Inspector General Recent Report on the Peace Corps

ig-mage

The Peace Corps’ Office of Inspector General (IGO) today is directed by a woman named Kathy A. Buller. The IG Office does not report to the Peace Corps Director, though they work in the same building and I am told Kathy and Carrie are friendly. You might they are “equal” though, as we know, some are more “equal” than others.

Ms. Buller has a reputation, I’m told, of wanting to increase her own status in DC by being a touch SOB. (Not surprising, knowing government career types.) The IG Office has few friends. (Where is the famous Charlie Peters and his gang of Evaluators from the early days of the agency? We need them again. Everyone loved Charlie! )

IG employees get a lot of flak. And there are plenty of stories about them.  When I was in DC several years ago I heard about another IG, another woman, and this woman (it is said) had a bit of a drinking problem, and when she was drinking (in the late afternoon, I guess) she’d get the ‘hots’ for a mild-mannered married guy who worked for her and she went after him, wanting to have sex on the top floor of the Peace Corps building which was filled with old furniture. Eventually his case of “sexual harassment” was settled out of court and he went off with a pile of $$ and she was fired and spent her last days at work calling all the other Schedule Cs women in HQ and saying how it was “so unfair to her.”

Then there was this CD to a Southern African countries who used Peace Corps money to build an addition on his in-country home. He, I guess, was arrested in Washington, handcuffs put on him when he walked into the HQ. Our own Peace Corps Perp Walk!

Now, I recall, in Ethiopia around 1967 or so, two COSing PCVs went to the bank and closed their accounts (the Peace Corps deposited monthly allowances in the bank for the Vols) and while closing their accounts these two took out more money than the Peace Corps Office had deposited. Needless to say, it was noticed before their Readjustment Allowances were paid out, and the “extra” funds were deducted from their accounts.

Well, it takes all kinds even in the Peace Corps.

Anyway…as Lee Ann Womack might sing, There’s More Where That Came From…..

IG Kathy Buller

IG Kathy Buller

This Inspector General–Kathy A. Buller– has issued a length semi-annual report on the agency and all the PCVs and Staff, here and overseas. It is available on line. You can read it on the Peace Corps home web page.  Here is the link to the report:

http://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/policies/PCIG_SARC_20150930.pdf

I wanted to provide you a quick read of one section to get your attention. The Investigation Section which focuses on PCVs and some Staff, in the US and overseas. This is the juicy stuff, you might say, and also because in this section, the OIG Staff (as they call themselves) talk about how they are still involved in the 2009 homicide of Peace Corps/Benin Volunteer Kate Puzey. OIG and the FBI, supported by the government of Benin, Department of Justice, DOS/DS, and the U.S. Embassy in Benin, etc. etc., are still investigating the case. RPCVs I have spoken to in West Africa say that these three guys accused of the crime are still in jail and that’s where they will remain, nothing more will come of the case.

However…..

A lot else is going on around the Peace Corps World, and this is what Kathy and her Merry Men are involved with at the agency. Oh, I might add (and Kathy certainly does mention in her Introduction) how she has just been promoted to another government agency, something called “Legislation Committee for the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency,” (CIGIE) for short. God, you have to be a lawyer to come up with something like this name for a committee. It’s no wonder everyone hates the government for their jargon. (Where’s Donald Trump when we need him?)

Also, in her Letter of Introduction to the Semiannual Report to Congress (called the SARC) Kathy mentioned that her office–under her direction, of course–has won two awards from the CIGIE (remember them?) and these awards were presented at the annual award ceremony in October, 2014. She does not mention how the Peace Corps Office of Inspector General (that’s the OIG) did this last summer in the Inter-Agency Baseball League (that would be the IABL ???) games that are played on the Mall under the shadow of the Capital. Maybe she didn’t make the team.

Anyway, here is what she writes about investigating the Peace Corps and those wild and crazy Millennials.

Investigations

Overview
The Investigation Unit is authorized to conduct investigations of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in Peace Corps programs and operations, both domestically and overseas. OIG investigators have full law enforcement authority, including the authority to, upon probable cause, seek and execute warrants for arrest, search premises, and seize evidence. In addition, OIG agents are authorized to make arrests without a warrant while engaged in official duties and to carry firearms. The unit investigates allegations of both criminal wrongdoing and administrative misconduct involving Peace Corps staff, contractors, Volunteers, and other individuals conducting transactions with the Peace Corps. Allegations are forwarded to OIG through various means, including OIG audits, evaluations, and hotline complaints, and come from Peace Corps stakeholders, including Volunteers, trainees, staff, contractors, other federal entities, and the general public.

OIG noted a marked increase in the number of instances of alleged Volunteer drug use. During this reporting period, 31 Volunteers were terminated or resigned for involvement with drugs. A number of other Volunteers resigned after being questioned about drug use. These investigations have highlighted how illegal drug use has put the health and safety of Volunteers —  and the integrity of the county program-at risk. OIG is assisting the agency in finding ways to address this issue.

During the reporting period, OIG investigated two allegations that the agency retaliated against whistleblowing Volunteers. In both cases, the investigations uncovered facts indicating that the agency’s actions were not retaliatory.

OIG’s proactive review of Federal Employees’ Compensation Act recipients resulted in the termination of incorrect benefit payments to a returned Volunteer, resulting in cost avoidance to the Peace Corps of over $1,113,600. OIG continued working with U.S. and host country partners to solve a 2009 Volunteer homicide in Africa.

PEACE CORPS OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL

April 1 to September 30, 2015

Criminal and Misconduct-Related Investigations
Homicide Investigation at a Post in West Africa

OIG continued to be engaged in the investigation of the 2009 homicide of Peace Corps/Benin Volunteer Kate Puzey.

OIG and the FBI, supported by the government of Benin, Department of Justice, DOS/DS, and the U.S. Embassy in Benin, are still engaged in the investigation.

Volunteer Death Review
OIG conducted an investigative review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of a Volunteer. The investigation found the death resulted from a drug overdose.

Volunteer Drug Use Allegation at a Post in East Africa
While conducting an investigative review of a Volunteer death, OIG initiated an investigation into alleged widespread use of controlled substances by Volunteers in the deceased’s country of service. The investigation disclosed that 22 Volunteers had used controlled substances, including heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, during their service. All 22 Volunteers resigned or were separated.

Volunteer Drug Distribution Allegation at a Post in West Africa
OIG received information that a Volunteer in West Africa was distributing illicit substances to other Volunteers. Although the allegation of distribution was not substantiated, the OIG investigation disclosed that nine Volunteers had used controlled substances. All nine Volunteers resigned or were separated.

Volunteer on Volunteer Sexual Assault Allegation at a Post in Central America
OIG received an allegation that one Volunteer sexually assaulted another Volunteer by engaging in nonconsensual sexual contact. OIG interviewed the accused Volunteer, who admitted to engaging in nonconsensual sexual contact with the other Volunteer. The agency placed the accused on a behavioral modification agreement, allowing this Volunteer to complete Peace Corps service provided that the Volunteer adheres to the requirements specified in the agreement.

Volunteer on Volunteer Harassment Allegation in Southern Africa
Senior management advised OIG that at a post in Southern Africa, four Volunteers had reported being sexually harassed by the same Volunteer. Out of concern that the Volunteer would further harass other Volunteers or attempt to intimidate the witnesses, the country director instructed the Volunteer to cease all further communication with other Volunteers pending the resolution of the OIG investigation and that violation of this order was grounds for administrative separation.

The OIG investigation identified at least seven Volunteers who had been sexually harassed by the subject Volunteer, and a number of Volunteers confirmed witnessing these events. During an OIG interview, the subject Volunteer admitted to communicating in such a way that others could reasonably perceive as harassing. The Volunteer also admitted to having communicated with eight different Volunteers on 11 occasions after the country director instructed the Volunteer not to do so. The Volunteer resigned following the investigative interview.

Headquarters Staff Providing False Information During Appointment Process
OIG received an anonymous complaint alleging that a headquarters employee provided false information to the Peace Corps during his security background investigation. Specifically, it was alleged that the employee, a political appointee, falsely asserted in his résumé that he received a baccalaureate degree.

The employee admitted to OIG that his résumé was inaccurate and that reference to his possession of a baccalaureate degree was “a mistake.” He also acknowledged that the security questionnaire he completed was not accurate with respect to his alcohol-related offenses, which occurred in 1995 and 1998. He said he mistakenly thought the offenses were reportable only if they had occurred more recently.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute the headquarters employee in favor of administrative remedies. The employee resigned from the Peace Corps.

Country Director Sexually Assaulting Host Country National Allegation in Eastern Europe
OIG received an allegation that a country director groped a host country national while intoxicated. Following the investigation, the country director resigned. The victim declined to seek criminal prosecution of the matter.

Headquarters Employee Providing False Information During an Audit
OIG concluded an investigation concerning alleged obstruction of an OIG audit. The investigation disclosed that an employee at Peace Corps headquarters willfully concealed relevant, derogatory information from OIG auditors. The staff member was placed on administrative leave and his security clearance was revoked.

Conflict of Interest, Breach of Confidentiality, Retaliation, and Sexual Harassment Allegation at a Post in the Pacific
OIG received a complaint containing several allegations that staff at a post in the Pacific breached a Volunteer’s confidentiality and retaliated against a Volunteer for filing a complaint. This occurred among other alleged violations. The investigative findings did not support that a staff member had breached the Volunteer’s confidentiality or that staff had retaliated against the Volunteer for filing a complaint. However, the investigation uncovered facts that would support several violations of the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch by the staff member. The matter was referred to the agency.

Volunteer Whistleblower Retaliation Allegation in Eastern Europe
A Volunteer alleged that the post’s country director retaliated against her for raising several concerns to management and OIG about the post’s deputy for programming and training. The OIG investigation established that the Volunteer engaged in protected activities when the Volunteer reported alleged mismanagement to agency officials and OIG, and action was taken against the Volunteer shortly after she reported the alleged mismanagement. The investigation also found that agency staff involved in the disciplinary action taken against the Volunteer was aware of the protected activities. Nevertheless, OIG uncovered substantial evidence that management would have taken the same disciplinary action in the absence of the Volunteer’s protected activities and the actions taken with the Volunteer appeared to be consistent with discipline administered by staff to other Volunteers.

Federal Employees’ Compensation Act
During a proactive review of Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) benefits paid to returned Volunteers, Peace Corps OIG, with the aid of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) OIG, identified a possible discrepancy. The review disclosed that a recipient had been a full-time AmeriCorps Volunteer while receiving FECA benefits, demonstrating that the recipient was capable of working under the recipient’s claimed FECA conditions. Peace Corps OIG and CNCS OIG reviewed work statements and other records and notified the Department of Labor (DOL) of the possible discrepancy. DOL determined the recipient should not be receiving benefits and terminated the monthly payments. Based upon the recipient’s age and DOL’s average life expectancy formula, this reduction will result in cost avoidance to the Peace Corps of approximately $1,113,600 (approximately $22,272 a year). In addition, Peace Corps OIG is attempting to work with DOL to recoup approximately $70,000 in payments to the recipient.

IG Kathy Buller (left) and Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet (right) meet with Senator Johnny Isakson, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to discuss Volunteer safety and security.
IG Kathy Buller (left) and Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet (right) meet with Senator Johnny Isakson, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to discuss Volunteer safety and security.

3 Comments

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  • Thanks John, very interesting and informative…where would we be without your alert reporting, gracias! I feel Peace Corps under Carrie is the best ever, especially at this time in our history. Volunteers are being protected and given support.
    IG Kathy Buller has to be tough, the position calls for it, otherwise investigations can be lost. As a former investigator for Los Angeles County, I support her efforts and mission. Peace Corps will benefit!
    Bob

  • Historically, I think that Charlie Peters and his amazing adventurers wrote wonderful reports about Peace Corps in real time in real countries. They are unsurpassed.

    I think that the OIG reports and evaluations serve another purpose and that is to identify problems and recommend solutions. The OIG has no authority to implement anything. The OIG also can offer confidentiality to Volunteers and staff reporting abuse or suspicious activities. I also find that in many reports, the OIG is really advocating for the Volunteer.

    As for your stories, John, I thought that all Volunteers and staff were saints, and that was an important part of the myth!

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