Watching the Congressional Hearing

Watching the Congressional Hearing today chaired by Senator Menendez and entitled “Peace Corps, The Next 50 Years,” and then reading Chuck Ludlam (Nepal 1968-70) testimony that he gave to the House Committee on Natural Resources regarding a Peace Corps Monument, I came up with the notion that the Peace Corps is a lot like the late great heavyweight boxing champ, Rocky Marciano. Do you remember Rocky? I mean, the real one, not the movie.

Rocky Marciano was a hero of my youth. I watched him fight on a small black-and-white television in the livingroom of my farmhouse back in Illinois. No one could take out Rocky. He defended his title six times and never lost. 

He didn’t have much style. He wasn’t another Kid Gavilan or Sugar Ray. No fancy footwork or dazzling smile. He was called The Brockton Blockbuster. Rocky kept coming at you regardless of how many times he was hit. He never seem to get hurt.

The Peace Corps is like Rocky. From day one, everyone has been attacking the agency. Eisenhower declared that we were a “juvenile experiment;” Nixon said we were another form of  ‘draft evasion.” The Daughters of the American Revolution warned mothers of a “yearly drain” of  “brains and brawn…for the benefit of backward, underdeveloped countries.” And that was in the days before the agency was actually established.

Most PCVs have a love/hate relationship with the Peace Corps. But we are the only ones, in my opinion, who count when it comes to say how worthy is the agency. We’re RPCVs!

So, while I don’t agree with Chuck Ludlam when he goes around pissing on the Peace Corps lamposts, I think he has the right and privilage as he was a PCV, twice in his life.

I, too, have a problem with RPCV Aaron Williams and his tour as Director. (And it is not because he walked out on me in the middle of my presentation at the Library of Congress. Maybe he has an urgent call of nature, or he had to put more dimes in the parking meter). No, my complaint is that he ‘blew’ the opportunity of a lifetime, our 50th Anniversity. 

While former director Mark Gearan made it to all the RPCVs events held in D.C.,  Aaron couldn’t make it to the Peace Corps Bash or the Mad Men Breakfast. Where were you, Aaron?

Nevertheless, Harris Wofford and Chris Dodd today in the Hearing couldn’t say enough nice things about Aaron.  I got the impression they think Willimas is the greatest thing since slice bread. Lets hope so. The agency needs serious work and the Inspector General, Kathy Buller, who operates independently in the federal government, and who also made a presentation today, is out for the agency’s blood. She is one tightly warped IG and heads are going to roll at HQ.

That, of course, is not a bad idea.

You see, the Peace Corps is like Rocky Marciano. Everyone keeps hitting the agency, and like Rocky it keeps coming bad for more beatings.

Think of the agency this way. For all the poor Directors and poor CDs, overseas criminal HCNs staff, or misplaced Volunteer assignments, out of the mess in the Third World or the mess back home in Washington, D.C., every once and a while a real PCV shows up and does his or her job without praise or fanfare or attention and proves to the world, or at least the village where they served, that this American is the real thing. Just like Sarge said 50 years ago, Peace Corps Volunteers make a difference. And you know you did and it doesn’t matter what any Congressional Hearing is all about.

15 Comments

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  • Volunteers are the Peace Corps. Instead of spending so much time and government money flying around the country talking about the “21st Peace Corps mission,” Mr. Williams should be cutting Washington staff by 60%- to match the last time we fielded this many volunteers. D.C. folks have traditionally forgotten that their job is to support volunteers in the field. The only difference between then and now is that there are way too many smarty pants in D.C. Get rid of them.

  • I found the Hearings productive and informative. But, I don’t understand why there was such little advance notice about this scheduled Hearing and what is evidently an ongoing agency assessment by the Senate Subcommittee. I thought Chairman Menendez was engaged, concerned, and interested in solving problems. These were the points I found most important.

    1) Menendez talked a lot about the “culture of Peace Corps management.” He was concerned that it took negative media before the Peace Corps management team addressed the problem of safety of Volunteers. He wondered if there were a “management culture” that did not listen to Volunteers and incorporate Volunteer feedback into operations. There were questions about impediments to significant Volunteer input and if RPCVs were involved in shaping of the organization. I thought Menendez was right on target.

    2) The “Five Year Rule” is under review by the Inspector General and evidently Menendez wants to “revisit” the Five Year Rule, also. I think this is an excellent opportunity to lobby, not for the Five Year Rule, but for implementation of the original Robert Textor “In, Up, and Out” Policy that called for the employment of RPCVs, in a deliberate manner to bring field experience to Washington and to allow for the constant renewal of the agency based on that RPCV expertise. I think that the problems Menendez saw with the “management culture” can be traced to the haphazard and disorganized way RPCVs have been utilized in the agency.

    3) Menendez consistently talked about Peace Corps management being distinct from the Volunteer and concentrated on the needs of the Volunteer. I found this encouraging.

  • Just visited an old friend who once worked for me and is now in a key position in the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Relations. I put in a plug for doing right by the Peace Corps. He told me the committee had already marked up the PC budget and passed it on. He said that their key man for PC affairs is a RPCV so we have a good friend in the process. He also said the main issue was safeguading female PCVs.

  • Really interesting, Leo. The House is supposed to vote on the
    Puzey legislation next week. I hope it passed and Obama signs it.
    When the smoke clears, we will get an idea of what, if anything, is next.

  • As a “three-timer” in various PC positions over four decades, I still think the agency is one of the best things our nation ever did. But PC is now greatly in need of restructuring, so let this important debate begin. Unfortunately, PC itself wants no such discussion. Not only did Director Williams walk out on Coyne’s presentation, but he also did everything possible to diss my new book, Peasants Come Last, which shows how centralized and stodgy PC has become. Shriver said we didn’t go far enough. Williams says nothing. All of us RPCVs have a lot to say.

  • Ok, I know I’m just asking for grief but here goes. Today, I’m pretty sure, the Peace Corps staff both in DC and in the field is more heavily populated with RPCVs than ever before, especially compared to the ‘Golden Age’, aka the sixties. Could it be that the RPCVs think that they know it all and don’t need current PCV input? There is a need for ‘new blood’ in all organizations, including the Peace Corps.

  • The Peace Corps, and I mean current volunteers and staff,as well as we in the entire Peace Corps community, RPCVs, families, friends, and those who share our goals and objectives, is perhaps its own worse enemy. In our passion and focus on achieving the first goal we have overlooked the more important second and third goals. The main obstacle to growth has been the Peace Corps’s community’s fear of “diluting” the quality of the service provided. When then President Bush called for doubling the Peace Corps he was met by a chorus of oppositon from the Peace Corps community itself, not the Congress or others. I suggest we place less emphasis on the mechanism for making contact with peoples of other lands and more on insuring that contact is positive for them and for ourselves. The impression we leave abroad will depend less on how many latrines we build than on how we interact with others.

  • Leo,

    This statement: “we have overlooked the more important second and third goals,” is simply your opinion, not the result of any legislative, administrative, or R/PCV community consensus.

    I don’t share it.

  • David,

    I do want to respond to your comment. However, I am hoping to be factually accurate. I have been waiting since mid-June for a final response to my FOIA requesting the country and job position of RPCVs referred to in the Agency Assessment. Next Friday, is the deadline for my latest appeal.

  • Good thinking! We do need the real data to make conclusions about who’s doing what in the Peace Corps world. I have heard that the Director in his appearance before the Congress said 60% of headquarters staff are former volunteers. My guess is that that number actually understates the % of RPCVs in decision-influencing positions because there are a bunch of administratively necessary positions (e.g. the budget folks, personal assistants, I. T. techies, the travel office, etc) that are essential for a government agency but have little or no programmatic influence. As I see it, even a third of the 32 ‘Plum Book’ positions seem to fall into this category.

    Another guess: Something like 70% of field staff, not counting HCNs, are RPCVs. I wonder what the real number is?

  • I don’t know what the count is today. I heard Williams’ comment too. He also said that they were recently arrived from serving overseas. I thought that was encouraging. I was also told that HR doesn’t know who is RPCV unless the applicant marks a box on the application.
    They do not give preference to RPCVs. For two years(I think it is two) after successful service, RPCVs have a non-competive status for positions GS5 – GS9 in any federal agency, including Peace Corps.

    In the Agency Assessment Report, June 2010, 48.6% of the field staff were RPCVs. My FOIA asked for the job title and country of those RPCVs. The FOIA Officer at PC/DC is not RPCV. She said that the difficulty obtaining the information was that the person who provided it had left. My original request was June 21st. On September 19th, I was told that the information had finally been found, but they did not know if they would release it. The deadline to respond to my FOIA appeal is next Friday. FOIA are supposed to be filled within 20 business days from receipt of request.

    We may find ourselves resorting to speculation, opinion and innuendo! Granted, that is more fun, but it really doesn’t move an important discussion forward.

  • Joey President Bush’s call for doubling the Peace Corps was met by a resounding “no” from the Peace Corps, RPDVs, the NPCA and others in the Peace Corps “community.” They all said they did not want to “dillute” the quality of service provided by pursuing a “numbers game.” We all know that most costs of placing a PCV in country are incurred in making sure that just the right person is placed in just the right job. The Peace Corps imagines itself as a “junior” AID with its focus on the job performed rather than the impression left behind. As for the “Third Goal” I would offer the paucity of the Peace Corps Agency’s attention to the 50th as evidence of its lack of interest her.

  • Leo,
    When Push for Peace Corps began, then Director Tshetter (and RPCV) was against it because he did not think that Peace Corps could double in size in two or three years and still be effective in recruiting, training and supporting Volunteers. I do not recall any such “outcry” from the Peace Corps Community earlier when Bush first talked about doubling the Peace Corps, and certainly not when Obama promised the same.

    I agree with you on the Third Goal. But, evidently, Congress only
    appropriated 1.6 million dollars for that goal, leaving its real implementation to the “volunteer” efforts of the RPCV community.

    The First Goal of the Peace Corps is and has been for fifty years to send trained people to interested countries. Nothing has changed that goal. If PCVs are unable to meet the needs as requested, then
    HCNs are not going to have a favorable impression of Americans.

  • Joey You have summarized our differences. You consider the first goal to be the main goal, I consider the second to be the main goal. Perhaps others may focus on the third. My concern is that we focus too much on the first goal and that is why we never reached Kennedy’s goal of having millions of RPCVs.

  • Leo,
    Our priorities may well be a function of our gender and our program experiences in Peace Corps. I think that NC women shared with women PCVs the urgent needs that they and their families had.
    I worked with women who counted their children in terms of children living and children dead. The expectation they had was that Kennedy had sent us to help them change that ratio to the good.
    That can not be ignored.

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