The Five Year Rule – Where it came from and why it is important to RPCVs

UPDATE:  Peace Corps has just released the long awaited Inspector General’s review of the Five Year Rule.  To read this report in its PDF form, go to; scroll to the bottom of the page and click on Office of the Inspector General. The report will be the first one listed, Click on it for the PDF. I expect that a direct link will be posted to Peace Corps Worldwide, soon.

Of remarkable note is the fact that the Inspector General’s report quotes extensively from Dr. Textor’s original memo.

Dr. Robert B. Textor proposed in an memo on December 11, 1961 a personnel policy for the Peace Corps. In 2011, he revisited the memo and wrote an essay describing his memo and the analysis that promoted it.  The entire essay can be and should be read at:

I would like to quote from that essay:

“This essay deals with my two principal efforts to help the organization turn the young president’s vision into reality:

  • *To produce a model for an excellent training program for the Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs).
  • *To produce a fundamental change in the Peace Corps’ personnel policy, so that it would be permanently led by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) on a rotating basis and thereby avoid bureaucratic senescence. My effort was embodied in the “In-Up-Out” policy that the Peace Corps adopted (administratively in 1963, and legally in 1965), which was based on my original memo on this subject, dated December 11, 1961.”

From the actual memo:

“2. Recommendations for Implementation During 1962:

b. Recommend that the new autonomous PC Personnel system provide that:

(1) Almost all substantive jobs in PC should be filled, as soon as possible, by qualified PCV alumni. A “substantive job is a job -high or low – which influences the shape and gusto of PC programs, e.g. officers in Recruiting. Selection, Training, and Program Development and Operations, including overseas Representatives.

(2) PCV alumni, and all other staff employees, should follow the principle of “in-up-out.” The law should set a maximum number of years – perhaps eight years – after which all staffers are required to leave and find jobs.”

But when Peace Corps proposed legislation in 1965 to allow the creation of a unique personnel system, the tenure limit proposed was only five years and there was no provision in the actual legislation for the priority hiring of RPCVs. The rationale for the limited tenure was described as a policy that “would permit a constant inflow of new blood and ideas.”  But it was not specified exactly from where this “inflow of new blood and ideas” would originate. In a letter to Chairman Fulbright Chairman of the Senate Committee Foreign Relations, dated May 9th, 1965, Sargent Shriver gave yet another reason for limited tenure:

“This system will, insofar as it is humanly possible, eliminate or reduce artificial barriers between our paid staff’s terms and conditions of service and those of our volunteers.”

This letter  and the analysis of other provisions of the law can be found as follows:

PEACE CORPS ACT – AMENDMENTS   SENATE REPORT (Foreign Relations Committee) No. 267, May 27, 1965 (To accompany S. 2054)


6.  It would authorize use of Foreign Service Act authority for appointment of the U.S.-based Peace Corps staff, thus creating a unified personal system for the foreign and domestic staff.


Sections 5 and 6

For some time the Peace Corps has been considering the desirability of a personnel system which would place the Peace Corps staff in essentially the same position as that of the volunteer: serving for a limited period of time and then moving on to give the same opportunity of service to others.  The application of Foreign Service Act authorities to the Washington staff would permit a constant inflow of new blood and ideas by allowing administrative flexibility which is not possible under the restrictions of the civil service system.

The Peace Corps has advised that it plans to limit appointments to 21/2 years with extension in appropriate cases to the maximum of 5 years allowed under the bill.

If there are any public records explaining why priority hiring of RPCVs was not included in this legislation, I could not find them. I could find no public record that advocated that the Peace Corps agency be staffed by RPCVs on a rotating basis other than Dr. Textor’s 1961 memo.

It may well be that in the context of 1965, it was felt that such formal statement of policy was unnecessary. For example, in response to a request from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Appendix A of the record of the Hearings before the COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS UNITED STATES SENATE -Eighty-Ninth Congress, First Session on S. 1368, April 26. 1965, Peace Corps listed the names of all RPCVS working for the federal government and the federal agencies where they were employed.  At Peace Corps, in Washington, in Training Programs, and overseas, there were already 198 RPCVs employed.

In 1966, the periodical, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. 365, The Peace Corps. May 1966, devoted its entire issue to discussion of the Peace Corps.  The Journal included an article by Harris Wofford, “The Future of the Peace Corps.” He alluded to the “policy of priority to former Volunteers in filling staff positions” and predicted “by 1970, former Volunteers should, in fact, be running the Peace Corps from nearly the top to the bottom.”

But by 1970, a Republican administration was in power. In June of 1971, President Nixon created a new comprehensive agency, ACTION.  Peace Corps was submerged into a subdivision of the new organization and became IO, International Operations. The first use of the so-called “Five Year Flush” was to consolidate positions to create a more streamlined bureaucracy in the new agency and to replace staff from the 60s, who had exceeded the five-year limit and were not necessarily viewed as supportive of the new policies. It was not until 1993, that a RPCV, Carol Bellamy, was actually appointed Director and was “running the agency.”

Recent legislation exempting safety and security staff, and members of the Inspector General’s staff, from its provisions, have modified the Five-Year Rule.  Staff identified as “experts” are also not subject to the Five-Year Rule. The Peace Corps Director may make a certain percentage of appointments for longer than five years. In the early 70s, there was an expansion of overseas administration to include the employment of host country nationals. In order to provide continuity, HCN are exempted from the Five -Year Rule. Recently returned former PCVs are entitled to a non-competitive consideration when applying for federal positions, including those with the Peace Corps agency. The Five-Year Rule does provide for continuing staff turnovers that does “open up” positions.

Current Peace Corps Director Williams did not think that current law would allow for making successful completion of Peace Corps Volunteer service a prerequisite for employment with Peace Corps. So the Five -Year rule remains but it is essentially divorced from any systematic policy to “priority hire” or otherwise utilize the “transcultural experience” of the returning Peace Corps Volunteer in the operations of the Peace Corps.

Next:  Pros and Cons of the Five-Year Rule

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