Transition is Critical time for Vulnerable Volunteers

The murder of  Kate Puzey happened during a transition from the Bush Administration to that of Obama. The Peace Corps Director has almost no authority to plan for continuity during these times. The Director may or may not remain during a transition period. There may be only be an Acting Director or a caretaker Deputy Director. Only the newly elected officials can provide for adequate transitional planing. It has not been a priority for politicians of either party. For example, then Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetler and most political appointees, all Bush appointees, resigned the day of the Obama inauguration. No new Director had been appointed.

Some of the most egregious Peace Corps tragedies happened during times of such political transitions, in my opinion. A list would include:

January 1977 –  PC Volunteer was convicted in Tonga of the murder of fellow Volunteer, Deborah Ann Gardner. He was released to the Peace Corps on the understanding that he would be institutionalized in a mental hospital in the states. When he arrived back in the US,he was simply allowed to walk away from the Peace Corps office and the promise  made to authorities in Tonga never kept.

February 1977  – PC Volunteer Richard Starr was kidnapped in Colombia by a Marxist insurgency group and held for three years until privately ransomed.

December 2000 – PC Volunteer Walter Poirier III went missing in Bolivia. He has never been found.

March 2009 – PC Volunteer Kate Puzey murdered in Benin.

February 2013 – PCV Nick Crawford died in China.

As far back as 2009, RPCVs Hugh Pickins (publisher: Peace Corps Online) and RPCV John Coyne (Editor: Peace Corps Worldwidetook up the banner to publicize the problem and demand a solution.

John Coyne recounted this effort in February of 2013, when Peace Corps then Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet had still not been confirmed. He urged that she be confirmed, immediately.  She was not confirmed until June of 2014. From Coyne:

“In 2008, Obama’s transition team wrote a paper for the President outlining a road map for the Peace Corps. The report made recommendations for the first 90 days of the Obama’s administration, including this: “Peace Corps reform needs to start on January 20lh. Under ideal circumstances a new director will have been named by that time.”  and this: “Critical vacancies should be filled for both field and headquarters staff to ensure program continuity and adequate Volunteer support.”

Hugh Pickens published the report on his valuable website, Peace Corps Online, on May 29, 2009. The report was prefaced by John Coyne. At that time, there still was no permanent Peace Corps Director appointed. The date suggests how low on the priority scale Peace Corps was.

John Coyne writes: President Obama has in his hands the Peace Corps Transition Team document “Peace Corps Roadmap” telling the president what should be done to increase and improve the agency. The twenty-page transition document was written by his own team, sent to the Peace Corps after the election and before the president was sworn in. This impressive piece of work manages to be both positive about the Peace Corps and its role in the world, and yet outlines the problems of the agency and makes suggestions on how the president can improve the Peace Corps so that more Americans are able to serve our country. The Transition Team document is sitting on President Obama’s White House desk. It has been (so far) unread by the president. Would you like to read it? Peace Corps Online has the document below. Read it now.

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  • I was in Washington D.C. for the 50th party. John and Marian were kind enough to invite me to the writer’s luncheon. I was surprised that neither the president nor his wife appeared since they had always spoken so highly of the Peace Corps. At the moment that we met, they were sponsoring an event on the White House lawn for Nickelodeon- a television program. Neither bothered to show for the Peace Corps staff get together a day later. They were M.I.A. from all activities.

    There was press shortly after about how the Peace Corps included 9,000 some volunteers but no mention that Obama had campaigned on a platform of reinstating 15,000. That is quite a difference. Today, during his second term, the numbers are much lower and comparable to a Republican president. The increased Peace Corps budget had more to do with a former volunteer than the president elect who has proven about as good a friend as President Gerald Ford.

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