From the Volunteer and RPCV

 

Mother Ship or Death Star, the voice of PC/DC, the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington DC dominates in public records. It has been difficult for me to get beyond the administrative mode to find the authentic voice of actual Peace Corps Volunteers and others outside of official Washington. The DOS or Description of Service, the new Digital Library, the Information Collection and Exchange or ICE, and information from the Peace Corps Offices in Host Countries all include sources from outside PC/DC.  The late, but still lamented Peace Corps Library should also be included.  Let us start with the DOS and the Digital Library.

Description of Service, or DOS. Sometimes referred to as COS, Close of Service document.

Early Volunteers received a generic description of their service. It was the same for all members of the group, regardless of individual activities. The purpose for the DOS was to verify Peace Corps service for benefits, and federal employment consideration. It was not designed to describe individual program achievements. When I requested my personnel file from Peace Corps what I received was a copy of that generic description and a Certification of Peace Corps service.

Sometime later the use of the generic description was eliminated. Instead, Volunteers prepare an individual description of their activities and accomplishments during the Close of Service conference. This Description of Service, or DOS, is a one-to-two page document completed by each Volunteer prior to their completion of service. It is used to verify the training and service of Peace Corps Volunteer Federal employment tenure benefits.  A microfiche copy of this document is kept for 60 years after completion of service date. These documents are not accessible via a FOIA request.  RPCVs can obtain their own record by contacting:  Volunteer and PSC Financial Services 800.424.8580, ext 1770 or 202.692.1770.

I think the individual description of service is the historic heart of Peace Corps work.  These descriptions are the building blocks that show accomplishment by each Volunteer and group in response to a specific request for technical assistance by the host country. This record is complete and chronological. Not only is it history, but also the data is organized by individual, then group, then program, then country and year: a research treasure trove.  But these are not public documents. Legal concern for confidentiality of both Peace Corps Volunteers and Host Country Nationals means that these documents must be private. It may well be that this guarantee also allows the Volunteer to be candid and reinforces the authentity and thus the value of the DOS.

Are my assumptions about the DOS’s valid or am I romanticizing a bureaucratic exercise?  I would love to hear from anyone who has written a DOS. What was the procedure like?  Did you feel you had an opportunity to review and recount service and projects? Could  guidelines be developed to redact confidential and sensitive information and allow these documents to be public?

The Digital Library.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary, Peace Corps has developed a Digital Library. Visit it at http://collection.peacecorps.gov/index.php.  View selected historic documents and stories from Volunteers and RPCVCs  as well as learn how to participate in the story collection.

The guidelines for submitting a story include the requirements to:

# Be sensitive to the privacy concerns of individuals, including host country nationals;

# Not malign the Peace Corps, or any other group or individual;

Such restrictions are absolutely necessary for material to be published on the Peace Corps website.  Nor is it necessary to be negative to be entertaining and informative, but I wonder if the guidelines are inhibiting.  As I scanned through the stories, I could not help but be reminded of exercises on “What I did on my summer vacation. ” Given the necessary constrictions, maybe a better way to go would have been to solicit stories from people in Host Countries about their experiences with Peace Corps. What do you think?

 

LINKS:

Federal Records Center: http://www.archives.gov/frc

National Archives and Record Administration: http://www.archives.gov/

Peace Corps FOIA: http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=open.open

JFK Library: http://www.jfklibrary.org/

The article cited by Lorenzo describing problems at the National Archives can be read at:                      

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/26/national-archives-at-risk-gao_n_774475.html

7 Comments

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  • Thank you, Joey for this thoughtful comment. I personally find no fault with the guidelines so long as there exists a simulateous, uncensored fountain of information- something not published by the government. That is why I am so enthusiatic about personal self-published memoirs. They are not necessarily great literature and often even lack basic editing. However, at least they are honest. The more information available for our children and grandchildren, the better. With 200,000 former volunteer of all colors, flavors and sizes who served in 139 nations over one half century, it is natural that their impressions would be very different.

    The government has its own goals; leaving a positive legacy and also recruiting. Former volunteers often have goals too. Sometimes they even need to work the venom out about a bad experience. Treasuring all opinions will not dim the Peace Corps’ legacy but rather emphasize its uniqueness.

    I sent along the comment about the problems with the National Archives not as a criticism of our government but as an indicator of the need to safeguard that parallel stream of information- staff and volunteers very personal self-published views. It is my sincere hope that the Library of Congress will soon announce the acceptance of donations for a Peace Corps Special Collection of such uncensored material.

  • Lorenzo,
    Thank you. I think you are absolutely right about independent accounts.
    You sound very encouraged about the Special Collection and I look forward to your announcement.

    I think the information about the audit of the Archives is very important.
    The more we know the better. I certainly did not take as a criticism of the government, rather that our government audit procedures are working!

    I had heard informally that the DOS prepared by each Volunteer was signed by the Volunteer and countersigned by the Country Director. I don’t know if this is universally true or not. But if true, it guarantees an accurate account. Not that any Volunteer would emblellish his accomplishments!

  • The DOS is certainly a great document but it does not tell anyone how many friends a volunteer might have made or if they might have been some youngsters role model. It just describes work tasks and responsibilities. It will also be devoid of telling details about the place. It would not tell anyone whether it was a frigid mountain steppe or a steaming jungle. Most probably, it does not mention privation either. It most certainly would exclude any commentary about the U.S. government and the host government.

  • Yes. In 1977, I was told that the accepted manner was for the volunteer to write a short one page letter about their work for signature by both the associate and country director. The letter was to used as your future letter of recommendation. This was before the personal computer. Today, it would be simple to type up such a letter as a Word document, email it to the staff secretary who could revise at will. Back in 1977, I wrote something by hand and physically gave it to Betty who typed it on letterhead for signature. She made a few misspellings but it got signed anyway. I have no idea what the routine might have been for pioneers or later.

  • By 1977 there was a entire out-processing routine which included the “Letter of Recommendation.” This way, every volunteer (regardless of site or job) had the same oportunity and the same tools availalble (paper, pencil, pen, erasers, typewriters and even copy machines). Thanks for asking. It is amazing how things changed in a short period of time. In 1987 (ten years after I left the Peace Corps), I visited the Peace Corps office in Quito, Ecuador. I was surprised to find a uniformed guard and a locked gate. The guard called inside and staff decided whether you would be granted entrance- like a fort. Inside, they had computers! I was still using a typewriter at work. God only knows what it must be like today.

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