Thanks to Alana deJoseph (Mali 1992-94) for bringing to our attention this USA Today article on the growing problem with drug use among Peace Corps Volunteers. \
The article, published August 10, 2018 is based on the Inspector General of the Peace Corps’ August 7, 2018 Management Advisory to the Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen.
The report is a public document and is posted on the Peace Corps web site. Here is the link: https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/documents/inspector-general/Management_Advisory_Report_Volunteer_Drug_Use.pdf
The Report begins:
“The purpose of this Office of Inspector General (OIG) report is to bring to your attention our concern that the Peace Corps’ efforts to address Volunteer drug use1 have been insufficient, and that drug use continues to pose a serious risk to the integrity and reputation of the Peace Corps as well as the health and safety of Volunteers. In order to reduce these risks, the agency should take additional measures to support country directors in resolving drug use allegations at posts, gather accurate information on drug use among Volunteers, and place greater emphasis on educating Volunteers about the impacts of drug use on their safety and the effectiveness of their service.” (page 1)
It was prompted by these statistics from the Office of the Inspector General:
“Our 2016 ‘Recurring Issues’ report2 found that during the three-year period from 2012 to 2015, OIG had opened 25 cases relating to Volunteer drug use, nearly half of which occurred in 2015.”…”From January 2015 to February 2018, at least 152 Peace Corps Volunteers separated3 from service across 26 countries in connection with drug use.4” (page 1)
I am not a lawyer, but I will share my personal opinion about the report. It is 14 pages long and while not an easy read, it is an important read. The numbers refer to footnotes. I urge everyone to read the whole report.
For me, two facts dominate.
- The first is that Volunteers serve at the “pleasure of the President” and that authority is delegated down to the Director of the Peace Corps and then down to the Country Director. A Peace Corps Volunteer is not a civil service employee and does not enjoy the protections of a civil service employee. A Peace Corps Volunteer does not have a contract, spelling out mutual rights and responsibilities. The Country Director has the right to terminate a Volunteer’s service.
- The second fact is Peace Corps has a zero tolerance policy for drug use. Drug use will result in separation of service; even if the Volunteer self-refers for medical assistance with drug use.
The seriousness of the problem is demonstrated by this statement:
“Between January 2015 and February 2018, one Volunteer died as a result of drug use, and seven were arrested by foreign law enforcement. One Volunteer was sentenced to 6 months in prison for drug trafficking,10 marking the second occasion in which a Volunteer was convicted of drug trafficking in the same country within the last five years.11” (page 3)
However, I found it hard to understand what was criminal activity as serious as drug trafficking and what might be personal use of marijuana. Footnote 8 on page 2 states:
“8 OIG investigators note that 68% of Volunteers separated as a result of OIG investigations since 2015 were separated after a finding of marijuana use. Other cases include the use of cocaine, LSD, heroin, hashish, hallucinogenic mushrooms, valium, codeine, and other prescription drugs.”
I could find no reference to independent legal assistance available to a Volunteer charged with drug use. This is a description of the legal policy governing charges of drug use:
“In cases of drug involvement, CDs are expected, under agency policy, to consult with the Peace Corps Office of General Counsel (OGC), if feasible, when considering administratively separating a Volunteer. In these cases, OGC’s role is to advise CDs on how to apply the policy, including the standard of proof necessary to administratively separate a Volunteer and how to provide accused Volunteers with a meaningful opportunity to reply to allegations.
OGC informed OIG that, since the 1970s, it has required that any finding of Volunteer involvement with drugs – which triggers the administrative separation process under MS 204 – be supported by ‘clear and convincing’ evidence.15 OGC reported that the requirements to meet the ‘clear and convincing’ standard are discussed in individual consultations with CDs and during the legal session on Volunteer misconduct at Overseas Staff Trainings (OST), as well as at annual CD conferences. To better understand how CDs apply this standard, OIG reviewed the Consideration of Administrative Separation memorandums available in DOVE for the three-year time period which is the subject of this report. In cases where Volunteers did not admit drug use, OIG found that the associated memorandums reflected inconsistent application of OGC’srequirements. A lack of uniform application suggests that not all CDs may be aware of these requirements, or that they may need additional support to consistently meet the ‘clear and convincing’ standard.” (page 6)
The Office of the Peace Corps Inspector General makes six recommendation to the Director of the Peace Corps to address these problems. There will be an immediate response to the report by the Director and will be post that, when published. Also, the OIG will review in 45 days the action Peace Corps has taken.
Peace Corps is concerned about the health and safety of a Volunteer using drugs. However, the priority, as I see it, is to protect the organization, not the Volunteer. My first reaction is, of course, “That is not fair.” However, Peace Corps is built on relationships – relationships with the host country. Drug use by a Volunteer damages his or her relationship with everyone he or she knows and works with. It also can compromise the relationships of all the other Volunteers in that country, all the Volunteers who have ever worked in that host country, and most importantly, can negatively impact host country nationals who have ever worked with PCVs.
The Edward Mycue (Ghana 1) article “Turtles All the Way Down“ reminds me of a Peace Corps Volunteer’s unique position. Edward recounts the myth about one turtle holding up the whole world on his back. How could that be possible? The explanation? It is turtles all the way down. We are all turtles.