The Peace Corps: Current Issues Curt Tarnoff Specialist in Foreign Affairs April 2, 2014 Congressional Research Service 7-5700 RS21168 The Peace Corps: Current Issues Summary 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. As of end September 2013, about 7,209 volunteers were serving in 65 nations. In 2014, the 113th Congress will consider the President’s annual funding request for the Peace Corps, possible efforts to reauthorize the Peace Corps, and related issues. On March 4, 2014, the Administration issued its FY2015 budget request, proposing $380 million for the Peace Corps, $1 million more than the FY2014 level approved in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (P.L. 113-76, H.R. 3547). The last Peace Corps funding authorization (P.L. 106-30), approved in 1999, covered the years FY2000 to FY2003. Authorization legislation offered in the 112th Congress in both the House (H.R. 2583) and Senate (S. 1426) failed to receive floor action. On November 21, 2011, the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 was signed into law (P.L. 112-57). It put into place a number of safeguards to address and reduce the incidence of volunteer rape and sexual abuse. A comprehensive assessment of Peace Corps operations was published in June 2010. It made 64 recommendations supporting a six-point strategy that was adopted by the agency and has guided agency actions since then. In March 2014, the Peace Corps published its strategic plan for the years FY2014 through FY2018. It contains strategic objectives and performance goals associated with them that will also guide the agency in the next few years. Current issues include the extent to which there is available funding for Peace Corps expansion, whether volunteers are able to function in a safe and secure environment, volunteer access to abortion, and other issues. This report will be updated as events warrant. Congressional Research Service The Peace Corps: Current Issues Contents Recent Developments ...................................................................................................................... 1 Introduction...................................................................................................................................... 1 Background ...................................................................................................................................... 1 Congressional Actions ..................................................................................................................... 2 FY2015 Appropriations ............................................................................................................. 2 FY2014 Appropriations ............................................................................................................. 2 Authorization Legislation .......................................................................................................... 2 Peace Corps Policy and Administration........................................................................................... 3 Comprehensive Assessment ...................................................................................................... 3 Strategic Plan: FY2014-FY2018 ............................................................................................... 6 Issues................................................................................................................................................ 6 Budget and Expansion ............................................................................................................... 6 Volunteers, Programming, and Support ..................................................................................... 7 The Volunteer Force ............................................................................................................ 8 Programming and Support .................................................................................................. 9 Safety and Security .................................................................................................................... 9 Peace Corps Inspector General Report.............................................................................. 10 The Peace Corps Response to the 20/20 Stories and Victims’ Charges............................. 11 Processes to Address Safety and Security ......................................................................... 12 Legislation on Safety and Security.................................................................................... 13 Instability, Terrorism, and Evacuations ............................................................................. 14 Volunteer Access to Abortion .................................................................................................. 15 The Five-Year Rule.................................................................................................................. 15 Tables Table 1. Peace Corps Budget: FY2004-FY2015 Req. ..................................................................... 7 Contacts Author Contact Information........................................................................................................... 17 Congressional Research Service The Peace Corps: Current Issues Recent Developments On March 4, 2014, the Administration issued its FY2015 budget request, proposing $380 million for the Peace Corps. In March 2014, the Peace Corps published its strategic plan for the years FY2014 through FY2018. It contains strategic objectives and performance goals associated with them that will guide the agency in the next few years. On January 24, 2014, the President signed P.L. 113-78, authorizing the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation to establish a work in Washington, DC, commemorating the mission of the Peace Corps. On January 17, 2014, the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (P.L. 11376, H.R. 3547), providing $379 million for the Peace Corps, $13 million more than the FY2013 level. In July 2013, President Obama nominated Carrie Hessler-Radelet, acting Peace Corps Director, to be Director of the Peace Corps. In November 2013, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing and the nomination was reported to the Senate on January 6, 2014. The nomination has not yet been confirmed by the full Senate. Introduction Generally viewed positively by the public and widely supported in Congress, the Peace Corps is the U.S. agency that provides volunteer skills internationally. In 2014, the 113th Congress will consider the President’s FY2015 funding request for the Peace Corps, possible efforts to reauthorize the Peace Corps, and related issues. This report will be updated as events warrant. Background Founded in 1961, the Peace Corps sends American volunteers to serve at the grassroots level in villages and towns across the globe to meet its three-point legislative mandate of promoting world peace and friendship by improving the lives of those they serve, helping others understand American culture, and sharing their experience with Americans back home. To date, more than 215,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 countries. As of end September 2013, 7,209 volunteers were serving in 65 nations.1 Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams, a former volunteer, resigned effective September 17, 2012. Deputy Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, also a former volunteer, is serving as Acting Director until her nomination as Director is confirmed. In addition to its basic two-year tour of duty, the Peace Corps introduced in 1996 an initiative called Peace Corps Response (formerly Crisis Corps). Drawing on former volunteers and expanded in 2012 to include non-former volunteers, this program provides short-term (usually 1 Supporting Peace Corps operations are about 919 U.S. direct hire staff, 188 of whom are overseas, and about 2,000 locally hired employees at overseas locations (data as of July 2013 provided by Peace Corps). Congressional Research Service 1 The Peace Corps: Current Issues three to six months) emergency, humanitarian, and development assistance at the community level with non-governmental relief and development organizations. More than 2,100 Peace Corps Response volunteers have served in 50 countries, including post-tsunami Thailand and Sri Lanka and post-earthquake Haiti. In FY2013, there were 417 Peace Corps Response volunteers in 49 countries. Congressional Actions FY2015 Appropriations On March 4, 2014, the Administration issued its FY2015 budget request, proposing $380 million for the Peace Corps, $1 million more than it received in FY2014. FY2014 Appropriations On April 10, 2013, the Administration issued its FY2014 budget request, proposing $378.8 million for the Peace Corps, 6% more than the FY2013 post-sequester and across-the-board rescission level of $356.0 million. In July 2013, the House Appropriations Committee reported H.R. 2855, the FY2014 State, Foreign Operations appropriations, providing $356.1 million for the Peace Corps, matching the FY2013 level. In July 2013, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported S. 1372, the FY2014 State, Foreign Operations appropriations, providing $385 million for the Peace Corps, an 8% increase over the FY2013 level. On January 17, 2014, the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (P.L. 11376, H.R. 3547), providing $379 million for the Peace Corps. Authorization Legislation Despite repeated efforts during the past decade, Congress has not enacted a new Peace Corps funding authorization. The last such Peace Corps authorization (P.L. 106-30), approved in 1999, covered the years FY2000 to FY2003. Appropriations bills, however, routinely waive the requirement of authorization of appropriations for foreign aid programs, as the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (P.L. 113-76, Division K, §7022) did in the case of FY2014 unauthorized foreign aid program appropriations, including those for Peace Corps. Both House and Senate took action in 2011 to authorize funding levels for the Peace Corps. Neither bill, S. 1426 or H.R. 2583, saw floor action. In 2011, Congress also took a number of steps to address Peace Corps volunteer safety and security concerns in authorization measures. The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-57, S. 1280) was signed into law on November 21, 2011. This bill is discussed in the “Safety and Security” section below. No major Peace Corps funding or program legislation was enacted in 2012 or 2013. In June 2013 and January 2014, Senate and House, respectively, approved legislation (S. 230) authorizing the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation to establish a work in Washington, DC, Congressional Research Service 2 The Peace Corps: Current Issues commemorating the mission of the Peace Corps. The President signed it into law (P.L. 113-78) on January 24, 2014. Peace Corps Policy and Administration Comprehensive Assessment In June 2010, the Peace Corps submitted to Congress a “comprehensive agency assessment” in response to a directive included in the FY2010 State, Foreign Operations appropriations (P.L. 111-117, Division F).2 As requested by the conferees (H.Rept. 111-366), the 204-page document specifically addressed a range of issues of concern to Congress regarding Peace Corps operations and procedures. While the report was thorough in its treatment of these issues, it should be noted that some points on which Congress had expressed an interest in recent years were not requested to be substantively addressed in the report. The report did not address such issues as safety and security, deferment of student loans, utilization of information technology, mechanisms for soliciting volunteer views, the adequacy and impact of post-service benefits, and the accomplishments and plans of the Peace Corps Response Program. The assessment report’s 64 recommendations were a blueprint for change in the agency. As a result of the assessment team’s findings, the Peace Corps adopted a strategy that has guided its operations since 2010. Some key elements of this reform program are noted below. Country selection. The Peace Corps moved to rationalize its selection of host countries by establishing clear criteria for entry. In part, this effort sought to address congressional concerns that the selection of Peace Corps host countries may not sufficiently reflect U.S. interests. From 2002 to 2010, the Peace Corps received letters of request or inquiry from 27 countries where there was no current program. How the agency determined whether to establish a program had not been a transparent and well-documented process, leading some to conclude that it was not a rational process. The assessment team found that certain essential conditions had always been applied to the question of country entry—the extent of host country commitment, the safety and security of volunteers, and the level of resources available to the Peace Corps. Other key considerations had included compatibility of country objectives with those of Peace Corps, presence of potential projects, cost effectiveness, and congruence with U.S. national interests. The assessment team recommended that the Peace Corps conduct a formal annual portfolio review that would look not just at applicant countries but at all existing programs and apply specific criteria to judge where the agency should operate. In addition to existing criteria, the team recommended that two new criteria be introduced into deliberations on country entry and termination—a measure of the level of development, such as the U.N. Development Program’s Human Development Index, and a measure of potential volunteer impact. Since 2010, portfolio reviews have become an annual practice, informing the agency’s strategic planning and budget guidance to country posts for the next year. These reviews helped lead to decisions to increase volunteer numbers in Africa and close programs in Antigua/Barbuda, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Romania, St. Kitts/Nevis, Suriname, Honduras, and Turkmenistan in FY2013. The Palau program 2 The report can be found at PC_Comprehensive_Agency_Assessment.pdf. Congressional Research Service 3 The Peace Corps: Current Issues will close in FY2014. A new program is anticipated in Kosovo. Currently, there are 25 outstanding country requests for new programs. Volunteer skill composition: generalists. In its new strategy, the Peace Corps chose to recognize and make the best use of one of its most notable characteristics—a volunteer force composed largely of generalists. In 2010, as for much of its history, about 85% of volunteers were recent college graduates and 84% under the age of 30. While some have argued that the Peace Corps should alter its composition to meet the increasing needs of developing countries for educated specialists, the assessment team determined, with some exceptions noted below, to accept demographic reality and the constraints of career paths in the United States that would likely limit the number of older specialists available to it. Instead, the team recommended steps be taken to strengthen the quality of the volunteer force available by improving its technical, language, and cultural training. It called for hiring full-time training staff at country posts and providing more training time to volunteers. In response, the Peace Corps increased pre-service training by about one week in FY2011 compared to FY2009. Volunteer project focus. The new strategy suggested that, in order to maximize the effectiveness of the large pool of generalists recruited by the Peace Corps, it would be best to focus on a more limited range of project areas. In the period leading up to the report, volunteers were assigned to one of six broad technical sectors—education, health, agriculture, environment, youth development, and business/IT. Within those sectors, volunteers worked in 50 different technical programs, from which 211 different project plans had been developed, perhaps meeting specific needs in a developing country, but for each of which volunteers in that project had to be trained. The assessment team argued that by focusing more on what volunteers do best, what communities most want, and what volunteers can best be trained to do, the agency could maximize the capacity of volunteers and the impact they may have. The recommendation, therefore, was that Peace Corps management assess and determine a more narrow framework of work assignments and strengthen technical training in those areas—a so-called Focus in/Train up strategy. However, the assessment did not suggest which technical sectors or program areas should be eliminated or maintained. After the report was issued, an agency workshop proposed reducing the number of projects from 211 to 60. The agency is reportedly on track to reduce the number to 161 by FY2014.3 The Peace Corps has identified 57 project activity areas within the six technical sectors on which to concentrate resources and identify performance indicators by which to judge results. It has developed 126 volunteer training packages based on best practices along with guidance to field staff on implementing effective training. Volunteer skill composition: specialists. The assessment addressed the exception to the rule of use of generalists. Both to meet needs of countries that might require greater expertise and experience and to best attract and utilize those volunteer applicants that possess a higher level of skills than the norm, the assessment team recommended that some innovations be made in Peace Corps programs. Meeting report recommendations, the Peace Corps Response Program more than doubled in size and was opened to highly qualified individuals without previous Peace Corps experience. The Response Program has maintained its current flexible time commitments (i.e., less than the usual 27 months for regular volunteers) and is being used in both regular Peace Corps countries as well as in countries where there is no standard Peace Corps presence. Under the Response Program, a Global Health Services Partnership was established to recruit physicians 3 USAID Inspector General, Statement on the Peace Corps’ Management and Performance Challenges, November 27, 2013, p. 140. Congressional Research Service 4 The Peace Corps: Current Issues and nurses as adjunct faculty in medical and schools in developing countries—the first such volunteers were posted to Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda in July 2013. Volunteer recruitment. As part of the strategy’s support for efforts to better meet developing country volunteer needs and attract the best volunteer candidates, the agency has sought to improve its recruitment and placement process and strengthen diversity outreach. A new online application platform was launched in 2012, and a new medical review management system was established to facilitate medical clearance. “Third goal.” The strategy called for efforts to more fully and effectively address the so-called “third goal,” the legislative mandate that Peace Corps volunteers “help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans” (Peace Corps Act, P.L. 87-293, §2). This objective has always received less attention and funding (0.4% of the FY2012 budget) than the other two goals of assisting development and promoting understanding of Americans to the people served, both aspects which focus on the agency’s work abroad. In 2010, the “third goal” was singled out by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in its report on the Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act (S. 1382, and incorporated into S. 2971) as an area that had not received enough priority. “Third goal” activities include efforts by volunteers and former volunteers, sometimes forming country member groups, to convey their experiences through blogs, public talks, community service in the United States, and charitable fundraising. Most prominent among agency-sponsored activities is the Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program, which connects volunteers with school classrooms throughout the United States. The assessment report recommendations included increasing funding for these purposes; establishing an intern program that would place exceptional volunteers in international NGOs, business, and U.S. agencies; and developing an agency-wide strategy to achieve “third goal” objectives. Since the report was published, the agency established an Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services. It has encouraged greater participation by volunteers and former volunteers; in 2013, hundreds of returned volunteers spoke at schools in their communities. The number of schools participating in third goal activities has risen significantly in recent years, by nearly 200% between FY2009 and FY2013, 126% since FY2012 alone.4 Although third goal funding stood at $1.5 million in each year since FY2010, the FY2014 request at $1.8 million represents a 20% increase from the FY2012 $1.5 million level. Management and operations. In addition to policy decisions encompassed by the report, the assessment called for strengthening of Peace Corps management and operations. It recommended updating the agency’s strategic plan to include the new strategies in the assessment report and a wide range of improvements to the planning and budgeting process, staffing, evaluation and oversight, recruitment procedures, training, and provision of health care to volunteers. Since the report was issued, a new monitoring and evaluation policy for the whole agency has been developed, including agency-wide standard indicators to allow reporting on common results across projects and countries. Efforts are being made to build new partnerships with international organizations, U.S. government agencies, and others. In September 2012, the Peace Corps established its first global partnership with a corporation, Mondelez (formerly Kraft Foods), to support agriculture and community development. In an effort to strengthen volunteer medical care, new Regional Medical Officers were hired and a Quality Improvement Council was established. To increase staff effectiveness, Peace Corps instituted a reorganization of country 4 Peace Corps, Performance and Accountability Report FY2013, p. 55. Congressional Research Service 5 The Peace Corps: Current Issues desk positions, a results-oriented performance appraisal program, and a revision of tour lengths to five years from the original 30 months. A number of changes have also been made to safety and security operations (discussed under “Safety and Security” below). Congressional reaction to the assessment report and strategy. In its report accompanying the FY2011 State, Foreign Operations Appropriations (S.Rept. 111-237), the Senate Appropriations Committee noted support for several of the assessment report’s recommendations, including incorporating U.S. national interests and budget considerations into new criteria for volunteer placement, focusing resources on key areas, and attracting a wider diversity of highly skilled volunteers by establishing new technical programs through an expanded Peace Corps Response Program. The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-57) amended the Peace Corps Act to add a section requiring annual portfolio reviews and monitoring and evaluation processes such as those that came out of the assessment. Strategic Plan: FY2014-FY2018 In March 2014, the Peace Corps issued its strategic plan for the period FY2014 through FY2018.5 The plan poses 11 strategic objectives meant to further the agency’s three long-standing legislative goals of improving the lives of those they serve, helping others understand American culture, and sharing their experience with Americans back home. In many ways, the objectives are a continuation of reform efforts established in the comprehensive assessment exercise. For instance, under the objective of making Peace Corps the “service opportunity of choice” for Americans, the agency addresses recruitment challenges by proposing to fully meet post requests for volunteers, increase applications to the Peace Corps, and reduce the time it takes to go from application to acceptance. The objective “train up” continues efforts to improve training, especially language and technical training. The plan also introduces some new elements of emphasis in agency management. The objective of “advancing community-based development outcomes” commits Peace Corps to strengthen and document the connection between volunteer projects and developmental gains. Under the objective of “site development,” the agency promises to focus on the sometimes neglected importance of establishing worthwhile projects and a work environment appropriate for volunteers. “Measurement for results” denotes an agency effort to ascertain levels of progress and performance through improved monitoring and evaluation practices, including collection of highquality data. Each new objective has associated with it several performance goals with identified measures of progress in achieving them, the results of which will be published in the years to come. Issues Budget and Expansion In 1985, Congress made it the policy of the United States to maintain “consistent with programmatic and fiscal considerations,” a Peace Corps volunteer level of at least 10,000 5 Published in its FY2015 Congressional Budget Justification document. Available at about/open/documents/. Congressional Research Service 6 The Peace Corps: Current Issues individuals.6 Such numbers had not been reached since the 1960s, and, although the objective has been reiterated by three Administrations since 1985, the necessary funding has not been provided. Although there appears to be broad support for the agency, when considering proposed funding increases, Congress has had to weigh whether sufficient funds were available vis-à-vis other foreign aid priorities to warrant appropriating the amounts sought for the Peace Corps. Despite a 2002 expansion initiative by President Bush to double its size to about 14,000 volunteers within five years, the Peace Corps saw only a 16% increase in volunteer numbers between 2002 and 2009. In early 2010, the Obama Administration proposed a more modest objective of a 9,400volunteer force by 2012 and 11,000 by 2016. Annual incremental funding increases and a significant congressional bump-up in FY2010 funding helped lead to an FY2010 volunteer level of 8,655, a 13% increase from the previous year and the highest level since 1970. At end of September 2011, volunteer numbers reached 9,095. Table 1. Peace Corps Budget: FY2004-FY2015 Req. Fiscal Year 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Request ($ mil) 359.0 401.0 345.0 336.7 333.5 343.5 373.4 446.2 439.6 374.5 378.8 380.0 Appropriation ($ mil.) 308.2 317.4 319.9 319.7 330.8 340.0 400.0 374.3 375.0 356.0 379.0 Total Volunteers 7,733 7,810 7,749 8,079 7,876 7,671 8,655 9,095 8,073 7,209 — Sources: Peace Corps and CRS. Notes: Figures reflect across-the-board rescissions and supplemental appropriations; they do not count transfers. Total volunteers are number at end of the fiscal year. Volunteer numbers include those funded by both Peace Corps appropriations as well as transfers from other agencies, such as the State Department President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). In FY2013, 801 volunteers were funded by PEPFAR with a transfer of $36.4 million. Since then, Peace Corps appropriations budgets have retreated and the volunteer level dropped to 8,073 at end September 2012, an 11% decline from the previous year, with a further decline to 7,209 at end September 2013, a further 11% drop. The FY2014 level of $379 marks a 6% funding increase over the previous year, not likely to shift volunteer numbers significantly. Nevertheless, the Peace Corps FY2014 to FY2018 strategic plan calls for a 10,000 volunteer level by FY2018. Volunteers, Programming, and Support A continual concern for Congress over the years has been Peace Corps management, including how the Peace Corps addresses the make-up of the volunteer force, programming of volunteer project assignments, and support of volunteers in implementing those projects. This concern is particularly acute in the context of expansion efforts, as it was used as an argument by Congress for not meeting the George W. Bush Administration’s funding requests that would enable doubling the size of the agency. The 2009 House Appropriations Committee report on the FY2010 State, Foreign Operations appropriations (H.Rept. 111-187) asked the Peace Corps to review its management practices in order to accommodate larger numbers of volunteers, and the Senate’s Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act of 2009 (S. 1382) similarly aimed to 6 Peace Corps Act (P.L. 87-293), as amended, Section 2(b). The section was added by Section 1102(a) of the International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-83). Congressional Research Service 7 The Peace Corps: Current Issues ensure that the Peace Corps was prepared to deal with the whole range of management issues such an expansion would entail. As noted above, the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-117, Division F) required the Peace Corps to submit a report assessing its operational model and proposing a strategy for reform. Peace Corps has implemented those reforms since 2010. The Volunteer Force The volunteer force is the Peace Corps. Aspects of its composition have been a focus of interest in Congress over the years.7 In FY2013, 63% of volunteers were women, 24% were minorities, 93% were single, and the average age was 29.8 In the past several years, Peace Corps made an objective of increasing the number of volunteers aged 50 and older, which, some would argue, might lead to a more specialized work-experienced volunteer force. However, the proportion of volunteers aged 50 or over appears to have changed in a positive direction only slightly. In FY2013, 8% of volunteers were 50 or older, compared with 5% in FY2008 (the number of older applicants represented 6.67% of applicants in FY2012). Volunteers work in a range of sectors—in FY2013, 40% in education, 22% in health and HIV/AIDS, 12% in the environment, 11% in community economic development, 7% in youth, 5% in agriculture, and 3% in other activities. According to the June 2010 assessment report, 85% of volunteers were recent college graduates with little professional experience. The Peace Corps, while adept at recruiting generalists and providing them with sufficient training to carry out useful assignments in these fields, 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 and which the agency might be under greater pressure to supply if it intends to expand volunteer numbers.9 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 specialized technical expertise. As noted earlier, the assessment team recommended that the Peace Corps accept the demographic features that have long characterized the volunteer force and, while embracing the use of generalists, seek to strengthen their capabilities through better training and more focused sector activities. At the same time, the team recommended continued efforts to utilize experienced and skilled volunteers through innovative approaches. In particular, it suggested that the Peace Corps Response Program be used as a platform for new, more flexible, programs that may accommodate different types of volunteers. The new Global Health Services Partnership providing doctors and nurses is one result. Whatever the skill sets and demographic characteristics sought by the agency, it is the recruitment of volunteers with appropriate skills and willingness to live in unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable conditions that is essential to the overall mission of the Peace Corps. A substantial 7 Data in this section are drawn from the Peace Corps Fact Sheet, CRS communications with Peace Corps, and the FY2013 Peace Corps Performance and Accountability Report. 8 In FY2013, Peace Corps volunteers were 6% African American, 5% Asian American, and 9% Hispanic/Latino origin. 9 One exception was its Mexico program, launched in 2004, where the Peace Corps was able to provide specialized technical volunteers offering skills in water and environmental engineering. Congressional Research Service 8 The Peace Corps: Current Issues spike in applicants and those expressing interest in applying since September 11, 2001, made it easier for the Peace Corps to meet its recruitment goals, but applications have dropped in recent years. In FY2011, about 12,206 applied to be volunteers, compared to 8,897 in FY2001, but this level represented a 10% decrease from FY2010. In FY2012, the number of applications dropped still further to 10,091, a 17% drop from the previous year. In FY2013, the number of applications was 10,131. Programming and Support 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.10 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 has addressed these weaknesses with systematic approaches to project development, annual project reviews, and increased opportunities for site visits and volunteer feedback. While most volunteers do rate their overall experience highly, volunteer anecdotal accounts suggesting poor programming and staff support still occur. The 2013 volunteer survey found that 26% and 18% of volunteers were dissatisfied or only minimally satisfied with regard to support received from Peace Corps staff in site selection and job assignment respectively, and recurrent problems identified in Inspector General country program evaluations are site development, volunteer training, and coordination with country ministries and project partners.11 One sign of volunteer dissatisfaction—the resignation rate—has improved in recent years, with 4.7% resigning in FY2013 versus 5.3% resigning in FY2012, 6.0% in FY2011, and 9.8% in FY2001.12 The 2010 assessment report discussed but did not thoroughly explore causes of volunteer dissatisfaction and resignation, noting that 97 recommendations to reduce it had been made in previous studies since 1969, many of which had been adopted. It also did not address questions regarding the quality of volunteer assignments. However, the report did offer possible avenues that might help correct these concerns, such as improving volunteer and staff training, developing initiatives to better utilize skilled and experienced volunteers, encouraging third-year extensions, and strengthening program evaluation and oversight. The agency has adopted reforms in all these areas.13 Safety and Security The safety and security of volunteers has long been a prime concern of the Peace Corps. Because of where they live and work, Peace Corps volunteers appear to many Americans to be especially vulnerable to crime. The threat of anti-American terrorism in the years following the terrorist 10 Peace Corps: Meeting the Challenges of the 1990s, May 1990, NSIAD-90-122. Peace Corps, 2013 Annual Volunteer Survey Results, p. 33; Peace Corps Office of Inspector General, Recurring Issues: OIG Post Audits and Evaluations Fiscal Years 2009-2011, April 2012, p. 6. 12 “A resignation is a decision made by the volunteer and trainee who no longer wish to continue in the Peace Corps.” Assessment Report, pp. 171-172; Peace Corps, FY2013 Early Termination Report, January 2014. 13 See the Peace Corps Performance and Accountability Report for Fiscal Year FY2013 for the multiple actions taken by the agency. Available at 11 Congressional Research Service 9 The Peace Corps: Current Issues attacks on September 11, 2001, has increased that perception. Fears were further raised in 2003 when the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News ran a series of reports suggesting that the Peace Corps was failing in its obligation to provide adequate security; a congressional hearing was held and legislation was approved by the House (H.R. 4060, June 2004) that sought to address this concern.14 In January 2010, the issue of safety and security received renewed public attention due to two reports on the ABC television newsmagazine 20/20, one concerning the 2009 murder of volunteer Kate Puzey in Benin and the other addressing the rape of volunteers. The stories catalogued incidents illustrating failure of some Peace Corps staff to maintain whistleblower confidentiality, inaction in response to volunteer reports of threatening behavior, a lack of compassion for victims of crime, a tendency to blame the victim, and insensitivity to the parents of a crime victim. Following the 20/20 reports and a House hearing on the subject held on May 11, 2011, more rape victims came forward with stories further suggesting disregard for the victims and a possible institutional failure to offer adequate support. While expressing support for the Peace Corps mission, First Response Action, an organization representing volunteer victims, sought stronger actions to reduce assault incidents and better address the needs of victims where assaults occur. In 2011, several pieces of legislation were introduced in the House and Senate that sought to answer this call. On November 21, 2011, the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 was signed into law (P.L. 112-57). Peace Corps Inspector General Report The concerns generated by the 20/20 reports and victims’ accusations followed on the heels of a Peace Corps IG report on volunteer safety and security released in April 2010.15 While noting that the Peace Corps had made significant changes in its safety and security program since 2002 and “maintained a much larger safety and security workforce than comparable international nongovernmental organizations,” the IG “identified multiple areas where Peace Corps needed to improve” (page i), mostly including a lack of effective processes, standardized training, and skilled personnel to manage and implement discrete aspects of its safety and security programs. Perhaps most troubling, the IG found numerous instances between FY2004 and FY2009 of reoccurring evaluation findings, such as posts not thoroughly completing housing/site inspections, volunteers engaged in unsafe behaviors, various cities where volunteers were in locations considered unsafe, and inadequate emergency action plans, suggesting problems in safety and security program compliance over the long term.16 The IG report made 28 recommendations. Among these were that the Peace Corps Director should establish clear lines of authority to ensure that the Office of Safety and Security can manage the safety and security program; that the Director adequately track Safety and Security Officer recommendations to make sure they are being met; that the chief compliance officer establish a process to identify re-occurring problems and take steps to address them; that the role, number, and salaries for Safety and Security Coordinators be reviewed to ensure agency needs are met; that the Office of Safety and Security develop and implement a training program for Officers 14 “Casualties of Peace,” Dayton Daily News, October 26-November 1, 2003. 15 Peace Corps, Office of the Inspector General, Final Audit Report: Peace Corps Volunteer Safety and Security Program, IG-10-08-A, April 2010. 16 Peace Corps, Office of the Inspector General, Final Audit Report: Peace Corps Volunteer Safety and Security Program, IG-10-08-A, April 2010, p. 17. Congressional Research Service 10 The Peace Corps: Current Issues and Coordinators based on needed skills; that the Office of Safety and Security develop a comprehensive plan that includes the agency’s safety and security strategy, risks, and policies to mitigate those risks; that volunteers be provided with a consolidated handbook on the basic principles of volunteer safety during the recruitment and staging process and be required to sign a code of conduct on basic security principles before departure; and that a formal agreement be reached with the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security clarifying roles of each agency.17 As of July 2012, the Peace Corps had implemented all 28 of the IG’s recommendations. The Peace Corps Response to the 20/20 Stories and Victims’ Charges Following the television programs, the Peace Corps Director issued statements noting that the programs did not accurately reflect Peace Corps policy and practice regarding the safety and security of volunteers. The Peace Corps immediately issued a formal Commitment to Sexual Assault Victims, which included, among other things, promises to treat victims of sexual assault with dignity and respect, to take appropriate steps to provide for their safety, to support volunteers in their recovery, and to work closely with them in decisions regarding continuation of service. The Director of the Peace Corps also offered apologies to the family and friends of the murder victim if the agency could have been more compassionate.18 In addition to noting its ongoing efforts to improve on its safety record and better serve volunteers, the Peace Corps pointed out that volunteers themselves in their annual survey have reported feeling “usually safe” and “very safe” where they live and where they work, in 2010 respectively 87% and 91%.19 The Peace Corps asserted that its operating procedures in response to sexual assault and training offered to volunteers had resulted in “a significant decline in the incidence of rape and major sexual assault among Volunteers over the past 14 years.”20 According to the Peace Corps, between 1997 and 2009 there was a 27% decline in the incidence of rape and attempted rape and a 34% decline in the incidence of major sexual assault.21 A statement issued by the Peace Corps claimed that there were procedures in place “to respond quickly and compassionately to Volunteers.”22 Further, the Peace Corps had taken a number of steps to improve its procedures in the months following the 20/20 reports. These are discussed below. 17 Ibid., pp. 49-51. Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams’ Response to ABC News’ 20/20, January 14, 2011 and January 27, 2011. 19 Peace Corps 2010 Annual Volunteer Survey, p. 25. 20 Peace Corps Fact Sheet: Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, January 2011. 21 Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams’ Response to ABC World News, January 27, 2011. It should be noted, however, that the 2010 Annual Report on Volunteer Safety published in May 2012 shows a 64% increase in the rate of female rape per female volunteer years from the previous year, although the category of female major sexual assault fell by 7%. 22 Peace Corps Fact Sheet: Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, January 2011. 18 Congressional Research Service 11 The Peace Corps: Current Issues Processes to Address Safety and Security The Peace Corps has always had in place various procedures and processes to address the issues of volunteer safety and security, but such efforts have been particularly pronounced in the past decade. Following a 2002 Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that APeace Corps efforts to ensure effective implementation of its safety and security policies have produced varying results,” the Peace Corps launched numerous initiatives—including establishment of a stand-alone Safety and Security Office to direct and oversee all security programs, deployment of U.S. direct hire field-based safety and security officers and local hire safety and security personnel, and appointment at headquarters of regional desk officers and a chief compliance officer to monitor compliance with new security rules and procedures.23 Nonetheless, GAO reported on March 24, 2004, that some “unevenness” in compliance with procedures mandated by headquarters likely remained.24 Peace Corps has taken additional steps to improve safety and security, most notably, in 2008, establishing a Sexual Assault Working Group to examine risk factors, analyze training, and adopt best practices to reduce risk and address victims’ needs. In late 2010, the agency approved establishment of a victim’s advocate position in response to suggestions from returned volunteers. The advocate supports volunteer victims of crime, from the crime through post-Peace Corps service, including helping them sort through the red tape to receive post-service health benefits. In February 2011, the Office of Safety and Security issued a document on Guidelines for Responding to Rape and Major Sexual Assault that captures the policies and procedures in place to assist and respond to volunteer rape or major sexual assault. Peace Corps staff are expected to serve as advocates for the volunteer and ensure “that what happens next is in the Volunteer’s best interest.”25 This includes ensuring a safe environment and emotional stability, providing medical care and counseling, and helping preserve a volunteer’s right to prosecute. Since April 2012, over 350 staff abroad were trained on these protocols. Many of these efforts were strengthened or added to as a result of the 2011 Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act discussed below.26 In two November 2013 reports on the status of implementation of aspects of the Kate Puzey Act—specifically sexual assault training and the agency’s sexual assault policy—the Peace Corps IG found that “many elements of the Peace Corps’ sexual assault policy are in place, but full compliance with the Kate Puzey Act remains a work in progress.” Sexual assault training conforming to existing best practices has been provided to all 27-month volunteers. Peace Corps management has concurred with all the IG recommendations.27 23 Government Accountability Office, Peace Corps: Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security Challenges Hold Promise, but Progress Should be Assessed, GAO-02-818, July 2002, p. 2. 24 Testimony of Jess T. Ford, Director, International Affairs and Trade, General Accounting Office, before the Committee on International Relations, Peace Corps: Status of Initiatives to Improve Volunteer Safety and Security, GAO-04-600T, March 24, 2004. 25 Peace Corps, Office of Safety and Security, Guidelines for Responding to Rape and Major Sexual Assault, February 2011, p.12. 26 For an update on Peace Corps implementation of the Act, see Progress in Implementation of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, November 2012, on the Peace Corps website at multimedia/pdf/media/Progress_on_Implementation_of_Kate_Puzey_Act_Nov_2012.pdf. 27 Peace Corps Office of the Inspector General, Peace Corps Sexual Assault Risk-Reduction and Response Training, November 2013, and Peace Corps Volunteer Sexual Assault Policy, November 2013. Congressional Research Service 12 The Peace Corps: Current Issues In 2013, the volunteer survey showed 82% and 85% felt “more than adequately safe,” or “very safe” where they live and work, a slight improvement over 2012 but less than the 2010 results of 87% and 92%. However, in all three years, those feeling “adequately safe” or better amounted to 98%.28 Legislation on Safety and Security Congress responded to the safety and security issue by holding a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on May 11, 2011; a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on October 6, 2011; and by introducing several pieces of legislation amending the Peace Corps Act, most notably S. 1280, the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, reported on September 21, 2011, by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (S.Rept. 112-82), approved by the Senate on September 26, 2011, and by the House on November 1, 2011, and signed into law on November 21, 2011, as P.L. 112-57. In addition, Congress considered a companion bill to S. 1280, H.R. 2337, ordered reported by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on September 21, 2011; Title X of H.R. 2583, the Foreign Relations Authorization for FY2012, reported on July 21, 2011, by the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and H.R. 2699, the Peace Corps Volunteer Service Improvement Act of 2011, reported by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on September 21, 2011. The Kate Puzey Act (P.L. 112-57) pulls together most of the language on safety and security issues as is contained in these other bills. It specifies that volunteers receive sexual assault risk reduction and response training, including training tailored to the country of service covering safety plans in the event of an assault, medical treatments available, medevac procedures, and information on the legal process for pressing charges. Peace Corps applicants are to be provided with a historical analysis of crimes and risks in the proposed country of service. Trainees will be provided with contact information of the Inspector General for purposes of reporting violations of the sexual assault protocol and of the victims advocate. The bill requires that sexual assault protocols and guidelines be developed by the Peace Corps director and training be provided to staff regarding implementation of the protocol. Volunteers can request removal from a site, which would then be evaluated for its safety. Sexual response teams are established to respond to reports of sexual assault by volunteers. Alternative reporting systems are established that allow volunteer anonymity. A victims advocate position is established to assist sexually assaulted volunteers and facilitate access to available services. A Sexual Assault Advisory Council is established composed of returned volunteers and experts on sexual assault to review training and policy to ensure they conform to best practices. An annual survey is to be conducted regarding the effectiveness of Peace Corps programs and safety. A process is established to allow reports of incidents while protecting the confidentiality of volunteers. It is required that the Peace Corps and State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security agree to a memorandum of understanding on the duties and obligations of each with respect to protection of Peace Corps volunteers and staff. And, a report on safety and security is to be submitted annually to Congress. 28 Peace Corps, 2010 Annual Volunteer Survey, p. 25, 2012 Annual Volunteer Survey, p. 146. and 2013 Annual Volunteer Survey, p. 48. Congressional Research Service 13 The Peace Corps: Current Issues Instability, Terrorism, and Evacuations The Peace Corps has been particularly concerned in recent years with threats of terrorism and civil strife and has responded by upgrading communications, testing emergency action plans, and other security measures. The Peace Corps addresses these larger security concerns, including natural disasters or civil unrest, through country-specific Emergency Action Plans (EAP) that are to be in place in each Peace Corps country. The plan, to be tested and revised annually, defines roles and responsibilities for staff and volunteers, explains standard policies and procedures, and lists emergency contact information for every volunteer in country. Evacuations and closure of missions to ensure the well-being of volunteers have constrained the growth of the Peace Corps. Since 2000, volunteers have been evacuated from at least 17 countries. Most often, evacuations were due to cases of political instability and civil unrest. Three were attributed to the events of September 11—Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the Kyrgyz Republic.29 In April 2012, volunteers were withdrawn from Mali and the program suspended in response to the political and security crisis in that country. It remains suspended. Niger has been similarly suspended since January 2011. Start-up of the new Peace Corps program in Tunisia continues to be delayed due to the attack on the U.S. Embassy in that country in September 2012 and ongoing political and security uncertainties. Crime is another factor in agency evacuation decisions. The Peace Corps suspended its 117 volunteer program in Kazakhstan in mid-November 2011 “based on a number of operational considerations,” according to an agency press release. Volunteer reports suggest that rapes and terrorist attacks may be the specific cause.30 Due to concerns regarding the prevalence of drug and organized crime-related violence in Central America, the Peace Corps announced in December 2011 that it would send no new volunteers to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador while it conducted a review of its operations and the security environment in those locations. In the case of Honduras, currently serving volunteers were withdrawn on administrative leave and completed service while the review was ongoing. The review was completed in February 2012, and the program in Honduras was formally suspended in September 2012 and will be formally closed in FY2014. Volunteers in Guatemala and El Salvador are continuing to serve, and the Peace Corps resumed sending new volunteers to those countries in 2013 at reduced levels. To address safety concerns in Guatemala and El Salvador, volunteer operations were consolidated in safer geographical areas, alternative volunteer transportation was devised, and training and support was enhanced. 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, according to the Peace Corps, about 17% of all volunteers are serving in 11 countries with Muslim populations of over 40%.31 In FY2010, the Peace Corps launched a program in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world. 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. 29 They later returned to Turkmenistan and Kyrgyz Republic. The Turkmenistan program closed in September 2012. See Peace Corps Online, November 18, 2011, at 31 Data as of May 2013 provided by Peace Corps. 30 Congressional Research Service 14 The Peace Corps: Current Issues Volunteer Access to Abortion Since 1979, the annual Peace Corps appropriations language has prohibited funds from being used to pay for abortions. The issue of volunteer access to abortion has recently received attention, because the Administration’s FY2014 budget request includes proposed language that would allow health insurance coverage for volunteers in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is endangered. The argument for paying for abortions under the above restricted circumstances is that private insurance offered to federal employees, including those administering the Peace Corps program, covers abortions in the case of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is endangered. Volunteers, however, are considered federal employees only for certain very narrowly defined purposes such as legal liability, baggage transport, and check cashing eligibility. Abortions therefore can be excluded from volunteer health care although all other care—primary care, hospitalization, medical evacuation, all prescriptions including birth control and dental care needs—is provided directly by the Peace Corps either through its Medical Officer or insurance.32 S. 813, introduced on April 25, 2013 (Lautenberg), and reflecting the Administration proposal, would apply the same abortion restrictions to volunteer health care insurance as currently apply to federal employee health plans. The Senate Appropriations Committee version of the FY2014 State, Foreign Operations appropriations, S. 1372, contains a provision that would do the same. The House bill had no equivalent version and the final FY2014 State, Foreign Operations legislation (Division K in P.L. 113-76) also does not include this language. Opponents of the proposal argue that its adoption would be an expansion of abortion services by the federal government.33 The Five-Year Rule The five-year rule is an issue long discussed in the Peace Corps community and periodically addressed by Congress. Most recently, it is the subject of a 2012 report by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that suggests Congress may again have a role to play.34 The five-year rule, which became law in August 1965 in an amendment to Section 7(a) of the Peace Corps Act (P.L. 87-293, as amended), limits most Peace Corps staff to five years employment. The same amendment allows a one-year extension if personally approved by the Director. A subsequent amendment in 1985 permits 15% of U.S. direct hires a further extension of two and a half years, meaning that these individuals could be employed for a total of eight and a half years. In addition, staff can only leave the Peace Corps and be rehired after an amount of time equal to their preceding term of service has passed, in effect limiting a route around the rule. The five-year rule does not apply to personal service contractors or foreign nationals. Direct hire staff involved in the safety of volunteers, including the new victims advocate position, and the 32 The Peace Corps’ authorization language (P.L. 87-293, as amended, §5(e)) requires that Peace Corps provide health care to volunteers during service. 33 Lisa Rein, “Peace Corps Volunteers Could Get Health Insurance Coverage for Abortions,” Washington Post, April 26, 2013. 34 Peace Corps Office of the Inspector General, Final Evaluation Report: Impacts of the Five-Year Rule on Operations of the Peace Corps, IG-12-05-E, June 2012. Congressional Research Service 15 The Peace Corps: Current Issues Inspector General and OIG staff are also exempt as a result of congressional action in the FY2004 appropriations (P.L. 108-199) and the 2011 Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act, respectively. Implementation of the five-year rule is seen to have had both positive and negative effects on the performance of the Peace Corps. Positive aspects are to a large extent those associated with the original arguments in favor of the rule’s adoption; they continue to have force. Negative aspects following adoption of the rule have driven the addition of limited extensions and exemptions to its application. But they continue to cause concern. Positive features of the five-year rule possibly include that it • creates a workforce generally perceived as vibrant, youthful, and energetic; • because of high turnover, permits the hiring of more returned Peace Corps volunteers (53% of all direct hires between 2000 and 2010 were RPCVs and 78% of overseas leadership posts), whose recent experience in the field provides highquality policy input; • generates a flow of staff departing for other international agencies that increases the influence of Peace Corps on foreign policy, a benefit originally suggested by Sargent Shriver; • facilitates removal of poorly performing staff; • provides an performance incentive for currently serving volunteers who might in the future want to obtain employment in the agency; and • creates possible cost savings from not accruing long term salary and benefit obligations. Negative features of the five-year rule largely derive from the higher turnover and short tenure of staff. Instead of a turnover of 20% each year, implied by the five-year rule, the actual rate is much higher—25% to 33% each year since 2004 according to the OIG, quadruple that of the rest of the federal government. The average length of service is three years. These figures suggest that individuals are looking outside of the Peace Corps for more stable employment long before their term expires. The possible resulting negative impact includes • poor institutional memory; • frequent staffing vacancies; • no long-term career incentives to encourage high performance; • insufficient time for constantly departing staff to identify, develop, test, and implement innovative ideas; • disincentive for management to invest in training and professional development; • diminished management capacity, the rule being noted as a factor in multiple previous OIG and GAO reports focusing on volunteer support, contract, and financial management; and • high staff recruitment costs—costs strictly attributable to five-year rule turnover estimated by the OIG to be between $12.6 million and $15.5 million in the period 2005 through 2009. Congressional Research Service 16 The Peace Corps: Current Issues The OIG evaluation made five broad recommendations to the Peace Corps, including that the Director should carry out unspecified reforms, including legislative remedies, to reduce the rate of turnover and increase length of employment, and identify which core functions suffer from turnover and develop processes to retain those personnel. Since OIG report publication, Peace Corps has taken steps to mitigate the negative impacts of the five-year rule. It is offering five-year employment to new employees instead of the former two and half year term. It is trying to fully utilize existing legislative authority to provide an additional two and a half years on top of the five-year term for up to 15% of its staff—in 2010, only 10% of staff benefitted; now more than 14%. It is also planning on utilizing authority that allows an unlimited number of staff to continue for a year after their five-year term under “special circumstances.” At the same time, the agency is also working to identify the causes of employee early resignation and the specific functions and positions where staff turnover is most harmful in order to best address the problem. According to Peace Corps, legislative remedies may be sought if these and other efforts are insufficient. Author Contact Information Curt Tarnoff Specialist in Foreign Affairs, 7-7656 Congressional Research Service 17