Leamer On New Peace Corps in Huffington Post

RPCV writer Laurence Leamer (Nepal 1965-67) filed this story late on Wednesday, May 20,2009, on the “bold new Peace Corps.” I wish I was as confident as others that Congress could override the White House and the budget office, as well as the State Department, and dramatically increase the numbers of Volunteers in the immediate future. I trust the House and Senate to vote for the increase and then not to fund the agency. It has happened before.

Anyway, here’s what Larry has to say….

The bold new Peace Corps was born today in room 2172 in the Rayburn House Office Building. It took place as members of the House of Representatives were marking up the Foreign Affairs Authorization Bill authored by Committee Chairman Rep. Howard Berman. For almost every item, the California Democrat kept to the figures in President Obama’s budget, but when it came to the budget for the Peace Corps he tossed out the administration’s fiscal year 2010 figure of $373 million and made it $450 million. In terms of the overall budget this was chump change, but if the bill passes Congress, the Peace Corps will be able to begin the extensive reform that it needs and to move toward a doubling of the 7,000 volunteers.

Rep. Berman is a loyal Democrat and a team player of the first order. It took courage for him to support this enlarged figure, seemingly opposing the administration’s number. In fact, Berman stood up for President Obama’s highest ideals and values. Berman supported the movement that elected Obama. Berman saved Obama’s own vision.

Obama is the one who in his campaign promised to double the size of the Peace Corps by its fiftieth anniversary in 2011. Obama is the one with a profound understanding of service as an essential feature of the American spirit. Obama is the one who has gone ahead to include in his budget tripling the size of the domestic volunteers to a massive 275,000.

What is increasingly apparent is that at its top levels, the Obama administration does not realize that it has reneged on the President’s fervent campaign pledge. I know how unlikely that sounds, but it is the truth, and Berman has done the President an immense service.

If the Peace Corps is able to reinvent itself for the 21st century, Berman will deserve a place not simply in the history of the organization but in a new American presence in the world. He does not stand alone. The politician was accepting figures in a bill written by Rep. Sam Farr, cosigned by 120 of his colleagues.

Obama has a plate piled to overfilling with an endless heaping of intransigent problems, and it is understandable why he has not paid attention to the Peace Corps. But the time has come in the next few weeks when he can ensure this bold new Peace Corps will be a reality.

Obama has a blueprint of what must be done sitting on his desk: the twenty-page transition document written by his own team. The impressive piece of work manages to be both positive about the Peace Corps and its role in the world, and yet honing in on the problems of the organization and suggesting how they can be fixed so that the volunteer base can be broadly expanded.

This bold new Peace Corps needs a bold new leader with the initiative, energy and decisiveness to turn the organization from a child of the Sixties until a vibrant creature of the 21st century. That’s the immediate task the Obama administration has before it, choosing a new director and an equally impressive deputy director. With the added budget, they and their associates will have one of the greatest opportunities in government.

Rep. Berman has written a new beginning for the creation of a bold new Peace Corps. It’s up to the rest of us now who care about the Peace Corps to work to see that it becomes a reality. The first thing we should all do is to call the White House at 202 456-1111 and tell the operator that we support a bold, new Peace Corps for the new century.

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  • So,Obama should have chosen a leader right awway because he respects us so much. He found out that the budget doubles and the PCs don’t so he can’t say double the budget.

    I’d run PC with the original budget request, but I don’t know Berman(yes, like Erica) and human smuggling well.

  • John, those of us working to get this enlarged budget through know that yesterday was only a first step. We aren’t unduly confident that it will go through. That’s why we are going to be working so hard in the next weeks to convince the rest of Congress. That’s why we need the support of the entire RPCV communtiy. That’s why it’s important for everybody who reads this to take literally a minute to call the White House at 202 456-1111 between 9 and 5 and say you support a bold new Peace Corps. It was amazing that we got Berman’s support on such a level. He’s a brave man and fine public servant. Now we’ve all got to work to get this done, and I’m telling you it’s the RPCV community making this happen. Larry

  • I believe a $100 million increase would be a bit too much for Peace Corps to handle and effectively implement growth within a fiscal year. It takes time to open new countries, expand existing countries, put the staff in place for support and time to find qualified applicants. If this money was for benefit changes, such as increasing the readjustment allowance, additional tuition support or for modernizing support tools or the like, it may make sense. But for simply building a foundation for sustainable growth and working toward doubling Peace Corps, I think budget increases of $30 – $50 million dollars each year would be more effective. I believe it would be irresponsible to try and make the growth happen too quickly. Doubling Peace Corps should be a 5 – 8 year plan. Doing so by 2011 is not a reality with the amount of time needed for recruitment, placement and expansion to new countries or expansion of existing countries.

    Doubling Peace Corps needs to happen and I think it’s a reality with a sustainable growth model not an explosive growth model.

  • Still another who does not believe the Peace Corps can expand rapidly. Need I remind him and others that a slack economy offers reduced opportunities for the Class of 2009. It seems to me that it is a perfect time to find plenty of qualified, talented, and eager young people to join the Corps. Where is the spirit of the 1960s when the Corps grew fast and furious? I can’t believe that young people today, given a bit of direction and support, are no less able to create meaningful experiences that have impact and influence on other people and themselves.

  • First and foremost, I only share my opinion because I whole heartedly believe in the mission of Peace Corps and everything it does for communities abroad and for the men and women who serve. It’s one of the best experiences anyone can have. I not only would like to see increased volunteers, I’d like to see increased benefits for readjustment allowances, continuing education and career benefits to those who serve.

    I believe a 5 – 8 year plan is rapid, sustainable and realistic for doubling Peace Corps, not a 2 – 3 year plan. It took just about that long in the 60’s to see volunteer numbers topping 15,000, so I’d say the spirit of the 60s is as alive today if not more so than in the 60s. And as I said before, qualified applicants are only a piece of the puzzle. Countries have to invite Peace Corps to be there (less the 70+ countries PC is currently in), assessments have to be done for those countries, staff have to be put in place in those countries, sites in those countries have to be identified and evaluated based on need, staff have to be put in place state side to find and process the applicants for those countries…and all the while maintaining a high standard of safety and security to ensure volunteer success. And if we expand assignments in our current countries many of those same steps need to take place. Many assignments for fiscal year 2010 have already been filled, so it’s not that I don’t believe we can double Peace Corps by 2011, I think it is unrealistic. I just wouldn’t risk the good name of Peace Corps by clumsily expanding or risk the safety of volunteers by rushing to get them into the field. This is purely my opinion and I’m happy to hear how we can feasibly double Peace Corps by 2011 that includes more explanation than simply increasing funding.

    $30 – $50 million dollar budget increases each year would allow Peace Corps to expand to those coutries requesting volunteers, allow Peace Corps to maintain volunteer safety, provide increased benefits to those who have served and allow for overall sustainable growth. And I’d much rather see consistent annual increases rather than a large bump one year with minimal increases thereafter.

  • My problem is not with the span of years required to double the Peace Corps. I come from the brutal fact that most Americans do not even know the Peace Corps is still in business. They think of it as a historical event, not an alive and still doing business concern. What we need is to relaunch the Peace Corps on a major scale.
    The Peace Corps was well on its way to becoming a large scale factor in American life in the 1960s. In the next decade it was decided that it was more important to be a more professional orgnanizaton on a smaller scale and it was downsized. The last thing we need is a “junior” AID, there are plenty of professional development organizations laboring in the vineyard.
    What is missing is the large scale involvement of Americans in the world around us that serves to better mutual understanding. If the Peace Corps will not provide that connection, the US military will do it , or American tourists abroad.

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