Danger: Transitions – Continued : IGO comments on Political Appointees

The recently published Inspector General’s Report, Final Evaluation Report: Impacts of the Five-Year Rule on Operations of the  Peace Corps (IG-12-05-E)  focused on the problems caused by the so-called Five Year Rule.  But the report did acknowledge the effect of the Peace Corps’ political appointment structure. I think the observations are critically important. Do you?  From the IGO report:

Staffs’ concerns regarding the Peace Corps’ political appointment structure

Throughout the course of this evaluation many interviewees expressed their beliefs and attitudes regarding the effect that political appointees, particularly appointees with no previous Peace Corps experience, were having on the operations of the agency. Many respondents insisted that it was important for our evaluation to consider the combined effect on the agency’s operations of constant staff turnover and the agency’s political appointment structure. The commonly expressed reasoning respondents articulated was that these two features of the agency’s personnel structure—high turnover created by the FYR and the high number of political appointments managing the agency had combined to create a vicious cycle that harmed the strategic direction of the agency, as well as the ability of staff to function effectively in carrying out whatever strategy was in place at the time. Assessing the merit of this sentiment was outside the scope of our evaluation.

(Note: The highlighting is mine)  To read the entire report;

pc_final_evaluation_report_on_impacts_of_the_five_year_rule_ig1205e

4 Comments

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  • Dear Leo,

    You should read the IGO’s report..this is from the Executive Summary…

    “• Impeded, rather than facilitated, innovation at the Peace Corps. Staff reported that the accelerated pace of employee turnover, short average tenure, and insufficient institutional memory have conspired against the agency’s efforts to identify, develop, test, and successfully implement innovative ideas.”

    There are real problems with turnover at the agency. There are many good ideas to address those problems.

    I don’t believe it is the job of Peace Corps Volunteers to maintain
    romantic myths to warm old men’s hearts.

  • Joey – Perhaps you remember JFK’s famous comparison of the State Department to a bowl of jello. You push it in one place, it moves, and returns to the same form after you stop pushing. I was a bureaucrat and know all about “instititutional memory.” Unfortunately “institutional memory” tends to be entrenched attitudes against innovation and new ideas. The five year rule was instituted to insure that the Peace Corps did not fall victim to stagnant thinking.

  • Perhaps, Leo, you have read Robert Textor’s original “In, Up, and Out” memo and if not, you should. Textor’s idea was that positions should be continually opening up to allow RPCVs, with fresh field experience, to bring that experience back to Washington. He originally suggested eight not five years for that personnel system.
    The assumption is that “creative, innovative” ideas would come from the RPCVs, or that they could identify problems that needed “creative and innovative” solutions. If RPCVs are not running the agency, then the FYR makes little sense.

    If you had read the “Peace Corps Agency Assessment – June 2010”, you would know that Volunteers will become exactly what LBJ raged against…..they are to be unpaid interns assigned to NGOs and US agencies like AID….the bottom boxes on a personnel chart. Why? Because the agency is run by people with no overseas experience or whose RPCV experience was as long ago as yours and they have no idea how to create programs that are relevant. It is much easier to outsource Peace Corps to other agencies, and merely live off the myth.

    We all know, Leo, that you had an valuable and profitable experience as a Volunteer fifty years ago and since then, you have had a brilliant career as a diplomat and international businessman. But,
    you do not feel any obligation to be knowledgeable about the agency as it exists today. Yet, you feel absolutely qualified to pontificate.

    You also only know your own program, you don’t know how important the history of what was done, what worked, and what did not for those people who were working cross-culturally on health, agricultural, engineering, and other technical projects.

    But you have anticipated what I would like to discuss:
    What is innovation? What are creative solutions? What is Institutional memory?

    The historic misstatements about abound. For example, did you
    know that only men were sent to Puerto Rico for physical training?
    Of, that the Peace Corps offices were occupied by anti-war Peace
    Corps STAFF?

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