Peace Corps Performance and Accountability Report FY 2014

Every year, federal agencies publish a Performance and Accountability Report. Although written in bureaucratic/management jargon, it has important information and worth reading and reviewing. Please read the report. Many may disagree with my review and that would be to the good.  The more eyes the better. The report is listed on the official Peace Corps website. Here is the link:

http://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/policies/annrept2014.pdf

FY2014 ended September 30, 2014 and the data derives from that time. There were 6,818 Volunteers serving in the field, 63% of the Volunteers were female and 37% male. The low number of Volunteers reflects both the decrease in applications seen in 2012 and 2013 and the evacuation of Volunteers for security and safety reasons. Peace Corps has an excellent record for removing Volunteers, safely, swiftly, and silently, when a deteriorating political situation puts them at risk. Such evacuations were conducted in the Ukraine and Kenya. Programs were suspended in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone because of the unique threat Ebola represented.

The problems in the PAR report most identified were Peace Corps’ perpetual problems:

-Difficulty in recruiting Volunteers who have the requested technical skills

-Lack of institutional memory

-The difficulty in measuring the impact of the work Volunteers do.

Problems, however, are now renamed “Challenges.”

It made me long for the olden days when country based Evaluation Reports were done by Charlie Peters’Evaluation Unit. Many evaluators were journalists. My favorite was Evelyn Reed who began her 1968 report with “When I arrived in Colombia in October 1966 to begin an eight-month study of the community development project, Peace Corps/Colombia program operations were in shambles.” You did not need a MBA  to understand that!

Attention should be paid to certain solutions that are planned to deal with  these current “challenges.” These are among my concerns:

-The continuing expansion of “partnerships” with NGOS and for-profit  mult-national corporations as a way to compensate for the “unskilled” Volunteer.

– The Five Year rule presents “challenges because of the cost of staff turnover and lack of institutional memory, so from PAR (see: page 36) “The agency is considering pursuing legislation modification to preserve, but modify, the five-year rule to address these major management challenges.”  This statement is repeated elsewhere in the report, but exactly what this “legislation modification” would look like, is never described.

-Evidently, the examples of Volunteer work in Guatemala is presented as a “model” for “sustainable development.  I have many questions. I would hope both Harlan and Leo might address, as well as other RPCV experts.

-There is still a need to evaluate “Volunteer impact,” but I could not find a comprehensive plan to do this.

There is one very positive development. Peace Corps is documenting the role of Volunteers in the eradication of small pox during the 60s and 70s.  From PAR, (See: page 89)  ‘The study is in progress and the agency expects to publish findings in FY2015.” Peace Corps used  “written records, recording of interviews conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and additional interviews with RPCVs who participated in smallpox eradication projects in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Zaire.”

Jill Vickers, RPCV Afghanistan, did a video called “Once in Afghanistan,” about her team that worked on small pox vaccination. Here is a link to a description of her work on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JFfiGEM-sw The documentary is archived in the National Archives.  However, I could not find it in the Peace Corps Digital Library.

I think this is an valuable contribution to the history of the Peace Corps.  But sadly, it is four decades too late to help identify and correct problems that the Volunteers encountered. The main one that I remember is that in Colombia, the vaccination programs were carried out using needles that were not always properly sterilized because there was no energy source to sterilize. My reading tells me this was a universal problem As we all know, dirty needles are a vector for blood borne diseases, like Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDs and Ebola.

Perhaps others have a different opinion of the PAR.  It would be good to hear them.

5 Comments

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  • Joanne. Your comments point to what I consider to be the crux of the matter. You speak of the smallpox eradication program in Ethiopia as a possible “valuable contribution” left by the Peace ‘Corps. I will always consider such “contributions” as a secondary contribution, the main contribution we left in Ethiopia was seen in the fantastic reception we received from the entire country when we returned there to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps’ arrival in the country. If is the friendships built, not the lives saved, that is the main legacy of the Peace Corps, although the two goods are intertwined..

  • Leo,
    Thank you for your comment. When I said “valuable contribution”, I should have clarified that I meant that the study undertaken, today, by Peace Corps was a valuable contribution to the history of the Peace Corps.

    We will never be in agreement over what is more important, the First Goal or the Second. I also think that how one evaluates the Peace Corps contribution is a function of where and when one served, in what the program, and even if one were male or female.

    Because I was in a Public Health program, I think the First Goal is critical and not just an”entry” into a country. My impression is that teachers had the best opportunity to make friends and “influence people”, and view their service as making a major contribution.

  • The yearly reports will be a great help to historians. However, any study usually best undertaken by an outside source. When agencies attempt to write their own histories, the projects can easily get bogged down in group think and politics.

  • Lorenzo,
    Group think, politics at PC/HDQs? Surely you jest!

    You are absolutely right about the value of outside review. I don’t know what this study will look like.They are using outside sources like the Disease Control Center. Right now, the Office of the Inspector General of the Peace Corps does review programs and countries. They are independent. But I think that the review should be by outside experts depending on the kind of program. I would liked to have seen doctors and medical anthropologists for public health programs; engineers for public work programs. for example.

  • Joanne: I’ve read a few master’s thesises and even two dissertations about the Peace Corps which were very interesting. In all cases they were written by RPCVs. I found them using the internet.

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