RPCVs Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff have their say on ABC NEWS

Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff talk with Brian Ross about the Peace Corps.


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  • Ludlam and Hirschoff are entitled to state their views of course, and I hadn’t had anything to do with PC administration from my COS in 1982 until my own daughter’s departure for staging this morning. Still, the 20/20 clip omits any reference to the 5 year rule. I checked, and the rule is still in effect, limiting employment in PC administration to 60 consecutive months. The purpose of that rule was to prevent the kind of administrative ossification that Ludlam and Hirschoff allege to have occurred. While it’s possible that administrative rot established itself despite the 5 year rule, the failure even to mention it suggests that 20/20 and Ludlam/Hirschoff are ignorant of it or are misrepresenting the mechanisms that were intended to keep PC vital and fresh.

    It’s quite possible that the 5 year rule might have contributed to the mishandling of death notification and family support in the wake of Ms. Puzey’s murder.

    I don’t know about the specific mechanisms of the PC inspector general, but I’m a former prosecutor and a student of comparative legal traditions who teaches that subject at the college level. PC’s posted inspector general reports indicate that the agency cooperates with host country criminal justice processes when volunteers are the victims of crimes.It is at least possible that PC had to turn its inquiry into Ms. Puzey’s murder over to Beninese law enforcement officials. In countries that follow the civil law tradition (Benin’s system is derived from the French) it is rare for investigative information to be in the public domain. Even in our own country, responsible prosecutors do not put investigative information into the public domain until after the charges are concluded, for a variety of legal and ethical reasons. 20/20’s failure to even discuss the POSSIBILITY that PC is showing deference to the host country’s criminal justice process until the murderers’ trials are concluded reflects poorly on PC’s public communications and ABC News’ sense of fairness.

    In sum, I don’t dispute Ludlam’s and Hirschoff’s right to comment, but I’m not persuaded by what I’ve seen so far that they have relevant expertise to condemn the entire agency.

  • Wow. JSBP Prof.

    I would urge you to become more familiar with the extensive and comprehensive analysis that Ludlam and Hirschoff have done of Peace Corps operations. I have not had an opportunity to listen to their comments on ABC, nor do I know them, but from my reading of Peace Corps documents, I believe that they are the most knowledgeable experts about Peace Corps. You should read their “Twenty Point Plan” posted on peacecorpsonline.org. In the PCOL search box, key in Ludlam to view it. Of specific significance is Point 17 on how Peace Corps handles crime against Peace Corps staff and serving Volunteers. Their citations are exhaustive.

    Also must reading for anyone remotely interested in the Peace Corps is the Peace Corps’ own agency assessment completed last June as Congress demanded. The 2010 study, The Peace Corps: A Comprehensive Agency Assessment can be found at:

    The Five Year Rule was amended in 2004 to allow longer tenure for personnel working in Safety and Security. One question to be answered is: Was this an effective response to the problems of violence against Volunteers? Congress held hearings on that issue in 2003-2004. About thirty or so political appointees fill decision-making staff positions at the Peace Corps. All but one of these positions was still vacant when Katy Puzey was murdered.
    That may have impacted the Peace Corps response.

    Finally, Host Country Nationals working for the Peace Corps as State Department employees are not subject to the five-year rule. In addition, many HCNs work on long-term personal service contracts with the Peace Corps in-country.

    I wish your daughter the very best.

  • Joey, many thanks for the suggestions and the links. I think the assessment report was moved. I found it here: http://multimedia.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/opengov/PC_Comprehensive_Agency_Assessment.pdf.

    Ludlam and Hirshoff have clearly worked hard and are exceedingly knowledgeable observers. Obviously, they are far more knowledgeable about current Peace Corps organizational culture than I am. Sorry if I caused consternation with my reaction based solely on their comments on 20/20.

    Their 20 points document has a number of interesting ideas and brought back a lot of memories for me. Perhaps they envisioned themselves speaking within the framework of an on-going effort to get the agency to take reform proposals seriously and to improve transparency and Congressional oversight when they accepted the invitation to be interviewed.

    That doesn’t resolve my concern that the 20/20 series and their role in it is not likely to be helpful to the conversation about responsibly reforming the agency for this century. It’s not possible to hold the subjects of a 20/20 interview responsible for the treatment the show’s producers give them, of course but there is little that connects the Ludlam/Hirschoff reform proposals to the subtext of the 20/20 series, which appears to me to be intended to persuade viewers that most PCVs are in mortal danger from violent host country nationals because the agency is so badly mismanaged. Many of the Ludlam/Hirschoff 20 points, like the uneven quality of CDs, misrepresentation of program characteristics during recruitment, and high ET rates go back at least as far as my time of service (’79-82), and do not relate to this tragedy. The mere existence of a whistleblower rule probably wouldn’t have saved the volunteer’s life — the CD apparently recognized that the information should remain confidential, promised that it would remain confidential, then failed to put in place workable protections to keep it confidential. Having a rule listing those procedures could be helpful, of course, but even the 20/20 report does not suggest that the CD consciously divulged information or that whistleblower protocols would certainly have prevented the email from falling into the hands of the killer’s family member. It also doesn’t seem that the point about “listening” to volunteers was applicable to that case. The volunteer was listened to by country staff, but the well-intentioned effort was mismanaged. Even point 17, about inspector general control of crime investigations, does not seem especially pertinent to that tragic murder, given that the FBI and State, not political appointees, are currently handling that investigation. My previous comment about nondisclosure of pending investigative materials stands, though I hope I have managed to place it in a more respectful context here.

    It’s not the effort to reform PC that I object to (especially the effort to reduce the impact of political appointees!), or Mr. Ludlam’s and Ms. Hirschoff’s service to that ideal, of course. I do object to the hype and scare tactics that 20/20 used to exploit a tragedy that does not seem to typify the circumstances that most volunteers work in. I am concerned that the 20/20 series and the Ludlam/Hirschoff interview are likely to reinforce popular misconceptions about the extent to which volunteers face violence from host country nationals, adversely affecting the agency’s ability to recruit and retain volunteers, a goal that Ludlam/Hirschoff claim to support and is worth pursuing along with efforts to improve the agency. I’m sorry that that objection led me to mischaracterize the contributions of Mr. Ludlam and Ms. Hirschoff to the on-going effort to reform the agency’s efforts.

    Thanks again for the links, your courtesy and your patience with my lack of sophistication about current efforts to reform the agency. I especially appreciated your explanation of recent changes to the 5 year rule and the long-standing exception for HCNs, which I should have remembered from my own service.

  • JSBP Prof,

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply, and the correction for the link I used. I don’t know Ludlam nor Hirschoff and I certainly cannot comment on their attitudes and responses. However, I do think the work they have done is valuable. I have said that so much that we read about Peace Corps is just recruiting propaganda with all the anguish airbrused out.

    I am frustrated that the issue of the safety of Peace Corps Volunteers has been addressed over and over again and still is not resolved. I don’t know the answer to the question: “Are serving Volunteers as absolutely safe as can be managed?” I also think that part of the anger about the tragedy of Katy Puzey is that it has been two years since her murder and the investigation is still on-going. I do appreciate your statement that Peace Corps must respect the protocols of on-going investigation.

    You are familiar, I presume, with the First Response Action group of RPCVs dealing with this issue. I will post the link here, again. I hope I get it right! http://firstresponseaction.blogspot.com/

    Finally, I hope very much that you become engaged with the whole issue of Peace Corps reform and Volunteer safety. Your calm response, your daughter’s service, and your academic and legal credentials would add so much to this effort.

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