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?
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: