Trying to keep the changing slogans of the Peace Corps campaign straight–as well as all those Peace Corps numbers–is a job, so I decided to do a quick ‘cheat sheet’ of numbers and facts and timing so, at least, I would know what is going on and who is doing what to whom!
First off, President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget backs off of his promise to double the Peace Corps to 16,000 volunteers by 2011. His budget today calls for 9,000 Americans enrolled in the Peace Corps by the end of FY 2012, and 11,000 by the end of FY 2016.
At that pace, Obama is out of office, his two girls are off to college, and a Republican is back in the White House, before the size of the Peace Corps is doubled. Also, let us not forget, his White House budget documents flatly contradicts his promise of 16,000 volunteers by 2010. (For the record the highest number of PCV overseas was in 1966, with 15,000 people.)
As of today: 1) Obama’s budget calls for $376 million in fiscal year 2010. 2) Legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives just increased that to $450 million when it survived an appropriations subcommittee markup on June 17, 2009. 3) It still needs to be passed out of the House and then approved by the Senate before it would land on Obama’s desk. 4) Obama could, of course, veto it!
To double the size of the Peace Corps (another ambition of the MorePeaceCorps campaign folks) Obama would have to commit (in today’s dollars) approximately $750 million. That ain’t going to happen, folks.
If you noticed the MorePeaceCorps Campaign is now the Bold Peace Corps Campaign. This was an editing job done by RPCV writer Larry Leamer (Nepal 1965-67). As a slogan and rallying point, it works better. Also, it suggests the strength of the Peace Corps rather than just numbers. You know, like Army Strong!
There are several other problems in increasing the number of PCVs overseas.
- It costs more money to maintain a PCV in the field today because of the shrinking dollar;
- Security is ‘up’ overseas. Why, they have CD living on the embassy compound in some countries;
- The costs for recruitment is up; the Peace Corps has had to close regional recruitment offices;
- Salaries of staff are up; etc.
- PCVs are receiving larger allowances and the Readjustment Amount has increased.
There are a couple other unnoticed reasons. One, is that if you are a CD overseas and you have 40 PCVs and you are at a Schedule Two GSA salary level and making a six figure salary, have a nice house and a couple servants, a bunch of nice PCVs, why would you ask for more PCVs? That would just means more work for you. Also Peace Corps/Washington just cut your staff! You write D.C. and tell them your country can’t take more PCVs.
In Shriver’s day you got ahead in the agency– and noticed by Shriver– by having a bigger, bolder and dynamitic program. Those days are gone forever. Today, we have a Peace Corps that is small and cozy.
The second hidden issue is health of RPCVs, especially mental health. If you can show you weren’t crazy when you went overseas, but because of your service you are crazy (and I am using that term loosely) you can get your shrink bills paid for by the government. That’s why it is such a bitch to get into the Peace Corps today. The Medical Office keeps raising all those Red Flags. They don’t want anyone who has signs of depression while in college. The costs of treating RPCVs after the Peace Corps service, for one reason or another, keeps going up and eating up the Peace Corps budget.
In passing Congresswoman Nita Lowey mentioned on Hardball the other evening the new GSA report on the Peace Corps. That is a ticking time bomb. I can guarantee you that this report will be negative to the agency. The report (and I haven’t seen it) will say that PCVs are out of touch and not doing a good job, that they lacks skills and equipment, and can be replaced by computers, FaceBook and Twitter. I see the GSA report calling for new approaches on where to assign PCVs, and demanding Volunteers with better skills. Goodbye, B.A. Generalist.
The White House Peace Corps Transition Report that we published a month ago is a hint at what is to come, but it is a timid document. More needs to be said and done by the next administration for the Peace Corps. The new Peace Corps Director is key. She or He must be someone who has 1) close connections to the White House; 2) A former Peace Corps Volunteer who understands the role of a PCV; 3) someone with strong management experience; 4) extensive overseas experience.
One last story. The next Director needs to be like Sarge. Here’s a true story. When Warren Wiggins did a flow chart in the first days of the agency (because no one knew who to report to!) he showed it to Shriver who said, “There’s only one thing wrong with this organization chart. The Volunteer is at the bottom of it.”
Shriver turned the chart upside down and put the Peace Corps Volunteers at the top. The Volunteer overseas is the most important part of the Peace Corps. When we get back to those days, we’ll really going to have a Peace Corps again.