Three Goals, Five Years

The first number speaks to the Goals of the Peace Corps spelled out, with typical Kennedy eloquence, fifty years ago. The second is the Five Year Rule that defines the unique tenure law in the Peace Corps personnel system, limiting most appointments to a total of five years. The Goals are timeless, but the rule of “Five Years” may be changing. Last year, Inspector General of the Peace Corps announced a review of the Five Year Rule. The final draft of that evaluation and its recommendations are being reviewed. The Inspector General expects to publish the final report anytime within the next 30 days.

I make the argument that Peace Corps has been most successful in accomplishing Goal Two – Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served- and Three-Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. These goals are most dependent on the initiative and the integrity of Volunteers and Returned Volunteers.

The First Goal – Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women – requires recruiting, training and supporting the Volunteer. This is the responsibility of the Peace Corps administration. It is this Goal that has been the most difficult to consistently achieve. That difficulty may be behind the impetus for the review of the Five Year Rule.

This is a good time to do an overview of the current Peace Corps personnel system and the legislative and policy decisions that created it. The Peace Corps Manual contains a section on Human Resource Management and describes in detail the personnel system.  Here is the link:

The elements of this current personnel system, as I understand it, include the following:

1)    The Peace Corps Volunteer is a private citizen and serves at the “pleasure of the President.” Volunteers work in host countries. The Volunteer tour is for twenty-seven months. Volunteers may extend the tour, pending the approval of Peace Corps administration. The Volunteer is not compensated for his work; he does receive a maintenance allowance, health benefits, and readjustment allowances and does pay into social security.

2)    The Peace Corps Leader is a link between the Volunteer and the particular host country Peace Corps administration.  The PCL retains his status as a Volunteer.

3)    Paid employees, in Washington DC, US Regional Offices, and Host countries, carry out the administrative functions of the Peace Corps. The personnel system used is that of the Foreign Service in order to provide a unified system in the United States and overseas. These employees may be US citizens or citizens of the host country.

4)    US citizens appointed to a Foreign Service positions are subject to the so-called “Five Year Rule,” with these few exceptions: Safety and Security personnel and the staff of the Inspector General of the Peace Corps are not subject to the Five Year Rule. Under special circumstances, the Director of the Peace Corps may extend an appointment.

5)    Host Country Nationals who are Peace Corps employees are not subject to the “Five Year Rule.”

6)    “Experts” are a special class of employees who are not subject to the Five Year Rule.

7)    There are some 30 “decision-making” positions that are reserved for political appointees.

Successful service as Peace Corps Volunteer is not a prerequisite for employment with the Peace Corps agency.  However, Volunteers completing service are eligible for employment on a non-competitive basis. Here is the link:

Scroll down to the section that begins: section 7.0.

(Please note this Update:   I wanted to include an accurate count of the number of  Peace Corps employees in specific categories. On May 24, 2012, I made a FOIA request for the following data

1) The total number of people employed by the Peace Corps.

2) Of that total, the number of host country nationals that are employed.

3) Of that total, the number of US citizens who are employed overseas.

4) Of that total, the number of US citizens who are employed in the Washington DC office.

Today, June 20, 2012, I received the following response from the Peace Corps FOIA Office:

This is a status update on your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request dated May 24, 2012.

We are unable to provide you a final determination on your request within the 20 working-day statutory time frame established by the FOIA. We anticipate providing a respond to you by July 6, 2012.

The History of this system includes:

-The December 1961 founding document by Dr. Robert Textor, “In, Up, and Out” that presented the argument for limiting tenure and which has been “morphed” almost beyond recognition by Peace Corps administrations.

– Legislative History

  • The Congressional Hearings of 1965 that resulted in the unique personnel system.
  • The Reorganization of Peace Corps in 1969 – 70
  • The Change in Political Appointment policy in 1985
  • The Exemption of Safety and Security personnel in 2002-2004

-The thesis, “Managing for Change” by RPCV William Bull in 2007,
critiquing the so-called “Five Year Rule” and cited in Peace Corps: A Comprehensive Agency Assessment in June 2010

– The agency report: Peace Corps: A Comprehensive Agency Assessment  – June 2010

Subsequent postings will look at this history in more detail.  I welcome any corrections or suggestions. This represents my best effort to understand what is to me a very complicated, convoluted bureaucratic system.

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