University of Denver – Josef Korbel School of International Relations and the Peace Corps Community Welcomed Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams (Dominican Republic 1968 -1971) to Denver

RPCVs had the opportunity to meet and greet the Peace Corps Director at the Denver University reception, on Tuesday, January 24th.  As the crowd gathered, Williams agreed to talk about Peace Corps Response. I introduced myself as a blogger on John Coyne’s Peace Corps Worldwide, with some questions.

Williams said, “Fine, I know John Coyne, everybody knows John Coyne.”

Then, all I had to say was  “Peace Corps Response,” and Williams launched into a speech about the John Coyne posting last Saturday, January 21st, describing the policy change allowing non- RPCVs to be members of Peace Corps Response Teams. First, Williams wanted to know why the issue of the CIA was even raised. He said that the standard policy about prohibiting those who had worked for intelligence agencies was in effect for non-RPCVs applying for the Response Team.

I told him I could not find that on the website.  He said they would change the website to highlight the traditional restrictions. He turned to someone next to him and said, “Write that down. Change the website.”

Next, Williams said that the controversy over non-RPCVs on Peace Corps Response was a “tempest in a teapot.” He explained it was an experiment because Peace Corps was getting more requests for highly trained personnel than could be filled from the ranks of RPCVs. He said the “bar would be raised very high” for non-RPCVs.  He gave the example of a university, perhaps in Middle East, that needed a highly skilled anthropologist to work with some very valuable tapestry, on a short-term basis.

“But,” I said, “A quick review of the positions being advertised on the Peace Corps Response website as Open to All did not appear to require highly specialized or unique skills.”
Williams said he would check the website.

My next question was about Peace Corps employment. I prefaced it with  “I know that you all are reviewing the Five Year Rule.”

Williams corrected me, immediately, and said, “We are not. The IG (Inspector General) is.”

I asked if he would be supportive of legislation reserving a high percentage of Peace Corps jobs for RPCVs. He said he hadn’t thought about that. He did say that the Equal Opportunity Rules could restrict such a proposal. Williams pointed out that recently returning RPCVs could use the non-compete eligibility rule to secure Peace Corps jobs.

This was the very first time I had ever spoken with a Peace Corps Director.  Williams was attentive, candid, and responsive. I had many more questions, but there was a crowd waiting to speak with him, so I thanked him and relinquished my spot. I believe that I have quoted the Director correctly. We know he reads Peace Corps Worldwide, so if I didn’t get it quite right, I think we might expect a correction!

In our conversation, Williams had noted my nametag with my Country of Service. He asked me about Colombia and my time there. He listened to me. He asked those same questions to each RPCV as he moved through the crowd and listened attentively to each response. He seemed to be particularly interested in the RPCVs who had recently returned.

The reception was to meet the Director. It was also for seeing old friends and doing the RPCV version of Speed Dating: Check the nametag and Country of Service; “When were you there?” What did you do?” “Did you know?” “Have you been back?” and now, more frequently, “Have you written anything?” The RPCV community is rapidly becoming a literary one.

Jane Albritton, Editor of the series, Peace Corps at 50 was there.  As were contributorsPhilippine RPCV Arleen Lipman and Bruce McDonald of Bulgaria. The RPCVCO book club will be reading The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengeshu.  Of course, there was an RPCV from Ethiopia who had met the author and had much to share.

I heard laugher coming from the groups surrounding Director Williams.  I knew that the meet and greet time was over and the best part, storytelling, had begun.  All in all, it was a good night for the Peace Corps.

13 Comments

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  • I suggest that you contact Congressmen and/or women to propose legislation which simultaneously exempts the PC from current hiring standards and, requires that the PC give preference to RPCVs, Do not expect the Washington staff to do anything-especially during an election year. It would be wise to also include a clause that the PC Washington staff be cut be 60% for the 2013 funding cycle. It’s time they reinvented how they operate. It’s turned into an obese monster dressed in a fancy suit which tends to smile, but a monster none the less.

  • Realistically, Lorenzo, nothing will pass Congress without the support of Williams, right now. There are RPCVs looking at the history of the Five Year Rule and the employment of RPCVs with a view to proposing legislation. The IG will release its review of the Five Year Rule in the Spring. That is a target date for legislative proposals.

  • Do you think Williams was in favor of the recent legislation concerning violence against volunteers? Personally, I doubt it. During his testimony, he said that the PC never put volunteers in danger. That new law was a great example of what they call in football an end around run. With giant bureaucracies, why even try to run through the line?

    The D.C. staff has lost sight of its real task- to support volunteer. They churn out reports and eat up an incredible amount of the budget. It’s time to de-centralize authority, utilizing 21st century technology. For instance, let Washington screen volunteers (for disease, mental competency, and education). Post all applications on-line so that host countries choose (like a free market). The selection process should be no longer than 4 months. Last I checked it was almost 16 months- much longer than it had been in 1962 before the invention of the personal computer and the internet. This is insanity.

    Retool the PC so that a larger majority of its budget is for volunteers, not D.C. bureaucrats. Insist that Obama keep his 2008 campaign promist to increase the numbr of volunteers to 15,000. If they can squeeze a quarter of a million troops and contractors into Iraq, they can certainly find a place for 15,000 peace makers, worldwide.

  • Aaron Williams was absolutely in favor of the Kate Puzey legislation.
    He had put into practice some of its provisions before the passage of the law. He supported passage of the bill in the Congressional Hearings of May 11, 2011.

    Before the Agency Assessment Report was completed in June 2010, Peace Corps solicited input from RPCVs via its website. I missed it.
    I think most people did. However, Lorenzo, I think you have good ideas. I think you should write your Congressional delegation because California has RPCVs on it and CC Williams, as well as the NPCA.

    I know that you started the idea of the Peace Corps Experience Collection at the LIbrary of Congress. One of the questions I did not have time to ask Williams was “Does Peace Corps Washington have the Peace Corps Experience Collection in-house and accessible to those staff members who have never served?” I will follow-up,

  • He might have supported it once written but you are missing an important point: he could have done it all himself with in-house reform. Right now, he could propose the next budget incorporating ideas involving the better use of technology for management, less centralized D.C. control and, cutting the D.C. staff by 60%. Good managers are always ahead of the curve while career bureacrats wait to be told what to do next.

  • LORENZO Por favor, please listen to me.

    Peace Corps is “qualquieras,” anybody’s. If the White House changes parties in 2012, Williams will be gone the day of the Inauguration. The new Director can change all of the policies that Williams instituted. Only those policies protected by LAW will remain. That is why the Puzey law was so critically important.

    That is why I think it is so important to protect legislatively a personnel system that protects the independence of the Peace Corps and allows RPCVs to mann the agency, before the next election.

  • Joey-

    Distinguida compañera, Obama va a triunfar en su re-elección, Sin embargo, el problema fiscal va a seguir. Para que siga el Cuerpo de Paz, hay que enfocarse en reformar.

  • Something most comments fail to consider is that the Peace Corps is a federal agency. You can rail against the Peace Corps bureaucracy all you want, but the agency must still abide by all federal laws and regulations. There are many RPCVs working in Washington (such as the Director, Deputy Director, and Chief of Staff/Operations as well as entry level staff) and there are fairs to aid new RPCVs in getting government jobs, but there is no way that the agency could run with only RPCVs. There are many positions, that get no RPCV applicants. I doubt you want to lower qualification standards and get staff who don’t know what they’re doing. I would think that if you want the best Peace Corps possible, you would want a corps of people who can preserve the ideals of the Peace Corps while doing the very difficult job of working within the federal government. Times have changed since Sargeant Shriver was able to operate by ignoring the fact that the Peace Corps is a federal agency. The five year rule was supposed to mean new, innovative ideas, but when I worked there, I often saw the same or similar things tried every few years — mostly without success — because there was no institutional memory and the new people didn’t know that their brilliant ideas had been tried previously. I stand strongly in favor of getting rid of the 5-year rule for IT/management-type activities, but keeping it for operating staff (those in hiring and direct contact with PCVs).

  • Katie,

    I will direct you to the author of the original “In, Up, and Out” memo, and the original memo: http://www.stanford.edu/~rbtextor/History_of_In_Up_Out_Policy.pdf

    It is so sad that you worked for Peace Corps and did not know of this founding document. In 1961, Dr. Textor recommended an eight year tenure and his policy recommendations were to allow for RPCVs to be hired because they could bring direct field experience to the Washington agency, and that field experience would strengthen programing, research, and evaluation, as well as given knowledgeable support to serving PCVs. The recommendation to create an agency run by RPCVs was never made law.

    The Agency Assessment of June 2010, evaluated the Five Year Rule, but its documentation did not even mention Textor’s memo and its purpose. The current Inspectator General is reviewing the Five Year Rule and this time, the staff is aware of Textor’ memos.

    Getting rid of the so-called Five Year Rule in no way guarantees the development of a “institutional memory.” As perhaps you may be aware, maintaining public records, accessible to staff and researchers that reflect the actual work done by RPCVs is one way
    to create and maintain an “institutional memory.”

    “Times have changed since Sargeant Shriver was able to operate by ignoring the fact that the Peace Corps is a federal agency.” That is a powerful statement and I would ask you, particularly as a former employee of the agency, to document that statement.

  • Katie,

    I will direct you to the author of the original “In, Up, and Out” memo, and the original memo: The best way to do that is to google: Robert Textor and then go to his website. Under Publications, you will see the original memo listed. It is now in the public domain and you should absolutely read it.

    It is so sad that you worked for Peace Corps and did not know of this founding document. In 1961, Dr. Textor recommended an eight year tenure and his policy recommendations were to allow for RPCVs to be hired because they could bring direct field experience to the Washington agency, and that field experience would strengthen programing, research, and evaluation, as well as give knowledgeable support to serving PCVs. The recommendation to create an agency run by RPCVs was never made law.

    The Agency Assessment of June 2010, evaluated the Five Year Rule, but its documentation did not even mention Textor’s memo and its purpose. The current Inspector General is reviewing the Five Year Rule and this time, the staff is aware of Textor’s memos.

    Getting rid of the so-called Five Year Rule in no way guarantees the development of a “institutional memory.” As perhaps you may be aware, maintaining public records, accessible to staff and researchers that reflect the actual work done by RPCVs is one way
    to create and maintain an “institutional memory.”

    “Times have changed since Sargeant Shriver was able to operate by ignoring the fact that the Peace Corps is a federal agency.” That is a powerful statement and I would ask you, particularly as a former employee of the agency, to document that statement, or else retract it.

  • I would like to retract my incorrect statement :“Times have changed since Sargeant Shriver was able to operate by ignoring the fact that the Peace Corps is a federal agency.” That’s not what I meant.

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