The Peace Corps Faces Sequester Cuts of $19 million

The Peace Corps will need to reduce the total number of PCVs by approximately 300 Volunteers when the full force of the sequester takes hold. The Volunteers will go first, than the overseas staff, and, of course, no one in D.C. will be laid off. When the hammer of the sequester falls the total number of Peace Corps Volunteers will drop.

We all know that regardless of who is in the White House or on the Hill, the Peace Corps is expendable. We are a token agency on the foreign aid front. The budget in 2012 was $375 million. The budget for the agency in 2013 is set at $377.295 million before the cuts begin.

At the moment, we have 8,073 PCVs overseas. Of course, we don’t know who just ETed in the last ten minutes. We are currently in 76 countries, more or less.

The high point for the agency in terms of PCVs overseas was in 1966 when there were 15,556 Volunteers serving, according to the numbers collected by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975-77) in his useful book Peace Corps Chronology 1961-2010. The low mark was 2,940 when the Peace Corps was one-year old. The next lowest was in 1987 when the total was 5,219. That is when Reagan was President.

So we haven’t done much better in terms of numbers regardless of who was president or what political party controlled the White House or Congress. The truth is that while we think we are valuable overseas, it is hard to convince those controlling the ‘purse strings’ as they like to say in Washington, D.C., that America gets much bang from the Peace Corps buck. We’re nice, but who really cares?

Now I ask.  Who will go to the floor of the Senate or House and demand that the Peace  Corps is the best foreign aid investment that America has?

And this is why.

I continue to marvel as the friendships that are made overseas by PCVs in the 50+ years of the agency, and how these friendships continue and develop and are sustained over all this time. Individual relationships that have nothing to do with government policy or politics. Human connections between a PCV and a HCN because at one time in America we had wise men and women who said, “lets send Americans overseas to help,  and let them be ordinary citizens, common folks, and let them live in villages and towns and teach and work as nurses and doctor, construction people, and farmers. And lets see what happens between people.”

Well, what happen were friendships that started with a few faulty words of greeting on the part of the PCV and turned into long history of friendship, love, and mutual respect, one person to another.

Try and top that human success story, Congress. You can’t.

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10 Comments

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  • Good piece John.

    The Peace Corps as imagined by Warren Wiggins in his epic “Towering Task” was to begin fast with 25,000 volunteers. Both he and Shriver didn’t want the limited jewel box it has become.

    Too bad we didn’t have a NPCA that would stage a sit-in or major lobbying effort in the Halls of Congress. That might not help, but it couldn’t hurt. Because as you note, the word never really gets out about the value of the Peace Corps — fragile, ill-managed pokey thing that it is.

  • Five U.S. Reps – Farr, Garamendi, Petri, Honda, and now Joe Kennedy, III, – are likely to stand up in Congress to try to defend us from the worst of the sequestration and other cuts. But face it: the Peace Corps that we all cherish is likely to suffer, as will so many other worthy programs.

    Meanwhile, who remembers the dream JFK once envisioned of a Peace Corps of 100,000 new Volunteers a year by the ’70s? After a decade of such growth, JFK seemed to see America fielding 1,000,000 PCVs each decade from then on.

    And now we’re into our fifth decade since the ’70s. Of course, we can’t assume that each decade’s 1,000,000 PCVs would have uniformly made a positive difference in their posts abroad, but many PCVs would have contributed something good.

    And imagine how many more experienced RPCVs would now be back home achieving our Third Goal: helping other Americans to appreciate what the wide world is like beyond our borders. Imagine what the Congress would be like if even just 2 or 3 RPCVs had been added every decade to the Senate or the House. Our current 5 Representatives would sure have a lot more company.

    Moreover, think of how many diplomats we could be counting on to carry the flag abroad as did our recently fallen RPCV Ambassador Chris Stevens. Ah, wouldn’t America and the world be a better place? Wouldn’t you agree?

  • I refer to my article, “While the Peace Corps Slept,” of over ten years ago and available via any search engine in which I called the Peace Corps a “mini-AID” and “quaint adjunct” to foreign assistance. The Peace Corps elected to be a task oriented, technically skilled tiny force among the wide spectrum of development assistance organizations instead of a massive effort to improve America’s image abroad. It rejected the goal of sending 100,000 a year to other countries with such arguments as “we will not play the numbers game” and “we do not want to dillute the quality of our assistance.”

    It did succeed in becoming a shining image of America both abroad and at home. But it did not reach enough people both at home and abroad to make major changes. Believe it or not most people in the USA and in other countries do not realize that the Peace Corps is still in business. They think of it as a historical event of the 1960s.

  • John,
    Since my novel was published by PCW one and a half years ago, I have had a lot of conversation with RPCVs. I have heard so many stories from around the world that prove the importance of the ‘human connection’ established through the PC: stories that are so different from those we read about in everyday media, stories that give one hope. Many peoples around the world do not understand (like many of us) why our government does many of the things it does, but luckily this does not usually interfere with those wonderful one-on-one relationships. And this ‘connection’ does not end with a single generation. My small ‘family’ in Chile has grown into quite a clan. The parents have shared all the old stories and the warmth they feel for me. Consequently, I know that any American would be warmly welcomed into their simple homes.

  • Leo,

    I just reread your article, “While the Peace Corps Slept.” I believe it was written about ten years ago. I do not think that our military is still the face of the “helping American.” But, the issues you raised deserve more than a paragraph of comment. For me, that is the real tragedy of the Peace Corps agency. It does not reflect, it does not encourage precisely this kind of so necessary debate. Nor does it see the need to monitor those changes it may have introduced. Rather, it is, in the vernacular, “anybodies.” The change in the Peace Corps you deplore was mandated by the “New Beginnings” approach of the first Peace Corps Republican administration. That approach was tossed out by Sam Brown, the Carter appointee to ACTION. There is no generic Peace Corps. There is no continuity in philosophy through the years. There is no one Peace Corps.

    Sadly, I believe that “Peace Corps” has been a victim of its own mythology. Politicians want to grab the name and brand it as their own. And having done so, lose interest and move on.

  • David and John,

    In talking about “Peace Corps,” I am referring to the agency, not the community. I think that all you say is very valuable. The Third Goal, with its network of cross country and culture connections, succeeds, I think, precisely because it is totally independent of the Peace Corps agency.

    At the 50th, I was so overwhelmed by the women in my group who adopted children from Colombia, married HCNs, befriended and were befriended, and whose ties to Colombia spanned generations.

  • John :

    Some comfort food as the “oldies ” check in to your recent recant. It’s all true.

    A favorite PC Budget comparison is the annual military band cost at $388m a year vs $377m for Peace Corps.Sequestration is cutting back military band concerts ( and PCV mobilization) per an Al Kamen’s (RPCV) article in WAPO, March 6.

    I am a repeat participant in the NPCA Advocacy Day ( a well organized NPCA activity) and can attest that the RPCV Congressaman stand up for Peace Corps ; however, no one else really opposes. It will take an “stand up ” effort by household name Senators and Congressman , and “more than a wave “: at the reluctant President to grab the attention ,which the PC so badly needs.

    It’s our leagcy and it could go the way of General McArthur who said ‘Old soldiers never die they just fade away.” Think about the Peace Corps legacy !!!

    Who will stand up.???.Former Senator Chris Dodd -RPCV-DR 8 ( a household name but not enough to win the Iowa primary) told me twenty five years ago..there are not enough RPCV’s to make an effective constituancy…and today there are twice as many RPCV’s..and the same holds true …. there are no RPCVSenators only six Congresssional voices to stand up!!

  • The first paragraph of this post is way off base, and appears to reflect speculation by the “Babbler”, rather than the facts, which are easy enough to ascertain. So I was interested to see another post on March 18th – you should read it, too – which describes the actions that have been taken by Peace Corps HQ to deal with the sequester in a rational manner.

  • It would have been helpful if Peace Corps would have communicated its “Sequester” plan to the PC community earlier. The details were not provided until this blog came out… that’s the real point, in my view, and the message served its purpose.

    One would have assumed that there was a solid plan – knowing Carrie’s competence – but we shouldn’t have had to assume it.

    This is less of a “who shot John” (pardon the name) than a “failure to communicate”.

  • Ken,
    On December 20, 2012, in anticipation of a possible sequester happening on December 31, 2013, the acting director sent out a letter to “Global Peace Corps.” I requested the letter via FOIA and printed it here in February. Here is the pertinent paragraphs.

    Nevertheless, with only a couple of weeks left before sequestration could occur should a deal not be reached, it is important to clarify the potential implications. Let me start by explaining what sequestration is and what it is not. Sequestration is an across-the-board reduction in budgetary resources for all accounts within the Peace Corps that have not been exempted by Congress. If it occurs, sequestration will reduce our budgetary resources for the remainder of the fiscal year (which runs through September 30). These cuts, while significant and harmful to our collective mission as an agency, would not necessarily require immediate reductions in spending. Under sequestration, we would still have funds available after January 2, but our overall funding for the remainder of the year would be reduced. Accordingly, this situation is different from other scenarios wehave encountered in recent years, such as threats of government shutdown due to a lapse in appropriations.

    For these reasons, I do not expect our day-to-day operations to change dramatically on or immediately after January 2, should sequestration occur. This means that we will not be executing any immediate personnel actions, such as furloughs, on that date. Should we have to operate under reduced funding levels for an extended period of time, we may have to consider furloughs or other actions in the future. But let me assure you that we will carefully examine other options to reduce costs within the agency before taking such action, taking into consideration our obligation to execute our core mission. Moreover, if such action proves to be necessary, we would provide affected employees the requisite advance notice before a furlough or other personnel action would occur. We would also immediately cancel any scheduled personnel actions should a deficit reduction agreement be reached that restores our agency funding.

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