Senator Wants Peace Corps Out of China & Other ‘Hostile’ Nations

Senator Wants Peace Corps Out of China & Other ‘Hostile’ Nations

TAMPA, Fla. (CN) — Senator Rick Scott wants to withdraw the Peace Corps from “hostile” countries such as China, the Florida Republican said Tuesday, in introducing legislation that would strip the program of its relative autonomy and put it under the State Department.

Scott’s “Peace Corps Mission Accountability Act” would put the Peace Corps under the umbrella of the State Department instead of its current position as an independent agency under the executive branch.

Containers are piled high at a port in Qingdao in easterna China’s Shandong province Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Growth in Chinese exports to the United States ticked up in October as traders rushed to beat another round of tariff hikes. (Chinatopix via AP)

The bill would give the secretary of state authority over the director of the Peace Corps and “ensure the agency’s work and budget is in line with the foreign policy goals of the United States.” It also calls for the Peace Corps to leave China and prohibit future volunteers from working in “hostile” countries.

The bill stems from disagreements between Scott and Peace Corps Director Judy Olsen. According to Scott, Olsen refused his request to move volunteers out of China during a meeting on July 11.

“We want the Peace Corps to do good work across the globe – just not with our enemies like China,” Scott said in a statement. “The Peace Corps continues to use taxpayer dollars to support programs in places like China, which continues to steal our technology and intellectual property, refuses to open up their markets, is militarizing the South China Sea, violates human rights and supports [President Nicolás] Maduro’s genocide in Venezuela.”

Neither Olsen nor another representative of the Peace Corps could be reached for comment after office hours Tuesday night.

Formed by President John F. Kennedy 58 years ago, the Peace Corps defines its mission as promoting “world peace and friendship” by providing trained men and women to work on development projects abroad and foster understanding between cultures. Volunteers have built schools, improved farming practices and fought malaria and HIV/AIDS.

More than 230,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps and served in 141 countries since its inception. Today 65 countries host more than 7,300 volunteers, including 134 in China, according to the agency.

Scott, the former governor of Florida elected to the Senate in 2016, has frequently attacked China’s trade policies and militarization in the South China Sea.

Scott has asked the Office of Management and Budget for information on funding the United States sends to China and China-affiliated enterprises.

“China is clearly our enemy, and I was horrified to recently learn that the federal government spends more than $32.5 million per year in foreign aid in China, a country wealthy enough not to need support from U.S. taxpayers,” Scott said in the letter to Russ Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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  • Congratulations to Director Olson for protecting the integrity and independence of the Peace Corps. Senator Scott is evidently unaware of the law governing Peace Corps decision to withdraw programs from countries. Here is what The Sam Farr and NIck Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018 mandates:

    SEC. 203. CONSULTATION WITH CONGRESS REQUIRED BEFORE OPENING OR CLOSING OVERSEAS OFFICES AND COUNTRY PROGRAMS.
    Section 10 of the Peace Corps Act (22 U.S.C. 2509) is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:

    “(k) (1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), the Director of the Peace Corps may not open, close, significantly reduce, or suspend a domestic or overseas office or country program unless the Director has notified and consulted with the appropriate congressional committees at least 15 days in advance.

    “(2) The Director of the Peace Corps may waive the application of paragraph (1) for a period of not more than 5 days after an action described in such paragraph if the Director determines such action is necessary to ameliorate a substantial security risk to Peace Corps volunteers or other Peace Corps personnel.

    “(3) For the purposes of this subsection, the term ‘appropriate congressional committees’ means—

    “(A) the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives; and

    “(B) the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate.”.

    https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2259/text#toc-HC6C56B1BFCB340669494A36864534F14

    Senator Scott does not even sit on any of these committees.

    In 2010, during the Obama Administraton, Peace Corps completed a review of agency’s programs, goals, and procedures.
    https://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/opengov/PC_Comprehensive_Agency_Assessment.pdf

    The Assessment outlined how Peace Corps takes into account the priorities of the United States in detail in this Section:
    IV. ADJUSTING VOLUNTEER PLACEMENT TO REFLECT PRIORITY UNITED STATES INTERESTS, COUNTRY NEEDS AND COMMITMENT TO SHARED GOALS, AND VOLUNTEER SKILLS

    My personal opinion is Senator Scott is ignorant of the law and ignorant of the Peace Corps. I believe he attempted to circumvent established procedures by bullying the Director of the Peace Corps into closing a country program. When Director Jody Olsen, a Republican appointee of President Trump and a RPCV stood firm against his onslaught, he decided to retaliate by attempting to reduce her authority. and with it the independence of the Peace Corps.

  • Concerning Sen Scott’s idea, and vision, we’ve been over this ground before — many times.

    I would guess that, contrasted with the Shriver era, the State Dept today has a BIG influence on PC decisions. I could see it coming, already when I was a PCV, back in the early ’60s.

    Some of it wasn’t just that PCVs were not peddling the current Foreign Policy line, nor any particular worry about volunteer safety — but even shallow resentment, as PCVs seemed to be unintentionally shedding light on the State Dept’s ideas about “Hardship Posts” with limousines and chauffeurs, and mansions full of servants; lavish R&R every 12 months; and other perks like shipping over personal pianos for State Dept employees.

    I would not generalize to ALL State Dept people. Some, I remember, really loved us PCVs.

    John Turnbull Ghana-3 Geology and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment, 1963-64-65,

  • John,

    This is NOT coming from the State Department. It is the work of one Senator, who tried to bully the Director of the Peace Corps
    into closing a program in a country he did not like. Since the Agency Assessment of 2010, Peace Corps has worked with the State Department and other agencies to insure that Peace Corps goals were compatible with the overall National interests

    Here is a link to Senator Scott’s legislation, which John Coyne has highlighted:
    https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Peace-Corps.pdf

  • I couldn’t help recalling “The Great Riot” which happened in 1963, in front of the US Embassy in Accra, Ghana. The embassy staff was barricaded inside, and to the rest of us OUTside, it was clear that this was a stunt by the Nkrumah Gov’t to mollify Eastern Bloc critics. All of the placards were professionally made, and we all knew that all the Ghanaian civil servants had been let off work to participate. What office worker wouldn’t welcome a day off to visit with their friends.

    The story flew around Accra that in the midst of the riot, a taxi arrived in front of the embassy, with several bewildered Americans. A Ghanaian gentleman was waving his “Go Home, American Imperialists” sign at them.

    THEN, in a turnabout, the same Ghanaian gentleman courteously opened the taxi door for them, shook hands with them all, and said “Welcome to Ghana ! ” — and still carrying his sign, cleared a way through the crowd to the front door of the Embassy. THIS was the ambiguous world that we early PCVs lived in.

    It undoubtedly looked very different from inside the embassy, and ironically, when I was transferred to Nyasaland Protectorate in 1964, I would meet State Dept personnel who had been there, peering out the windows at “The Great Riot”. I remember explaining what really was going on, to some astonished Foreign Service employees.

    I’m afraid Sen Scott misses the major point, and that is that from the beginning the PC has been an expression of the American PEOPLE, not a PR gimmick or propaganda device for the US Gov’t. And like all people-to-people efforts, striving for understanding, it can be pretty ambiguous.

    I have another story, this from the early PC Project in China. Those people whom Sen Scott labels “Our enemies”. John Turnbull

  • Just got a message off to my two US Senators, asking them to take the lead in opposing Sen Scott’s bill. We’ve been over this ground before — too many times. John Turnbull

  • John,

    I think your story does illustrate how Volunteers were regarded by HCNs. In 1965, the Dominican Republic was in crisis and there were three different factions – left, right, and UN. LBJ sent the Marines to keep the DR from “going communistic”. The only people who were able to walk through each of the sectors were PC Volunteers. It is one of PC finest hours.

    I am afraId Peace Corps may become a target for the “deficit hawks”, of which Senator Scott is a leading member. It was only a few weeks ago, a Republlican Congressman from North Carolina introduced a measure to eliminate funding for the Peace Corps for one year, at least. Such a measure would have crippled the agency and destroyed programs. More than half of the Republcians in the House voted for such a defunding. It took the work of the RPCV Community, the NPCA and the Democrats in the House to defeat the draconian plan.

    I may be wrong, but I believe in the history of Peace Corps, no elected official had the audicity to go to the Director of the Peace Corps and demand that a program in a certain host counttry be immediately disbanded.

    I think it is a vulnerable time for the Peace Corps. I believe the real danger is the agency and more importantly, serving Voluneers could be dragged into a political battle.

  • Yes, Joanne, I think the moments you recall about the Dominican Republic would be, indeed, “Their finest hour”. Even with the widespread belief that Africa was a dangerous place, and so many of us carried a heavy machete (i.e. “Chipanga”), nobody really thought they were in danger. People talked to people, which is what understanding is premised on. You’ve heard so many of my Africa-recollections before.

    Concerning the Dominican Republic, my mind returns to the late Andres “Andy” Hernandez of New Mexico, who figured so prominently in how things happened in the formative years of the PC, back then. It’s quite a history ! !

    And what could be more persuasive, than when a diplomat from an African country stood up before the UN General Assembly, and expressed his thanks to long-ago PC Volunteers, who had made his education possible, AND moreso, had inspired his worldview as a student. How can anybody fault THAT ?? Apparently, only Sen Scott and friends.

    It’s a history to be proud of. John Turnbull

  • The question remains, why did 110 elected Republicans vote to defund the Peace Corps? Why did Senator Scott think he had the right to demand the Director of an independent agency do what he said?

  • As an earlier senator once said “I would hate to have to fight World War II with people like this. ” The sad truth is that they don’t believe in anything — other than politicking, and getting into power to hand out the national treasury. Pretty grim for democratic government, and the “will of the people”. Alexis de Toqueville may have been right, 140 years ago. John Turnbull

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