Order Code RS21168
July 8, 2008
The Peace Corps: Current Issues
Specialist in Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
As it prepares authorization and State/Foreign Operations appropriations legislation
in 2008, Congress will consider the FY2009 level of funding for the Peace Corps and
related issues. 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 2002 Presidential
initiative to significantly expand the size of the volunteer force and reports in 2003-2004
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 2007, the 110th Congress is considering
the President’s annual funding request for the Peace Corps and new authorization
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,
environmental specialists, 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 187,000 Peace
Corps volunteers have served in 139 countries. About 8,079 volunteers currently serve in
74 nations, the highest number since 1970. Ronald A. Tschetter, a former volunteer, is
the current Peace Corps Director.
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. Hundreds of Crisis Corps volunteers have served in 40
countries, including post-tsunami Thailand and Sri Lanka. In September 2005, Crisis
Corps volunteers were deployed to assist Hurricane Katrina relief, the first time in Peace
Corps history that volunteers were used domestically.
Appropriations. On February 5, 2007, the Administration presented its FY2008
foreign operations budget request to Congress, providing $333.5 million for the Peace
Corps, a $13.9 million or 4% increase over the FY2007-appropriated level. In December
2007, Congress approved H.R. 2764, the FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act,
providing (under the State/Foreign Operations portion, Division J) $333.5 million for the
Peace Corps, $330.8 million following a .81% across-the-board rescission). H.R. 2764
was signed into law (P.L. 110-161) on December 26, 2007.
On February 4, 2008, the Administration requested $343.5 million for the Peace
Corps in its FY2009 budget, a $12.7 million increase and about 4% higher than the
FY2008 level. The Peace Corps budget will be addressed when the FY2009 State/Foreign
Operations bill is considered by the Appropriations Committees in the second half of July
Authorization. Despite repeated efforts during the past six years, Congress has not
enacted a new Peace Corps authorization. The last Peace Corps authorization (P.L. 10630), approved in 1999, covered the years FY2000 to FY2003. Comprehensive bills
approved by the Senate in 2002 (both S. 2667 and S. 12) and by the House in 2003 (H.R.
1950) would have authorized appropriations that would double the size of the Peace
Corps as well as institute a wide range of reforms and new programs. Annual Foreign
Operations appropriations bills routinely waive the requirement of authorization of
foreign aid programs, as the FY2007 continuing resolution measure did in the case of
currently unauthorized foreign aid programs, including the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps Empowerment Act, S. 732 (Dodd), was introduced on March 1,
2007, and hearings were held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 25,
2007. S. 732 would authorize appropriations for the Peace Corps and make substantive
changes to the program. It contains provisions that seek to strengthen the effectiveness
of volunteers in the field, provide a larger role for volunteers in the administration of
Peace Corps, and address volunteer personnel and benefit concerns. Many of these
provisions are discussed below.
In March 2008, H.R. 5535, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2008 (Farr) was
introduced and referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It contains two
provisions — an funding authorization (see below) and an increase in the readjustment
allowance provided to Peace Corps volunteers for use on their return home (from $125
per month of service to $225).
Peace Corps Funding. Despite its apparent popularity in Congress and a 2002
expansion initiative by President Bush to double its size within five years, the Peace
Corps has seen only a 22% increase in end of fiscal year volunteer numbers in the past
five years. Meant to raise the number of volunteers from below 7,000 in 2002 to 14,000
in 2007, the initiative would have required an appropriation of about $485 million by
FY2007 — more than $200 million greater than FY2002. In the end, however, Congress
had to weigh whether sufficient funds were available vis-a-vis other foreign aid priorities
(e.g., HIV/AIDS, terrorism, and Afghanistan) to warrant appropriating the amounts sought
by the Administration, and annual expansion funding requests were rejected. The
volunteer level is currently at 8,079.
S. 732 aims for a greatly expanded volunteer force by authorizing appropriations for
the Peace Corps at the following levels — $336 million for FY2008, $380 million for
FY2009, $450 million for FY2010, and $618 million for FY2011. However, according
to the Peace Corps, the proposed authorization legislation would likely mean a further
decrease in volunteer levels in FY2009, because implementation of the legislation’s other
provisions would incur additional costs of between $25 and $30 million, drawing down
funds available for fielding volunteers. H.R. 5535 provides funding authorization levels
somewhat larger than the Senate bill — $400 million for FY2009, $500 million for
FY2010, $600 million for FY2011, and $700 million for FY2012.
Peace Corps Budget: FY2002-FY2008
Request ($ mil)
Appropriation ($ mil)
Source: Peace Corps and CRS.
Note: FY2002-FY2008 figures reflect across-the-board rescissions and transfers from other accounts. Total
volunteers are number at end of the fiscal year.
Small Projects Funding. Peace Corps volunteers generally are employed under
the auspices of a developing country government agency, such as the Ministry of
Education or Agriculture, or a non-governmental organization. In many cases, volunteers
initiate their own small projects to address specific concerns they have identified in their
villages or schools. Some of these projects have been supported through ad hoc efforts
of the volunteer, but over time, more formal spigots of funding have been developed.
Currently, there are two key sources of small-scale funding for Peace Corps
volunteer projects — funds raised for the Peace Corps Partnership Program by the Peace
Corps Office of Private Sector Initiatives (OPSI) and funds provided through an
agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Volunteers do
not have the authority to accept funds on behalf of the agency but can solicit funds from
family and friends accepted through OPSI. In the last seven years, Peace Corps volunteers
received, on average, 1,114 grants each year, worth a total of $2.0 million in USAID
funds annually (roughly $1,795 per grant). In FY2006, OPSI raised $1.4 million and
supported projects that individually averaged $2,952 in value.
Projects take a variety of forms. According to the Peace Corps, a $619 grant for a
village fish farm in Bolivia funded construction of a chain link fence, the cleaning of
excessive algae from the pool, and introduction of 250 fish. A $4,241 grant at a Thailand
health clinic provided a ground-floor addition to ease access for senior citizens and the
S. 732 would enhance volunteer effectiveness in the field by providing volunteers
with increased access to funding for these project activities. It authorizes 1% of the
agency’s own appropriations in each fiscal year to be allocated for such purposes. Each
award of seed funds would be limited to $1,000. In opposition, the Peace Corps argues
that its introduction as a source of project income would possibly change the local
perception of the volunteer as someone working with the community to learn how to
obtain its own funding sources to one that sees the volunteer as a source of cash.1
Third Goal. S. 732 also provides support to returned volunteer efforts to meet the
so-called “Third Goal” of the Peace Corps Act — promoting understanding of other
peoples on the part of the American people — by authorizing the Peace Corps to award
grants to returned volunteers for educational and other programs meeting that goal. The
bill authorizes $10 million each year for this purpose.
Currently, Peace Corps sponsors several Third Goal activities, funded in total at
about $2 million in FY2007. These include the Coverdell World Wide Schools Program
noted above; the Peace Corps Fellows Program, through which more than 4,000 returned
volunteers have served as interns in high-need urban or rural U.S. communities; and the
annual Peace Corps Week, in which thousands of returned volunteers visit schools and
libraries around the country to present their Peace Corps experience.
Volunteer Administration. S. 732 would enhance the role volunteers play in
program design and implementation, including site selection, training curriculum, and the
quality and hiring of senior Peace Corps country personnel, by requiring the establishment
of a mechanism at the country level for soliciting the views of volunteers on these issues.
Further, a Volunteer Advisory Committee would be established in each country to make
recommendations to senior personnel.
Currently, according to the Peace Corps, volunteers play a role in site selection by
providing feedback on site safety, project success, and counterpart effectiveness.
Volunteers are encouraged through interaction with senior staff to share their views. In
addition, all posts have a Volunteer Advisory Committee. The Peace Corps argues that
to legislatively require such committees would trigger the Federal Advisory Committee
Act (FACA) and associated burdensome administrative requirements.
Medical Screening. S. 732 requires a number of personnel and administrative
actions that might benefit volunteers. Among these are requirements to reform the
medical screening process to make guidelines more transparent to prospective volunteers.
Both applicants and health-care providers have reportedly found the guidelines confusing.
Further, the bill would make Peace Corps provide full reimbursement for medical tests
required of volunteers and applicants. Currently, applicants are provided only partial
costs. According to the Peace Corps, this provision would cost the agency as much as $10
million each year, versus $1 million in current costs.
Testimony of Ronald Tschetter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on
Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Narcotics Affairs, July 25, 2007.
Recruitment, Programming, and Support. A continual concern for Congress
over the years has been how the Peace Corps 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, 2001, has made it easier for the Peace Corps to meet its
recruitment goals. In FY2006, 12,242 applied to be volunteers (8,897 in FY2001), 5,148
were invited to join, and 4,095 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, some
say the Peace Corps might have to change many existing practices, including methods of
recruitment, training, programming, and perhaps even terms of service. However, in its
Mexico program, launched in 2004, the Peace Corps has been able to provide more
specialized technical volunteers offering skills in water and environmental engineering.
S. 732 addresses one aspect of this issue by requiring the doubling by end of 2009
of the number of volunteers with at least five years relevant work experience. It also
requires the creation in the next three years of at least 20 sector-specific programs in at
least 20 different countries for which volunteers with five years relevant work experience
would be a requirement. In response, the Peace Corps argues that relevant work
experience is a subjective term, and it would be burdensome both financially and
administratively to set up such a “demonstration” program without causing problems for
the regular Peace Corps program. Director Tschetter has made an objective of increasing
the number of volunteers aged 50 and older, which, some would argue, might lead to
more relevant work-experienced volunteers. Currently, less than 6% of volunteers are 50
or older. To encourage applications by older people, S. 732 would require Peace Corps
to try to get active retiree health plans suspended while volunteers are serving.
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
However, volunteer anecdotal accounts suggesting poor
programming and staff support still occur, although their frequency and depth is not
known. According to former Peace Corps Director Mark Schneider, the 2006 volunteer
survey found that between 16% and 28% of volunteers were dissatisfied with regard to
site selection, job assignment, and administrative support.2 One sign of volunteer
Testimony of Mark Schneider to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 25, 2007; and Peace
dissatisfaction — the resignation rate — has improved in recent years, however, with
8.8% resigning in FY2006 versus 9.8% in FY2001.
Security Issues. 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, 2001, their safety and security had been a prime
concern of the Peace Corps. The threat of anti-American terrorism has increased those
These fears were further raised in 2003 when 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. As a result, congressional hearings were held and legislation
was approved by the House (H.R. 4060, June 2004) that sought to address some security
Safety statistics kept by the Peace Corps, 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, vary from year to year. Aggravated assaults went from 57 in
1993 (9 per 1,000 volunteer years) to 102 in 1999 (16 per 1,000 volunteer years) and then
leveled-off to 87 cases (14 per 1,000 volunteer years) in 2002. There were 87 events in
2005 (12 per 1,000). 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,
and decreased to 12 in 2002 (3.2 per 1,000 female volunteer years). There were 16
reported rapes in 2005 (3.9 per 1,000). However the numbers are viewed, since the
number of events is small, there may be some question as to whether 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 2006, 88% of volunteers reported that they felt usually or very safe where they lived.3
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. Evacuations and closure of
missions to insure the well-being 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 (they have since returned to the latter two countries). 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. Nonetheless, it should be
noted that 20% of all volunteers, at this time, are serving in 15 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.
Corps Congressional Budget Justification FY2008, p. 218.
Peace Corps, The Safety of the Volunteer 2005; and Peace Corps FY2008 Congressional Budget
Justification, p. 214.