July 24, 2009
To: Peace Corps Director-Designate Aaron Williams
From: Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff
Subject: Plan to Strengthen and Expand the Peace Corps:
Priorities for President Obama's First Term
This Twenty Point Plan to strengthen and expand the Peace Corps—drafted over four years by a couple of two-time Volunteers and circulated widely for comment within the Returned PCV community—proposes an ambitious road map for President Obama and Peace Corps Director-Designate Aaron Williams and his leadership team.
Point One focuses on the budget crisis at the Peace Corps and President Obama’s pledge during the campaign to “double the size of the Peace Corps from 7,800 volunteers to 16,000 by its 50th anniversary in 2011 and work to partner volunteers with people from other nations.” (December 5, 2007, Mt. Vernon).
Points Two to Eighteen concentrate on strengthening the Peace Corps. The premise of this plan is that a stronger, more effective Peace Corps will make a persuasive case for expansion. Conversely, without fundamental reforms, expansion will be difficult to justify and could undermine the performance and reputation of the Peace Corps. Many of these strengthening steps have been part of the Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act (S. 732), introduced by Senators Christopher Dodd and Ted Kennedy in the last Congress, the authors’ testimony in favor of that legislation at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 25, 2007, and the Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act (S. 1382), introduced by Senator Dodd in this Congress.
Point Nineteen examines the competition that the Peace Corps will face from a new international voluntary service program—Volunteers for Prosperity—authorized by the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (Public Law 111-13). This plan argues that if the Peace Corps does not implement fundamental reforms, it is likely to fare poorly in this competition and its franchise may weaken over time.
And Point Twenty proposes a political campaign to secure the needed reforms.
Almost 50 years after its founding, it is timely and appropriate to ask penetrating questions about the Peace Corps. Why the Peace Corps? What is its mission in the 21st Century? Those of us who revere the Peace Corps should take the lead in asking these questions. Those who care the most—PCVs, RPCVs and PC managers—should ask the hardest questions. The Peace Corps is an historic and romantic vestige of the values of the 60s and the New Frontier, but that role is not sufficient to explain and justify its role in the 21st Century. The ultimate act of loyalty to the Peace Corps is to ask the tough questions before outsiders do.
This report argues that the first budget priority for the Peace Corps should be to fund implementation of an ambitious plan to strengthen the Peace Corps; its second should be funding to reverse the recent cutbacks; and its third should be to expand. The authors are campaigning to increase Peace Corps appropriations—principally to fund reform—and have proposed a detailed budget for reform. (See Appendix D) The first step in decisions over funding is to acknowledge the evidence demonstrating that the agency has deep-seated problems, Early Termination (ET) rates of Volunteers are too high, that tensions exist between Volunteers and managers, that First Goal (development) results are substandard, and that substantial reforms are needed to bring the agency into the 21st Century.
The Twenty Points are as follows:
Point One: Address the Three Peace Corps Funding Priorities
Point Two: Make Listening the Hallmark of the Peace Corps Culture
Point Three: Place More Emphasis on Achieving Sustainable First Goal Results
Point Four: Reduce the High and Costly Early Termination Rates
Point Five: Recruit More Older, Experienced Volunteers
Point Six: Reconnect RPCVs for Life-long Service
Point Seven: Take Initiative to Build Peace
Point Eight: Protect Volunteers’ Rights and Hold Managers Accountable
Point Nine: Strengthen Standard of Medical Support for Volunteers
Point Ten: Enhance Third Goal Opportunities for Returned Volunteers
Point Eleven: Substantially Modify the Five-Year Rule
Point Twelve: Adopt Incentives to Improve Management and Retain Staff
Point Thirteen: Strengthen Peace Corps Financial Management
Point Fourteen: Transfer Authority and Resources to the Country Posts and Volunteers
Point Fifteen: Implement Tough Evaluation Processes
Point Sixteen: Increase Transparency of the Peace Corps
Point Seventeen: Ensure Peace Corps Office of Inspector General Again Leads Investigations of
Violent Crimes Against Volunteers/Staff
Point Eighteen: Enhance Congressional Oversight
Point Nineteen: Meet Competition from New International Service Programs
Point Twenty: Get Organized to Press for Implementation of Reforms
We have developed this reform plan because it aggrieves us to see the Peace Corps mismanage the Volunteers and fall short of its potential. While we strongly support confirmation of Aaron Williams, our focus is on ensuring that the fundamental reforms proposed here become permanent elements of the Peace Corps culture and practice and do not depend on the qualifications, good will and policies of individual appointees at the agency.