Order Code RS21168 Updated April 26, 2005 CRS Report for Congress Received through the CRS Web The Peace Corps: Current Issues Curt Tarnoff Specialist in Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division Summary 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. Background 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. Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress CRS-2 Congressional Actions Appropriations. The FY2005 Omnibus Appropriations legislation approved in December 2004 (H.R. 4818) provides $320 million for the Peace Corps. Following a 0.8% across-the-board rescission, the actual Peace Corps appropriation will be $317.4 million. This final appropriation is about $84 million less than the President’s $401 million request. The Administration’s FY2006 foreign operations budget request includes $345 million for the Peace Corps. Authorization. On April 6, 2005, the Senate began 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 FY2007. 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 introduced. 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 CRS-3 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. 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 CRS-4 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. 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 $84 million, respectively, below the Administration request. Despite these shortfalls in funding, Congress appears supportive of continued expansion. The FY2005 foreign operations statement of managers calls for the establishment of new Peace Corps programs in Cambodia and other locations in Asia. Table 1. Peace Corps Budget: FY2002-FY2007 Fiscal Year Request ($ mil) 2002 275 2003 317 2004 359 2005 401 2006 345 (443) Appropriation ($ mil) Total Volunteers 278.9 6,636 295 7,533 308 7,733 317 (12,000) — (13,600) 2007 — (485) — (14,000) 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 CRS-5 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 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. 1 Government Accountability Office, Peace Corps: Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security 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, 2004. CRS-6 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 American 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.” 2 Peace Corps 2006 Congressional Budget Justification, p. 223.