Updated July 15, 2005
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
The Peace Corps: Current Issues
Specialist in Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
As it considers authorization and Foreign Operations appropriations legislation in
2005, Congress will debate the FY2006 level of funding for the Peace Corps and may
continue the 2004 discussion of Peace Corps expansion and policies regarding the safety
and security of volunteers. This report will be updated as events warrant.
Generally viewed positively by the public and widely supported in Congress, the
Peace Corps, the U.S. agency that provides volunteer skills internationally, has drawn
congressional attention in recent years largely due to two issues — a Presidential initiative
to significantly expand the size of the agency and reports raising concerns regarding the
safety and security of volunteers. Both issues stimulated legislative action with bills
being approved by House or Senate. However, these legislative efforts died with the 108th
Congress. In 2005, the 109th Congress will consider the President ’s annual funding
request for the Peace Corps and may again take up some of the concerns raised in 2004.
Founded in 1961, the Peace Corps has sought to meet its legislative mandate of
promoting world peace and friendship by sending American volunteers to serve at the
grassroots level in villages and towns in all corners of the globe. Living and working with
ordinary people, volunteers have contributed in a variety of capacities — such as teachers,
foresters, health promoters, and small business advisers — to improving the lives of those
they serve and helping others understand American culture. They also seek to share their
understanding of other countries with Americans back home through efforts like the Paul
D. Coverdell World Wise School program, which links serving volunteers with U.S.
elementary school classrooms. To date, more than 178,000 Peace Corps volunteers have
served in 138 countries. About 7,733 volunteers currently serve in 72 nations.
In addition to its basic two-year tour of duty, the Peace Corps introduced in 1996 a
Crisis Corps, drawing on former volunteers to provide short-term (up to six months)
emergency and humanitarian assistance at the community level with NGOs, relief, and
other development organizations. Nearly 600 Crisis Corps volunteers have served in 39
countries, including post-tsunami Thailand and Sri Lanka.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Appropriations. The FY2005 Omnibus Appropriations legislation approved in
December 2004 (H.R. 4818) provided $320 million for the Peace Corps. Following a
0.8% across-the-board rescission, the actual Peace Corps appropriation is $ 317.4 million.
This final appropriation is about $84 million less than the President ’s $401 million
The Administration ’s FY2006 foreign operations budget request includes $345
million for the Peace Corps. On June 28, the House approved H.R. 3057, the FY2006
Foreign Operations appropriations (H.Rept. 109-152). It provides $325 million for the
Peace Corps, an increase of $7.6 million over the previous year, but $20 million below
the President ’s request. On June 30, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported its
version of the bill (S.Rept. 109-96), providing $320 million for the Peace Corps, $2.6
million above the previous year, and $25 million below the request.
Authorization. On April 6, 2005, the Senate began, but did not complete,
consideration of S. 600 (S.Rept. 109-35), the State Department authorization, which
contains language authorizing appropriations for the Peace Corps in FY2006 at $345
million, the Administration request level, and “such sums as may be necessary ” for
Despite repeated efforts during the past three years, Congress adjourned in December
2004 without enacting a new Peace Corps authorization. Twice in 2002, the Senate
approved bills (S. 2667 and S. 12) authorizing appropriations that would double the size
of the Peace Corps and institute various reforms. The House did not act on a similar
version (H.R. 4979). In July 2003, the Senate began, but did not complete, floor debate
on S. 925 (S.Rept. 108-39), the State Department authorization for FY2004, which
included Peace Corps expansion legislation nearly identical to the 2002 Senate-approved
bills. On July 16, 2003, the House approved H.R. 1950, its version of the State
Department authorization, amended to include H.R. 2441 (H.Rept. 108-205), which
contained Peace Corps expansion legislation. On February 27, 2004, another State
Department authorization bill containing the Peace Corps legislation, S. 2144, was
S. 2144 and H.R. 1950 shared many features. Chiefly, both bills supported an
expanded volunteer force by authorizing appropriations to the year FY2007 sufficient to
double its size. Both bills required that volunteers be trained in the education, prevention,
and treatment of infectious diseases so that they could convey this knowledge during their
service. They established a number of reporting requirements, including reports to
Congress on how the Agency planned to increase the number of volunteers, new agency
initiatives, country security concerns, student loans, and recruitment of volunteers for
priority countries. The two bills reaffirmed the Peace Corps’ status as an independent
agency. Both pieces of legislation focused attention on returned volunteers (RPCVs).
They required that some members of a revived Advisory Council be RPCVs. Both bills
urged that RPCVs be utilized to open or reopen programs in Muslim countries.
The two bills differed in several ways. Their authorization levels were slightly
different. H.R. 1950 required more reports — on federal equal opportunity programs and
on medical screening procedures and health considerations for putting volunteers in a
country. Responding to concerns that the Peace Corps not be used for intelligence
purposes, the bill required that recruiting be the responsibility of the Peace Corps; the
Senate bill required that it be “primarily” its responsibility. H.R. 1950 raised the
minimum readjustment allowance provided volunteers at completion of service from $125
for each month served to $275 in FY2004 and $300 thereafter, while S. 2144 raised it to
$275 only (volunteers currently receive $225). Under H.R. 1950, the Advisory Council
would have 11 members, 6 of whom are RPCVs; S. 2144 would have 7 members,
including 4 RPCVs. The latter measure required regular meetings and an annual report
from the Council on its functions. Both bills authorized establishment of an annual grant
program to help RPCVs implement small projects — in S. 2144 eligible projects had to
meet the so-called “third goal” of the Peace Corps (promoting an understanding of other
peoples by Americans); in H.R. 1950 they could meet all Peace Corps goals. For this
purpose, S. 2144 authorized the Corporation for National and Community Service to
utilize $10 million in funds additional to the regular Corporation budget; H.R. 1950
authorized the Peace Corps Director to allocate the grants which are additional to the
Peace Corps budget (or the role could be delegated to the Corporation). H.R. 1950
required that the number of Crisis Corps volunteers be expanded to at least 120 in
FY2004, 140 in FY2005, 160 in FY2006, and 165 in FY2007. It also contained a
declaration of support for the Bush goal of doubling the Peace Corps by FY2007.
Safety and Security Legislation. Because they live and work at the grassroots
level in developing countries, Peace Corps volunteers appear to many Americans to be
especially vulnerable to crime. Even before September 11, their safety and security had
been a prime concern of the Peace Corps. The threat of anti-American terrorism has
increased those concerns. In late 2003, the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News ran a series of
reports highlighting — many former volunteers say exaggerating — the dangers
potentially faced by volunteers, and suggested that the agency was failing in its obligation
to provide adequate security.
Following hearings held by the House International Relations Committee, the House
approved H.R. 4060 on June 1, 2004. The Health, Safety, and Security of Peace Corps
Volunteers Act of 2004 (H.Rept. 108-481) sought to address some security concerns by
statutorily establishing the already-existing Office of Safety and Security in the Peace
Corps and creating an Ombudsman position to handle volunteer complaints. The bill also
required reports on screening procedures used to determine the psychological fitness of
those seeking to serve as volunteers, and a report on the “five year rule ” that limits the
length of Peace Corps staff employment and which is regarded as one reason for high staff
turnover and loss of institutional memory on safety and security issues. Although the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee also held hearings on the issue, no safety and
security legislation was approved in the Senate in 2004.
In its report on H.R. 3057 (H.Rept. 109-152), the FY2006 Foreign Operations bill,
the House Appropriations Committee recognizes an improvement in safety and security
efforts of the Peace Corps in recent years. It also calls for the agency to create a global
volunteer mapping system tracking volunteer locations in its emergency response system.
Issues for Congress
Expansion Initiative. In his State of the Union speech to Congress on January 29,
2002, President Bush announced a proposal to double the size of the Peace Corps within
five years from its January 2002 level of about 7,000, bringing it closer than it has been
in decades to its 1966 peak of 15,556.
After three years of insufficient appropriations, it is clear that the original
Administration plan to double the size of the Peace Corps over five years will not be met.
Meeting that goal would have meant a significant increase in its budget over the same
period, presumably to be maintained for years thereafter. By FY2007, the Peace Corps
appropriation was expected to be more than $200 million greater than FY2002. While
the various House- and Senate-approved authorization bills would have met or slightly
surpassed the Administration proposal, Congress has had to weigh whether sufficient
funds were available vis-a-vis other foreign aid priorities — such as HIV/AIDS, terrorism,
and child survival — to warrant appropriating the amounts requested by the
Administration. Despite the apparent popularity of the Peace Corps, constraints on
spending combined with the pull of other priorities has undermined the rapid expansion
plan. At this point, with an FY2006 request $98 million below its own original expansion
budget plan and a newly stated goal in its budget justification document of 8,000
volunteers by the end of FY2008, the Administration appears to have abandoned the
initiative. Moreover, in its FY2006 appropriations, the House has provided $20 million
less than the Administration request and the Senate $25 million less.
From the beginning, the expansion initiative ran into resistance. In providing only
$285 million for the Peace Corps in its FY2003 appropriations legislation, Senate
appropriators noted in report language (S.Rept. 107-219) that the expansion plan was
“overly-ambitious,” suggesting it may have to be drawn out over more than five years.
In each year from FY2003 to FY2005, Congress appropriated funds $22 million, $51
million, and $84 million, respectively, below the Administration request. Despite these
shortfalls in funding, Congress has appeared supportive of continued expansion. The
FY2005 foreign operations statement of managers calls for the establishment of new
Peace Corps programs in Cambodia and other locations in Asia.
Table 1. Peace Corps Budget: FY2002-FY2007
Request ($ mil)
Appropriation ($ mil)
Source: Peace Corps and CRS. FY2002 figure includes $3.9 million Emergency Response Fund transfer.
FY2003-5 figures reflect across-the-board rescissions. Figures in parentheses are original expansion request.
Total volunteers are number at end of the fiscal year and, for FY2005 forward, anticipated number if
expansion appropriation had been met. Under original expansion initiative, FY2003 volunteer number target
was 8,200; FY2004 target was 10,000.
Program and Management Issues. Members of Congress appear to have been
concerned that even an increase in the size of the Peace Corps more modest than that
originally envisioned might exacerbate existing weaknesses or create strains in its
operations. Both House and Senate legislation in the 108th Congress stressed the
importance to Peace Corps ’s effectiveness of improved strategic planning and H.R. 4060,
the House bill that addressed security issues, calls for a report on the extent to which work
assignments are well-developed and volunteers are suitable for them. No matter the
outcome of the expansion effort, Congress may continue to pay particular attention to how
the agency addresses recruitment, programming, and support of volunteers.
The recruitment of volunteers with appropriate skills and willingness to live in
unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable conditions is essential to the overall mission of
the Peace Corps. A substantial spike in applicants and those expressing interest in
applying since September 11 has made it easier for the Peace Corps to meet its
recruitment goals. In FY2004, 148,216 people expressed an interest in the Peace Corps
(up from 94,463 in FY2001), 13,249 actually applied (8,897 in FY2001), and 3,811
became trainees (3,191 in FY2001). The agency, however, while adept at recruiting
generalists and providing them with sufficient training to carry out useful assignments,
has not emphasized the provision of highly skilled professionals, such as doctors,
agronomists, or engineers, which, many argue, more accurately reflects the current needs
of developing countries. Weighed against this view is the belief that the Peace Corps is
an agency of public diplomacy as much as it is a development organization, and personal
interaction and demonstration of U.S. values is as important as providing technical
expertise. To accommodate more highly skilled personnel, the Peace Corps might have
to change many existing practices, including methods of recruitment, training,
programming, and perhaps even terms of service.
The Peace Corps has been criticized in the past for providing inadequate
programming and support of volunteers. This view was reflected in a 1990 Government
Accountability Office (GAO) investigation (Peace Corps: Meeting the Challenges of the
1990s, May 1990, NSIAD-90-122). It noted that some volunteers had little or nothing to
do or had spent six or more months developing their own assignments, without benefit
of site visits by Peace Corps staff. The GAO attributed the programming problem to a
failure of planning, evaluation, and monitoring systems. Since then, the Peace Corps
maintains that it has addressed these weaknesses with systematic approaches to project
development, annual project reviews, and increased opportunities for site visits and
volunteer feedback. However, incidents suggesting poor programming and staff support
still occur, although their frequency and depth is not known, and, one sign of volunteer
dissatisfaction — the attrition rate — remains arguably high at 30.5% (2002).
Security Issues. Among the concerns raised regarding Peace Corps security are
that crimes against volunteers have increased. The Dayton Daily News articles that ran
in the fall of 2003 assert that the Peace Corps is sending volunteers to places “far more
dangerous ” than it admits publicly, does not warn volunteers about criminal incidents, and
does not supply adequate security training or supervision. It suggests that Peace Corps
staff ignore volunteer concerns and provide insufficient support to volunteers who have
experienced crime. The GAO has issued two reports since 2002 addressing security
issues. While noting improvements by Peace Corps in its more recent report, the GAO
has suggested that “some unevenness ” in compliance with safety procedures mandated
by Peace Corps headquarters likely remains. 1
Government Accountability Office, Peace Corps: Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security
Statistics kept by the Peace Corps, varying from year to year and by type of assault,
may be selectively interpreted. Both in absolute terms and when viewed in the context
of incidents per 1,000 volunteer years to account for the rise in number of volunteers in
this period, they show a large increase in the number of aggravated assaults from 57 in
1993 (9 per 1,000 volunteer years) to 102 in 1999 (16 per 1,000 volunteer years) and then
a leveling-off to 87 cases (14 per 1,000 volunteer years) in 2002. Reports of rape rose
from 10 incidents in 1993 (3.1 per 1,000 female volunteer years) to a peak of 20 (5.3 per
1,000 female volunteer years) in 1997. Rape events in absolute terms decreased by 40%
between 1997 and 2002 to 12 (3.2 per 1,000 female volunteer years). However the
numbers are viewed, the GAO points out that, since the number of events is small, there
may be some question as to whether the apparent trends are significant.
These statistics also reflect volunteer reporting rates, which likely produce
undercounting, and they do not demonstrate whether volunteers are any more or less
susceptible to assault than Americans living in New York or Des Moines. When surveyed
in 2003, 86% of volunteers reported that they felt safe where they lived. 2
In general, the Peace Corps says that it gives the safety and security of its volunteers
the highest priority. It has been particularly concerned in recent years with threats of
terrorism, crime, and civil strife, and has responded by upgrading communications, testing
emergency action plans, and other security measures. Before establishing a new country
program, the Peace Corps considers a number of criteria, including the presence of a
stable government and effective law enforcement and the absence of anti-American acts
of terror in the operational area. Evacuations and closure of missions to insure the wellbeing of volunteers in cases of political instability and civil unrest have constrained the
growth of the Peace Corps. In the past ten years, volunteers have been evacuated from
at least 27 countries for these reasons, including three attributed to the events of
September 11 — Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the Kyrgyz Republic.
Under the Administration ’s expansion proposal, the Peace Corps was expected to
enter Afghanistan and other Islamic countries where they do not currently serve. At this
time, 20% of all volunteers are serving in countries with Muslim populations of over
40%. In general, the Peace Corps has argued that the close interpersonal relationship
between volunteers and members of their host country community helps to make them
safe. However, despite the appeal of using Peace Corps volunteers to convey U.S. culture
and values directly to the grassroots of Islamic countries, many of these countries of U.S.
foreign policy interest might be considered unsafe for Americans over the foreseeable
future. Conferees on the FY2002 foreign operations bill, while supporting the concept
of Peace Corps entry into Muslim countries, noted their key concern was volunteer safety.
Although the Administration announced in 2002 that the goal “will be to deploy ...
volunteers to Afghanistan as quickly as possible, ” it also noted that all decisions regarding
new country entry “will be made in a manner consistent with the safety and security of
volunteers. ” The Peace Corps has not yet entered Afghanistan.
Challenges Hold Promise, but Progress Should be Assessed, GAO-02-818, July 2002, and Peace
Corps: Status of Initiatives to Improve Volunteer Safety and Security, GAO-04-600T, March 24,
Peace Corps 2006 Congressional Budget Justification, p. 223.