I'll Tell You What's Wrong With The Peace Corps

Since Aaron Williams (Dominican Republic 1967-70) took over the Peace Corps on August 24, 2009–over a year ago–the agency has had no Communications Director or Congressional Liaison Director. (And the names, I’m told, now being considered for the congressional position aren’t worth while writing home about.)

 These positions are, after the director and deputy, the two most important ones at the agency.

Suzie Carroll,  the present Acting Congressional Liason, is a Republican hanger-on. A nice woman (not an RPCV, of course), who is considered weak and ineffective by congressional aides on the Hill.

Allison Price, another non-PCV, another political appointment, is a nice young woman who is sadly not up to the job in the press office. She is unable to market the agency. She is unable to get the director on radio or television on in the press. You want to know why people say: is there still a Peace Corps? You tell them, “Allison Price is working on it!”

The former Peace Corps Deputy, the infamous Republican, Barbara Zartman, use to walk the hall of the agency mumbling: “There are too many RPCVs working here!”

Well, we might say, and honestly, “there are too many NON Peace Corps Volunteers working at the agency. These NPCVs don’t get what it means to be a PCV. It is not their fault. They lack the experience, the knowledge, the connection to the life of a PCV. Why don’t they go work for Homeland Security or the Social Security Administration? Those two agencies need people who are good with detail and lack imagination.

Send me your ideas about who should have these jobs. Who would you put in these two positions to raise the visiblity of the agency, on the Hill, and in the Media?


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  • John, I am not happy with the attacks you are making on Aaron and the PC. Please take me off your distribution list. I really regret this, but you have become increasingly negative at a time when I don’t want to be part of that kind of approach. There are ways to effect change and you have chosen attack dog. I am not with you on this

  • actually, you know not about which you write. You are a mean-spirited, nasty little man. You’re attacks on character are no different than Karl Rove and Lee Atwater. You ought to be ashamed. Worse, you offer no – nothing – no advice on how to improve the agency, which you claim to love.

  • It’s quite simple. RPCVs know more about the Peace Corps than NPCVs. It has always been thus. Why should John Coyne be “ashamed” for speaking a simple truth?

    Equating him to Karl Rove, by the way, is a bit over the top. QUITE a bit over the top.

  • Thanks, Chris, but I have actually posted a number of items on the blog on what the Peace Corps should do in terms of improving the agency. You might want to go back and check them out. I actually posted an item about why the President should appoint Aaron.

  • As a RPCV myself, I disagree with your statement above. I think that the person best qualified for the job should be hired. While a volunteer may have the most intimate knowldege of the PC experience, that doesn’t mean he/she is the best person for the position. I served with plenty of volunteers that I would not hire over other qualified individuals – cultural competency and other attributes are not solely gained by being a PC volunteer and frankly I think the judgement of some RPCV’s is impaired by their lack of an objective point of view about the PC experience and the perceptions of others. I think the PC could benefit from some “outsiders” with business savviness.

  • echilds–I agree with you about getting the best qualified person, but the reality of the agency is that they (and other agencies) get political types (Schedule Cs) who are often not qualified, but who back the right presidential candidate, or given the most money to “earn” a job with the new administration.

    Also, I have found that political types–whatever the party–want to work at the agency because it is a ‘nice agency’ and it great to have “the Peace Corps” on one’s resume.

    We have had 200,000+ RPCVs in 50 years and from seeing the quality of people who have written books, I am impressed by what they have produced, and also done with their work careers after being PCVs. I think we can find one or two among all of us who could do the job, have the passion for the work PCV do overseas, and are highly skilled at tell our story to the media and in the Halls of Congress. John

  • The three most important decisions, I believe, which shapped Peace Corps happened in the glory days, the first year. Those three decisions were:

    1) Not to make successful Peace Corps service a prerequisite for employment with the agency.

    2) Not to legislate the prohibition against intelligence gathering, but to leave it as an executive order.

    3) Not to define the due process rights of the status of “Volunteer.”

    Peace Corps is “anybodies.” When the new ship of state sails into port, peace corps is waiting on the dock. The preponderance of political appointments available is probably one reason that the agency has even survived.

    I truly do not understand why we are still discussing who is best qualitifed for PC staff positions. These are political decisions, not
    program ones. And RPCV opinions were solictated as part of the agency assessment. Some of those opinions were incorporated into the assessment. Those included the expansion of the Intranet for staff and Volunteers, world wide; the management changes for HCN/state department employees incountry; and the focus of the Third Goal to National Service. Suggestions regarding the reduction of political appointees or expanding the role of RPCVs in the agency were not adopted.

    I believe that what is going to happen is that the Assessment will be implemented to accomplish the downgrading of Volunteer positions and the consolitation of programs. Then PC/W will be transferred to the Corporation for National and Community Service. (I know I have that title wrong.)

  • Thanks, Joey– a couple quick points. The Peace Corps was, as you know, put under ‘national service’ in the form of VISTA once, and then successfully removed about 1979.

    What is happening now is that army vets are taking Peace Corps staff positions as they have preference in the federal government for employment. So if you were a PCV and you want to work for the agency, you come behind someone who was in the army.

    I think that RPCVs should be given the first opportunty for Peace Corps Administration positions, being that they were overseas as Volunteers, and were not in the military.

    As an agency, and as PCVs, we keep our distance from the military, but back home, we hire the army first.! I write this as someone who served during the Vietnam War in the US Air Force and then as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia.

  • If public policy cannot be challanged, what good is democracy?!Those of us who have served do have an opinion and, as I commented in an earlier blog, I would hope that the Peace Corps is reading it.

    Any critic should realize that this is a discussion of vital importance, not a love fest just because one happens to support a president and agency director. As many have learned during the election ,in comparison to the general absence of that electoral drive since then, as my mother used to say, “there is many a slip twist the cup and the lip.”

    Some years ago, a government commission found that it takes about three years for a political appointee (Schedule C) to learn that by and large the staff of the agency do know what to do and are cabable of accepting new directions in implementing laws, regulations and rules, all of which have been developed with considerable discussion in the past.

    Concerning finding appointeeds to fill vital positions: the slowness with which White House Personnel traditionally can take months and sometime years to find the right political appointee to place, you can understand the delay. I recall that a former CAE RPCV applied for the CAE CD position. When Rupee sent it over to the Reagan WH Personnel to approve, they rejected his application and sent over a list of people who had contributed $100 (the going minimum rate at that time), or more, to the campaign and had expressed the desire to serve in an ambassadorial capacity, and suggesting that she make a selection from that list! She wisely waited for a few months, resubmitted it and got approval for the RPCV to serve. Maybe they is was happened during the same administration in appointing a totally incompitent director for ACTION when the Head of WH Personnel waited until both Jim Baker and Ed Meese were out of town and convinced the president directly to appoint the fiance of the deputy chief of WH Personnal to the position. While we complained at the time, her successor was Bush’s secretary from his days at the UN, and had not held a government job other than execitive secretary for handling the mail at GSA prior to her assuming the head of VISTA and then the ACTION agency! Her great contribution to the agency was to write a 17 page guidance on how agency correspondence should be handled!

  • Man! Have I been out of the loop! I have no idea who you are talking about. But I must admit I paid little attention to agency-happenings between leaving in 1976 and starting to write about it in 1995.

    I wish I could believe that the current talk of ‘politicizing’ the Peace Corps was exaggerated. I really do not remember any such problems (at least ones rising to a significant level) during my time in the 70s. Am I wearing my well-known rose-clored glases once again?
    What do others from that time period remember?

  • I think John has a great point and deserves kudos for calling this out. Hyperbole or not, the fact remains that two of the most important positions at the Agency have not been filled by RPCVs. And in this economic and political climate, the delays are inexcusable.

    America needs the Peace Corps more than ever before. Two major wars in the last decade have stressed U.S. diplomacy and respect in the world, and the Peace Corps is one of the few agencies that can counteract our maligned global reputation. Yet, where is the sense of urgency? How come Aaron isn’t on CNN or Charlie Rose every other day?

    We cannot blame the Agency for all these issues. The fact remains that this agency is a U.S. Federal government agency and they have to play within the massive bureaucratic system. More importantly, I think the RPCV community itself has a lot of to be accounted for here.

    How often do I come across RPCVs that have not bothered to become a National Peace Corps Association member? That hurts YOUR community. I see the good works of the NPCA all the time in my email, and in online and offline media. They are doing a great job getting the attention we need.

    Look, we can waste time bickering whether or not NPCVs are good for the Agency, or we can volunteer and financially support our strongest, most unencumbered advocate for the Peace Corps community, the National Peaces Corps Association. All you have to do is ask this question, between the Agency or the Association, who is in the position to make changes happen, faster?

  • I would like to make “one thing perfectly clear.” I am not supporting the current situation with PC/W, only describing it. There was a long period of discussion about how to improve the Peace Corps. Congress mandated a review of the agency and Williams completed it. It does not address the issue of decreasing the number of political appointees nor giving preference to RPCVs for employment. The report does recommend that political appointees be given some kind of orientation as to the kind of work Peace Corps does.

    The focus of NPCA has been on increasing the budget for Peace Corps in order to increase the number of people who can serve. They have been successful. They advocate for various developmental agendas. I am very aware that NPCA membership includes PC staff/ former staff and RPCVs. It also includes a category called “friends of the Peace Corps,” whatever that means.

    With one of two exceptions, staff people I have dealth with about my many FOIAs have all been retired military. I was able to relate to them as a “army brat” not as an RPCV. But, I have gotten over the anguish I felt about that.

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