Letter From Former Peace Corps Directors to the Senate–NPCA DAYS OF ACTION

A bi-partisan group of ten former Peace Corps directors are unified in their opposition to Senate legislation that would place #PeaceCorps operations under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of State, ending the agency’s independent status. Their letter, addressed to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, aims to keep the #international perception of Peace Corps’ independence and ensure the agency’s non-political status in order for its continued success.

As part of NPCA’s upcoming National Days of Action, advocates will meet with lawmakers to take action on this legislation. Learn more and read the full letter:

January 7, 2020

Chairman James Risch
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
423 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Ranking Member Bob Menendez
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
423 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Risch and Ranking Member Menendez,

As former directors of Peace Corps, we are writing to respectfully request that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reject the bill S.2320, which would end the Peace Corps as an independent agency. That would place at risk the 7400 Volunteers working in some 60 countries around the world and their mission of international cooperation and volunteer service.

The independence of the Peace Corps has been carefully protected by Presidents, Secretaries of State and Congresses for the past 58 years. Part of the reason was to insure that Volunteers would not be confused with those carrying out day to day US foreign and security policies. Turning the Peace Corps into a bureau of the Department of State would void that independence. The long-term strategic value of Volunteer service is to contribute to development in other countries, foster greater awareness of the United States through their partnership with citizens of other countries and broaden our country’s understanding of other peoples when Volunteers return home.

Volunteers reflect US values, the character of our citizens and the nation’s strategic commitments to peace and mutual respect. Their invaluable achievements in international understanding have largely been possible because of the Peace Corps’ independence under 11 Presidents. It is noteworthy that the Peace Corps came into being under President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and its independence was re-affirmed by the law signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

It is why every Secretary of State has sent cables to every Ambassador directing them to respect and value that independence. The l983 cable from President Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, was one example. He wrote, “to be effective (Peace Corps) must remain substantially separate from the formal day-to-day conduct and concerns of foreign policy because of its unique people-to-people character. In 2007, Secretary Rice wrote, “The Peace Corps’ role and its need for separation from day-to-day activities of the mission are not comparable to those of other U.S. government agencies.” And in 1961, Secretary Rusk wrote: “The Peace Corps is not an instrument of foreign policy because to make it so would rob it of its contribution to foreign policy.”

All of us, as former Directors of the Peace Corps under Democratic and Republican presidents, have met foreign ministers and heads of state, journalists and members of parliament, doctors and teachers, in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who have said “I was impacted by a Peace Corps Volunteer.” They then named the Volunteer. Then we would have a conversation about the power of the Peace Corps to bridge divides and empower people.

Volunteers today are working with their counterparts, teaching in schools, working in health clinics, bringing modern information technology to help farmers and small business and conveying our belief in the mutual benefit of international cooperation. Peace Corps continues to receive more requests for Volunteers than it can satisfy and more requests to join the Peace Corps than it can accommodate with existing funding. The international perception of the Peace Corps’ independence and non-political nature is imperative to its continued success.

We are deeply concerned that the current legislative proposal S.2320, by ending that independence would place both Volunteers and the Corps itself at grave risk.

Joseph Blatchford
(Appointed by President Nixon) (1969-1971)

Nick Craw
(Appointed by President Nixon) (1973-1974)

Richard F. Celeste
(Appointed by President Carter) (1979-1981)

Carol Bellamy
(Appointed by President Clinton) (1993-1995)

Mark D. Gearan
(Appointed by President Clinton) (1995-1999)

Mark L. Schneider
(Appointed by President Clinton) (1999-2001)

Gaddi H. Vasquez
(Appointed by President George W. Bush) (2002-2006)

Ronald A. Tschetter
(Appointed by President George W. Bush) (2006-2009)

Aaron S. Williams
(Appointed by President Obama) (2009-2012)

Carrie Hessler-Radelet
(Appointed by President Obama) (2014-2017)

5 Comments

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  • S2320 was introduced July 30, 2019 by Senator Scott of Florida. It was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If a Committee Hearing has been scheduled, it does not appear on the Government webpage. So far, Scott’s Bill has no co-sponsors.
    https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2320?r=4&s=1
    Senator Scott had gone to Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen and demanded she pull out all Peace Corps Volunteers from China. She refused. Scott also did not have the authority to order the Peace Corps Director

  • Congratulations and thanks to those who signed this letter and to the Members of Congress who will oppose merging the Peace Corps with the Department of State.

    As a former PCV in Turkey and as a Country Director in Eastern Russia and Bulgaria, I am convinced that placing the Peace Corps under the Department of State would severely risk the safety of Peace Corps Volunteers.

    In order to fulfill the goals of Peace Corps, its Volunteers must work in some of the most isolated and least served areas of its Host Countries. Were Peace Corps made an arm of the U.S. Department of State, Peace Corps Volunteers would no longer be able to function in the places they are needed the most and where they are most effective.

    Ken Hill

  • Why am I not surprised that the spouse of Moscow Mitch …. former Peace Corps director Elaine Chao … is not included on the list of signatories … Oh, well!!

  • John,

    We need an abject example of what will happen if Peace Corps is placed within the direct jurisdiction of the US Dept. of State.
    And here it is: In the mid-1980s, the Washington Post ran a disturbing story which described why the Government of Bolivia had requested that all PC Volunteers be withdrawn. The article went through the events that brought this about, namely that the Volunteers were providing detailed information to the State Department’s Intelligence Unit on the daily goings-on in various villages around the country. PC/La Paz, and PC/W admitted to these facts, as did out State Department. Given the terse political situation in the country at this time, its government felt that it would be better if all Volunteers were recalled–and they were!

    Early on in Peace Corps history, its Director had a Red Phone on his/her desk with a direct line to the Secretary of State. If the current Director still has that Red Phone, she needs to drop a dime and put in a direct call to Secretary Pompeo. Inform him that if the Peace Corps comes under the direct jurisdiction of his Department, the real life example of what occurred in Bolivia will most likely be repeated world-wide–with irreparable harm to the Secretary’s foreign policy initiatives. There are far too many out there who don’t wish PC well; they will see it as a new opportunity to label Volunteers as ‘spies’.

  • Thank you all so much for standing tall and providing why an independent Peace Corps is essential for our country and for the safety of volunteers and the field staff that support them. As a returned volunteer from Ethiopia and in- country trainer for soon to be Thai volunteers, I speak from that experience. Thank you again

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