As a side note I do want to say that I did successfully COS and this is not just me being bitter about not meeting my personal goals or being forced out.

      Anonymous RPCV Malawi

      • RPCV Malawi,

        I don’t think Peace Corps posts statistics that would show:
        ‘ I am simply looking at the number of volunteers who arrived in a year(Malawi would have 1 annual intake for all programs) and how many COSed after 2 years.” As far as I can tell, Peace Corps only posts statistics on an annual basis. And to further make it difficult, Peace Corps statistics on based, usually, on a federal fiscal year…October 1 of one year to September 30, of the following year.

        You are not “stirring up” controversy, but you are citing a statistic that evidently cannot be verified. You are right,. I think it would be good to know how many PCVs in a training group served the whole assignnment.

        Also, what else is included in the “early attrition rate”? I presumed “Early termination” means all kinds of categories, except mandatory evacuation.

        Please understand about this website (from the link above, ABOUT)

        “Peace Corps Worldwide celebrates the Peace Corps experience by publishing stories from around the world by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), and Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), to share with all who have a desire for international understanding.”

        ” All work done for Peace Corps Worldwide is volunteer.

        The site is in no way associated with the Peace Corps.

        The site is an affiliate of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA). ”

        “This online magazine is an outgrowth of the print newsletter Peace Corps Writers that was first published in 1989 by John Coyne and Marian Haley Beil (both Ethiopia 1962–64) to promote, encourage and recognize Peace Corps writers. In the duration the effort has expanded to do all that as well as to share news and information about the Peace Corps, assist the members of the Peace Corps community bridge cultures as they fulfill the Third Goal of the Peace Corps, tell the incomparable stories that come from the Peace Corps experience, and more recently publish their books.”

        Also, there is a lot of misinformation in the general public about Peace Corps Volunteers. And for time to time, some politicians, who did not serve, want to cut funding or otherwise change the Three Goals, based on misinformation or distored information.

        It is not my job to delete comments, that is not the practice of Peace Corps World Wide.

        I am a RPCV and my overriding interest is the history of Peace Corps based, in public records and the documents created by PCVs and RPCVs. Misinformation about Peace Corps drives me crazy, but that is just me and is personal.

  • I was a volunteer alongside Carol Spahn in Romania and have followed her career since then. I can attest to her outstanding competence and dedication to development work in general, and to Peace Corps in particular. She is a great choice for CEO.

  • I served in Malawi under Carol. After speaking with friends who served in many other countries and under different CDs, I can say that Carol was one of the best out there and extremely competent. I’m happy she is leading the way for the agency, and hopefully we will find ourselves in a better spot than we’ve been in these last few years.

    I’m surprised to read what the other RPCV has written, as that wasn’t my experience at all. However, everyone has their own experiences while serving as a PCV that are impacted by a variety of factors, so I respect their opinion. I, too, am hoping for some drastic change and reform in the agency.

  • For what it’s worth, I thought I would copy a chapter note from a manuscript I’ve been working on about how Peace Corps attrition rates were being measured in the 1970s.

    On July 1st of 1971, President Nixon folded Peace Corps, Vista, and other federal volunteer agencies into an umbrella agency called ACTION to combine administrative functions and make each agency more efficient. After this administration change, the success of Peace Corps programs could be measured statistically in a manner that had little or nothing to do with volunteer activity overseas. That is, the success of a volunteer program could be statistically enhanced by combining the volunteer years of extended volunteers with the volunteer years of early terminating volunteers, thereby lowering the “effective dropout rate.” This calculation was explained to Congressman Kazen of Texas by Peace Corps Director Donald Hess (his official title being Associate Director of ACTION), during the Congressional Peace Corps hearings on March 20th of 1973 as follows:

    Mr. Kazen. In answer to a previous question, you stated that that 22 percent of the trainees drop out during the training. Is that correct?
    Mr. Hess, yes sir.
    Mr. Kazen. And 17 percent drop out after they finished their training?
    Mr. Hess. Yes sir.
    Mr. Kazen. This means 39 percent never got into the field?
    Mr. Hess. No, sir…Mr. Congressman, I just want to make you understand that those two figures I just gave you can’t be added together. The total effective [dropout] rate, including the trainee dropouts and the volunteer dropouts, netting those that extend for a third year beyond the point in time when they have to serve, yields a 17-percent effective dropout.

    Although Mr. Hess didn’t say so in so many words, it appears from what he did say that volunteers who extended for a third year in the Peace Corps were reducing effective dropout rates, and presumably volunteers who extended for a fourth or fifth Peace Corps year were reducing effective dropout rates even more.

    This focus on “efficiency” lasted throughout the ACTION years. In a statement submitted for the Peace Corps hearings in May of 1975, ACTION Director Michael Balzano indicated that the reduction of training costs by almost half since pre-ACTION days and the reduction in the cost of fielding volunteers by twenty percent in constant dollars were “improvements.” It wasn’t until 1981 that Peace Corps was able to wrest itself free of ACTION.

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