No permanent Director; budget cuts that mean layoffs looming: and, personnel system changes to the Five Year Rule up in the air, this is Peace Corps, today. Does it matter to the serving Volunteer? It could. I believe it imperative to pay attention to Peace Corps during times of transition to make sure that the safety and service of Volunteers are not compromised. From the outside looking in, it is hard to tell exactly how these stresses are currently impacting Peace Corps. But, there are some clues to be found in the history. Let us look at them.
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.
Today, February 20, 2013, it has been almost six months since Aaron Williams resigned as Peace Corps Director. His Deputy, Carrie Hessler-Radelet has been the Acting Director. It is more than time for Peace Corps to have a permanent Director. I think for continuity and because of the real difficulties that Peace Corps may face with sequestration, Hessler-Radelet should be made permanent Director, as soon as possible. She enjoys support in the Peace Community, and by all accounts, has demonstrated the ability to handle the job well. I urge those in the Peace Corps community who agree, to email the White House and urge her immediate appointment. That email address is: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact
Serving Volunteers have been victims of crimes in times past during transition from one administration to another. Coincidence or pattern? Again, one can only speculate. The provisions in the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 strengthen the security protection for serving Volunteers. But, it is not clear how in-country vacancies could impact the implementation of those protections. The Inspector General report of the Impact of the Five Year Rule found, in June of 2012, that the Five Year Rule:
Exacerbated the already difficult challenge of managing the frequent transitions of overseas USDH personnel. Despite the agency’s efforts to minimize vacancies in key direct hire positions overseas, over the past 10 years there have been more than 180 vacancies lasting at least 30 days. Staff reported that direct hire vacancies overseas had negative impacts on staff workload and morale, Volunteer support, programming and training, and other areas.
The then Director of the Peace Corps, Aaron Williams, accepted the OIG’s recommendations, but he left before implementing them. To read the OIG report on the Impact of the Five Year Rule, use this the link: pc_final_evaluation_report_on_impacts_of_the_five_year_rule_ig1205e
All of these circumstances are complicated by the increasing possibility of more than $30 million in budget cuts to Peace Corps that could happen in less than two weeks. Congress and the President have “called wolf” over fiscal crises that were then adverted at the last moment. But, some are speculating that the chances are 50-50 that sequestration will happen on March 1st. It has been argued that federal employees are just pawns in this fight between the Congress and the President. But if employees are pawns, what are Volunteers?