The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues
February 25, 2021
Founded in 1961, the Peace Corps pursues a legislative mandate of promoting world peace and
friendship by sending American volunteers to serve at the grassroots level in all corners of the
Nick M. Brown
world. In September 2019, there were 7,334 volunteers serving in 61 nations.
Analyst in Foreign
Assistance and Foreign
In March 2020, all volunteers were evacuated and programs suspended as a result of the
Policy
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Data in this report reflect status of the Peace

Corps volunteer force prior to its March 2020 evacuation. The agency has announced plans to
restart programs in 2021.

More than 95% of volunteers serve through its traditional program, which includes three months of technical and language
training followed by two years of service. The much smaller Peace Corps Response program sends experienced volunteers on
short-term, high-impact assignments overseas. Volunteers support host communities in every region of the world, with
assistance programs in agriculture, economic development, youth development, health (particularly HIV/AIDS
programming), and education. Of its volunteers, 41% work in education, the largest programmatic sector, and 45% serve in
sub-Saharan Africa, the largest region.
Peace Corps volunteers come from every U.S. state, and many public universities and colleges have close recruiting
relationships with Peace Corps, generating consistent interest among Members of Congress in supporting constituents and
their family members serving abroad. For instance, many Members maintain an active interest in ensuring that the Peace
Corps supports volunteers through adequate safety protocols, quality medical care, robust training, and high-impact
programming. As the Peace Corps is an agency of both international development and public diplomacy, some Members also
seek to strengthen the agency’s efforts to improve both the condition of poor communities overseas and other nations’
perceptions of the United States.
Congress addresses Peace Corps funding and policy in annual appropriations legislation and, less frequently, revises the
statutory provisions of the Peace Corps Act of 1961 (P.L. 83-293) through reform legislation. Particular attention has been
directed at volunteer health and safety in recent years. The Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018 (the
Farr-Castle Act, P.L. 115-256), signed into law on October 9, 2018, is the most recently enacted major revision. The Farr-
Castle Act established provisions designed to improve volunteer medical care, both at post and after service; extend the
allowable period of service for certain Peace Corps staff positions; establish the frequency, scope, and reporting requirements
for impact surveys of volunteers; and improve advocacy for volunteers who are the victims of crimes, among other matters.
The 117th Congress may consider proposed Peace Corps funding as part of the FY2022 State, Foreign Operations and Related
Programs appropriations process, and may conduct oversight of reentry of volunteers throughout 2021. Congress may also
monitor the implementation of the Farr-Castle Act, including progress as new policies and reporting lines are established for
Peace Corps medical care. Congress may also work with Peace Corps during its annual portfolio review to ensure that
volunteer health and safety is taken into account in decisionmaking, as well as to assess closure and opening of country
programs as applicable.
Several other issues may be of interest to Congress. Volunteer levels have declined in recent years from their peak of 9,095 in
2011, and the number of country programs has fallen from 69 in 2011 to 61 in 2020. Peace Corps has not achieved its
statutory mandate of a 10,000-volunteer force since that goal was established. Volunteers also express dissatisfaction at the
quality of training and their work responsibilities in annual surveys. Other Peace Corps issues that may be of interest to
Congress include the geographic composition of Peace Corps programs, volunteer access to abortion, activities for returned
volunteers, volunteer benefits, Peace Corps partnerships, and staffing practices of Peace Corps.
Congressional Research Service


link to page 5 link to page 6 link to page 6 link to page 6 link to page 6 link to page 7 link to page 8 link to page 8 link to page 8 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 10 link to page 10 link to page 11 link to page 11 link to page 12 link to page 12 link to page 13 link to page 13 link to page 14 link to page 15 link to page 16 link to page 17 link to page 17 link to page 18 link to page 18 link to page 19 link to page 19 link to page 20 link to page 21 link to page 22 link to page 6 link to page 7 link to page 8 link to page 11 link to page 10 The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

Contents
Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 1
Agency Overview ............................................................................................................................ 2
With Peace Corps in-country operations suspended, this report reflects the status of
Peace Corps volunteers and programs prior to March 2020. ................................................. 2
The Volunteer Force .................................................................................................................. 2
Programs ................................................................................................................................... 3
Countries of Service .................................................................................................................. 4
Recent Legislative and Executive Actions ...................................................................................... 4
Peace Corps Agency Assessment .............................................................................................. 4
Kate Puzey Act of 2011 ............................................................................................................. 5
Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018 .................................................... 5
Peace Corps Strategic Plan: FY2018-FY2022 .......................................................................... 6
Funding Trends and FY2021 Appropriations ............................................................................ 6

Issues ............................................................................................................................................... 7
Budget and Expansion ............................................................................................................... 7
Authorization Legislation .......................................................................................................... 8
Volunteer Expertise and Training .............................................................................................. 8
Volunteer Recruitment............................................................................................................... 9
Programming and Support ........................................................................................................ 9
Safety and Security ................................................................................................................. 10
Sexual Assault .................................................................................................................... 11
Evacuations and Program Closures ......................................................................................... 12
Volunteer Health Care ............................................................................................................. 13
Antimalarial Medication ................................................................................................... 13
Post-Service Health Care .................................................................................................. 14
Volunteer Access to Abortion .................................................................................................. 14
Third Goal Activities ............................................................................................................... 15
Post-Service Benefits .............................................................................................................. 15
The Five-Year Rule ................................................................................................................. 16
Partnerships ............................................................................................................................. 17
Peace Corps Commemorative Site .......................................................................................... 18

Figures
Figure 1. Volunteer Characteristics, Recent Trends ......................................................................... 2
Figure 2. Program Sectors: FY2020 ................................................................................................ 3
Figure 3. Volunteers by Region: FY2020 ........................................................................................ 4
Figure 4. Peace Corps Volunteer Levels and Appropriations, 2009-2018 ....................................... 7

Tables
Table 1. Peace Corps Budget and Volunteer Force: FY2011-FY2020 ............................................ 6

Congressional Research Service

link to page 22 The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

Contacts
Author Information ........................................................................................................................ 18

Congressional Research Service

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

Introduction
Founded in 1961, the Peace Corps sends American volunteers to serve at the grassroots level in
villages and towns across the world. The Peace Corps’ three-point legislative mandate,
unchanged since its founding, is to promote world peace and friendship by improving the lives of
those they serve, help others understand American culture, and bring volunteers’ experience back
to Americans at home. To date, more than 241,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 143
countries.1 As of the end of September 2019, 7,334 volunteers were serving in 61 nations.2 All
volunteer operations were suspended in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (see
text box).
The current head of the Peace Corps is Carol Spahn, who was named Acting Director on January
20, 2021. President Biden has yet to nominate a permanent Director.
Suspension of Volunteer Operations
On March 15, 2020, Peace Corps announced the worldwide evacuation of all volunteers and immediate
termination of volunteer activities. Congress appropriated a supplemental $88 mil ion for the Peace Corps (P.L.
116-136) to carry out the evacuation, support evacuated volunteers and staff, mitigate risk of infection at Peace
Corps offices around the world, and plan for and, when feasible, execute reentry of programs.3 Funds were
directed in part to augmented benefits for evacuated volunteers, including to support the costs of reentry into the
United States. In June 2020, the agency began taking application for new volunteers, including an expedited
application for volunteers returning to service.4 Peace Corps announced it would begin returning volunteers to
service in January 2021, beginning with the Eastern Caribbean program.5 Due to changes in COVID-19
circumstances, the agency did not execute its plans to reenter in January or February 2021.6
In 2021, the 117th Congress may consider the President’s FY2022 funding request for the Peace
Corps, reauthorization of the Peace Corps, reintroduction of volunteer programs overseas,
oversight of reforms related to the Farr-Castle Act, the geographic distribution of Peace Corps
programs, and related issues.

1 Peace Corps, Agency Financial Report Fiscal Year 2020, November 2020, p. ii,
https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/documents/open-government/agency-financial-report-fy20.pdf.
2 Peace Corps operations are supported by about 945 U.S. direct hire staff, 174 of whom are overseas, and 2,720 locally
hired employees at overseas locations (data as of September 30, 2020, reported in Peace Corps Office of the Inspector
General, Semiannual Report to Congress, October 2020, p. 4.
3 Peace Corps, “Peace Corps CARES Act Funding Plan,” press release, June 24, 2020.
4 CRS communication with Peace Corps, June 10, 2020.
5 Peace Corps, “Director Olsen announces return of volunteers, commemorates ‘founding moment,’” press release,
October 14, 2020.
6 CRS communication with Peace Corps, February 24, 2021.
Congressional Research Service

1

link to page 6
The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

Agency Overview
Figure 1. Volunteer Characteristics,
With Peace Corps in-country operations
Recent Trends
suspended, this report reflects the status of
Peace Corps volunteers and programs prior
to March 2020.
The Volunteer Force
The volunteer force is considered the core of
the Peace Corps and the primary conduit to
achieve its three goals. Congress has
historically taken interest in the extent to
which Peace Corps attracts strong

ambassadors for American values, provides
Source: Peace Corps, Volunteer On-Board Strength,
FY2009-FY2020
.
technical experts of use for countries’
development, and attracts volunteers who
Note: Percentages are three-year averages.
reflect American society.7 In FY2020, 32% of volunteers identified as racial or ethnic minorities,
a marked increase from prior years; 65% of volunteers were women; and 99.6% were single (see
Figure 1). The average age was 27, consistent with past years.8 About 85% of volunteers have
historically been recent college graduates with a “generalist” background.9
Volunteers come from every U.S. state; on a per capita basis (number of volunteers per 100,000
residents), the top providers of volunteers in FY2020 were the District of Columbia, Vermont,
Montana, Virginia, Maryland, Oregon, New Hampshire, Colorado, Maine, Washington,
Massachusetts, and Minnesota.10

7 Data in this section are drawn from the Peace Corps Congressional Budget Justification and CRS communications
with Peace Corps.
8 In FY2020, Peace Corps volunteers were 64.7% white, 13.8% Hispanic/Latino origin, 7.8% African American, 5.4%
Asian or Pacific Islander, 8% multiracial, less than 0.5% American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 2% unidentified.
Peace Corps, Volunteer On Board Strength - By Post, Age Group, Race-Ethnicity, and Sector - FY2009-FY2020 [CSV],
2020.,
9 Peace Corps, A Comprehensive Agency Assessment, June 2010, p. 7, https://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/
opengov/PC_Comprehensive_Agency_Assessment.pdf.
10 Peace Corps, “Peace Corps Announces 2019 Top Volunteer-Producing States,” press release, January 2020.
Congressional Research Service

2

link to page 7
The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

Programs
Figure 2. Program Sectors: FY2020
The Peace Corps maintains two types of
volunteer programs: the traditional Peace
Corps tour and Peace Corps Response.
About 98% of volunteers serve in the
traditional 27-month tour, including three
months of language, technical, and cultural
training followed by 24 months of service.11
Peace Corps volunteers work in a range of
sectors (see Figure 2), many of which align
with the development sectors of other foreign
assistance programs.
In 1996, Peace Corps introduced the Peace
Corps Response Program (formerly Crisis
Corps), which draws on “returned” (i.e.,
former) volunteers (RPCVs) and, since 2012,
those with specialist professional backgrounds

who have never been volunteers. Response
Source: Peace Corps FY2020 Agency Financial Report.
volunteers carry out short-term (three-month to one-year) emergency, humanitarian, and
development assignments at the community level with nongovernmental relief and development
organizations. To date, more than 3,500 Peace Corps Response volunteers have served in over 80
countries, including disaster-affected countries.12 Of that total amount, in FY2019 (the last full
year for which volunteers were placed), 175 Peace Corps Response volunteers served across 25
countries.13

11 Peace Corps, Congressional Budget Justification FY2021, p. 73.
12 Peace Corps, Peace Corps Response Overview and History, https://www.peacecorps.gov/volunteer/peace-corps-
response/overview-and-history/, accessed February 17, 2021.
13 Peace Corps, Congressional Budget Justification FY2021, p. 9.
Congressional Research Service

3

link to page 8
The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

Countries of Service
Figure 3. Volunteers by Region: FY2020
Almost half of the volunteer force serves in
sub-Saharan Africa (see Figure 3). The
countries with the highest number of
volunteers at the time of evacuation in 2020
were Zambia, Senegal, Ukraine, Panama,
Madagascar, Dominican Republic, Peru,
Morocco, Paraguay, and Ecuador. Political
instability and safety concerns preclude a
larger volunteer presence in the Middle
East/North Africa. New programs have often
coincided with improvement in U.S. relations
with new partner countries, such as in
Vietnam and Myanmar. Both programs were
announced in the wake of visits by then-
President Obama, underlining a significant

warming of relations with the United States
Source: Peace Corps FY2020 Agency Financial Report.
for both countries. Volunteers have since
begun service in Myanmar, and the Vietnam
Notes: Data reflect volunteer profile at time of
program is set to launch when conditions
evacuation.
permit volunteer mobilization.14
Recent Legislative and Executive Actions
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps’ founding in 2011, Congress directed an agency-
wide assessment of the Peace Corps’ organizational approach. Concurrent reports of inadequate
protocols for volunteer safety also intensified congressional scrutiny of the agency. The resulting
reforms have dominated the agency’s strategic direction over the past decade, and Congress
continues to take an active role in facilitating these ongoing changes. The Peace Corps marks its
60th anniversary in FY2021.
Peace Corps Agency Assessment
In 2009, Congress initiated a comprehensive assessment of the Peace Corps’ operational model.
The resulting recommendations, released in 2010, precipitated a series of sweeping reforms that
continue partly to define the agency’s policy agenda.15 To foster a metrics-oriented programming
approach, the agency established a formal annual portfolio review of all active country programs,
created specific criteria for entry into new countries, and enacted a new monitoring and
evaluation policy with standard indicators across countries.16 To increase staff effectiveness, the
agency instituted a reorganization of country desk positions, a results-oriented performance
appraisal program, and an extension of tour lengths to five years from the original 30 months. The
Peace Corps enacted further reforms to volunteer training, Peace Corps Response, the recruitment

14 Peace Corps, “Peace Corps, Viet Nam celebrate historic agreement,” press release, July 10, 2020.
15 Peace Corps, A Comprehensive Agency Assessment, June 2010, http://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/
opengov/PC_Comprehensive_Agency_Assessment.pdf, ordered in P.L. 111-117.
16 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.
Congressional Research Service

4

link to page 11 link to page 15 link to page 11 The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

process, and returned volunteer activities (so-called “Third Goal” programs, for the third of Peace
Corps’ three-part legislative mandate). Each of these reforms is discussed in detail below under
“Issues.”
Kate Puzey Act of 2011
In the midst of the assessment team’s work, the ABC television newsmagazine 20/20 in 2010
reported on multiple episodes of rape against Peace Corps volunteers, as well as the 2009 murder
of volunteer Kate Puzey in Benin. The stories featured on 20/20 catalogued some Peace Corps
staff breaching confidentiality, failing to respond to volunteer reports of threatening behavior,
lacking compassion for victims or their parents, and blaming victims for crimes inflicted upon
them.
Earlier, the agency had taken some steps to confront the sexual assault of volunteers. The Peace
Corps established a Sexual Assault Working Group in 2008, and the Peace Corps Director
followed up by issuing a formal Commitment to Sexual Assault Victims in response to victims’
complaints. Volunteer advocates responded that the Director’s commitments were not sufficient.
They pushed for stronger actions to reduce assault incidents and better address the needs of
victims where assaults occur, including legislation.17 In 2011, several pieces of legislation were
introduced in the House and Senate that sought to answer this call, resulting in the Kate Puzey
Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 (the Puzey Act, P.L. 112-57). Provisions of the
legislation are discussed in the Issues section under “Sexual Assault.
Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018
The Peace Corps has generally been lauded for its implementation of the Puzey Act, but scrutiny
of volunteer sexual assault persisted and widened to other areas of volunteer health and safety.
The 2013 death of Peace Corps/China volunteer Nicholas Castle, resulting from what the
Inspector General (IG) determined was a series of medical misdiagnoses and treatment failures,18
led to a renewed push for reforms.
The House and Senate in the 115th Congress concurrently considered two parallel bills. The
Senate passed S. 2286 (the Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018) on March 13, 2018,
which focused on volunteer health care and agency operations. A House bill, H.R. 2259 (the Sam
Farr Peace Corps Enhancement Act), focused on volunteer safety and security concerns and post-
service disability and health care. The two bills were combined into the Sam Farr and Nick Castle
Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018 which was signed into law on October 9, 2018 (the Farr-Castle
Act, P.L. 115-256).
The enacted law further strengthened several of the provisions of the Puzey Act, established new
policies for volunteer health care, added several exceptions to the “Five Year Rule,” and adjusted
reporting requirements regarding country program planning and closure. These items are further
addressed in respective sections under “Issues.”

17 Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Peace Corps Volunteers Speak Out on Rape,” New York Times, May 10, 2011, p. A16.
18 Peace Corps Office of the Inspector General, Investigative Review of the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of a
Volunteer in Peace Corps/China
, I-13-020, November 2014, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/
multimedia/pdf/policies/PCIG_Investigative_Review_of_a_Volunteer_Death_in_Peace_Corps_China.pdf.
Congressional Research Service

5

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

Peace Corps Strategic Plan: FY2018-FY2022
The Peace Corps Strategic Plan for the period FY2018 to FY2022 poses six strategic and
management objectives meant to further the three long-standing goals of the Peace Corps Act.19
Each objective is associated with performance goals and progress benchmarks, the results of
which are to be published annually. For example, the objective of promoting sustainable change
in the communities where volunteers work is measured by the percentage of projects with
documented gains in community-based development outcomes. Underlying that indicator are
efforts made in recent years to describe and document expected volunteer contributions to host
community development goals. Another indicator of sustainable change performance will be the
result of annual impact studies, an innovation launched in 2008 and used to develop best practices
for agency programs.
Other objectives are to enhance volunteer effectiveness (indicators include improved language
learning, an improved site management system, and strengthened project planning); optimize
volunteer resilience (indicators include increasing volunteer capacity to manage adjustment
challenges and efforts to establish realistic expectations of service); build leaders for tomorrow
(measured in part by the number of opportunities for RPCVs to engage in continued service);
improve agency services; and proactively address agency risks through evidence-based
decisionmaking (risks including safety and security of volunteers, risks to IT infrastructure, and
emergency preparedness and response).
Funding Trends and FY2021 Appropriations
The Peace Corps’ funding, provided through the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs
(SFOPS) appropriation, has remained approximately $410 million since 2016, with a $0.2 million
increase in FY2019. Volunteer levels were relatively static for the first two years of the Trump
Administration. While consecutive budget requests from the Trump Administration proposed
Peace Corps budget cuts of approximately 3%, those cuts were proportionately less than cuts
proposed for the wider State-Foreign Operations budget.
Table 1. Peace Corps Budget and Volunteer Force: FY2011-FY2020
2020
Fiscal Year
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Supp.
2021
Request (current $ mil.)
439.6 374.5 378.8 380.0 410.0 410.0 398.2 396.2 396.2
73.0
401.2
Appropriation (current $ mil.) 375.0 356.0 379.0 379.5 410.0 410.0 410.0 410.2 410.5
88.0
410.5
Total Volunteers
8,073 7,209 6,818 6,919 7,213 7,376 7,367 7,334 6,893


Sources: Office of Management and Budget, 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).
The Trump Administration’s FY2021 budget request included $401.2 million for the Peace
Corps, a 2.3% cut from the appropriated FY2020 level (P.L. 116-94, Division G, Title III) and a
$5 million increase from its FY2020 request. The Trump Administration claimed that the request

19 Peace Corps, Fiscal Year 2018–2022 Strategic Plan, 2018, https://files.peacecorps.gov/documents/open-government/
pc_strategic_plan_2018-2022-annual_plan_2019.pdf.
Congressional Research Service

6

link to page 13 link to page 11
The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

would have supported a volunteer force of roughly 7,500.20 In March 2020, the Trump
Administration requested supplemental funds to plan and execute a worldwide evacuation of
volunteers, and Congress enacted $88 million to do so (P.L. 116-136). On December 27, 2020, the
Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, became law (P.L. 116-260), appropriating $410.5 million
to the Peace Corps for FY2021.
Issues
Congress has historically worked closely with the Peace Corps to chart its strategic direction, and
the 117th Congress faces multiple issues to guide the Peace Corps’ future. The 117th Congress may
oversee implementation of reforms recently enacted to address volunteer safety and health care. It
may also consider several issues that have not seen legislative action in some time, including the
Peace Corps’ budget and potential reauthorization, recruitment and training, volunteer benefits,
Peace Corps’ strategic partnerships, and so-called “Third Goal” activities.
Budget and Expansion
In 1985, Congress made it the policy of the United States to maintain a Peace Corps volunteer
force of at least 10,000 individuals,21 consistent with volunteer levels in the 1960s. Although
levels have increased since the 1980s, the Peace Corps has not reached the 10,000-volunteer goal
since it was enacted. Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama each recommitted to reaching that
goal and submitted budget requests to achieve it. Congress has weighed whether sufficient funds
were available to reach those levels vis-à-vis other priorities, and has expressed concern about the
agency’s ability to manage a larger volunteer force (see “Programming and Support,” below).22
The FY2018 to FY2022 Peace Corps Strategic Plan does not mention a specific goal for
volunteer levels.
Volunteer levels peaked in 2011 at 9,095 after
a historic funding increase in FY2010.
Figure 4. Peace Corps Volunteer Levels
Appropriations have since been stagnant, and
and Appropriations, 2009-2018
FY2020 funding is 15% below the inflation-
adjusted peak in FY2010. Volunteer levels
have dropped off accordingly, settling around
7,000—a decline of about a sixth from its
2011 peak (see Figure 4). In a 2019 survey,
half of host country staff supported expanding
the number of volunteers in their country over

Source: Peace Corps Agency Financial Reports.
Notes: Appropriations are in constant 2012 dol ars.

20 Peace Corps, The Peace Corps’ Congressional Budget Justification FY2021, Washington, DC, February 2020.
21 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).
22 The 111th Congress considered requesting that the Peace Corps report on the management implications of such an
expansion. See H.Rept. 111-187 and S. 1382.
Congressional Research Service

7

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

the following five years.23 The National Peace Corps Association suggested in 2017 that
achieving a 10,000-volunteer level by FY2022 would require an appropriation of $600 million, a
nearly 50% increase over current levels and far less than the Trump Administration’s requests.24
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. In 2017, H.R. 3130 included an authorization for the Peace
Corps, but it was not reported out of committee. The last time a Peace Corps authorization bill
saw floor action was in 2012, when H.R. 6018 passed the House but was not taken up in the
Senate. Appropriations bills routinely waive the requirement of authorization of appropriations
for foreign aid programs, as in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (§7024).
Volunteer Expertise and Training
The Peace Corps, while adept at recruiting generalists and training them sufficiently to carry out
useful assignments, has historically not prioritized attracting highly skilled professionals.25 This
approach has long been a source of debate. Some have argued that the Peace Corps should recruit
more experienced specialists to meet the growing demands of a complex world for technical
experts, such as doctors, agronomists, or engineers. Weighed against this view is the belief that
the Peace Corps is as much an agency of public diplomacy as a development organization.
Advocates of this view argue that demonstration of U.S. values through personal interaction is as
important as technical assistance, and recent college graduates may be less resource-intensive to
recruit and manage.
The 2010 Comprehensive Agency Assessment team determined that career, family, and personal
obligations naturally limit the number of older specialists interested in Peace Corps service. The
team recommended that the Peace Corps embrace the generalist character of its volunteers and
strengthen their capabilities through better training and more focused programs. The Peace Corps’
resulting “Focus in/Train up” initiative reduced programs’ breadth and strengthened technical
training for the remaining areas. Since 2010, Peace Corps has reduced the number of technical
programs by at least 24% and extended preservice training by about one week.26 To accomplish
this, Peace Corps has both reduced its geographic footprint and tightened its technical focus in
some countries. Peace Corps’ program portfolio has declined from 69 countries in 2009 to 61 in
2020, and the agency has terminated certain country technical programs—agriculture programs
have been withdrawn from several Latin American countries, for example, while other countries
with growing English proficiency, such as Botswana, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, have ended their
education programs.
The assessment team also recommended continued efforts to recruit experienced and skilled
volunteers. The team identified Peace Corps Response as a useful, flexible channel to

23 Peace Corps, Host Country Staff Survey – 2019 – Tabular Report, Washington, DC, 2019, Q8.
24 National Peace Corps Association, A Community of Impact: 2016 Annual Report, Washington, DC, 2017, p. 6,
https://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/cpages/legal-documents-reports.
25 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.
26 Peace Corps Inspector General, Statement on the Peace Corps’ Management and Performance Challenges,
November 27, 2013, in Peace Corps, FY2013 Performance and Accountability Report, p. 140.
Congressional Research Service

8

link to page 6 The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

accommodate older volunteers’ obligations with shorter or less remote assignments. The Peace
Corps has maintained the program’s flexible time commitments, and Peace Corps Response is
active in both traditional Peace Corps countries and those without a standard Peace Corps
presence. The agency expanded eligibility in 2012 to candidates without prior Peace Corps
experience.
Challenges remain. The Peace Corps launched the Global Health Services Partnership in 2013 for
doctors and nurses to serve as adjunct faculty in medical schools overseas, but closed the program
in 2018. In 2019, the agency launched a new initiative under Peace Corps Response, the
Advancing Health Professionals (AHP) program.27 Peace Corps Response has comprised fewer
than 5% of all volunteers in recent years, suggesting it is a stable stream for older volunteers but
not a growth source for nontraditional volunteers. Given the agency’s limited resources, this may
reflect a continuing strategic decision to concentrate on Peace Corps’ deep relationship with
colleges in recruiting fresh graduates for the program, and the recognition that Peace Corps
Response is likely to remain a useful but ultimately secondary component of the volunteer force.
Volunteer Recruitment
Whatever the skill sets and demographic characteristics sought by the agency, the recruitment of
high-quality volunteers willing to live in unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable conditions is
essential to the overall mission of the Peace Corps. A substantial spike in applicants after the
September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has made it easier for the Peace Corps to meet its
recruitment goals, but concerns continued to arise about the duration and lack of transparency of
the recruitment process.
As part of the reforms initiated from the 2010 agency assessment, the Peace Corps has sought to
streamline recruitment and strengthen diversity outreach, yielding significant results. Minority
representation reached 35% in 2020 (see Figure 1 above). The Peace Corps introduced a new
online application platform, a new medical clearance review system, and a significantly
streamlined application form. The agency also now allows applicants to choose their country and
sector of service. The number of applications for the two-year volunteer program rose to a 40-
year high of 20,935 in FY2017.28
Programming and Support
The Peace Corps has been criticized in the past for providing inadequate programming and
support of volunteers. Reports in the past observed that some volunteers had little or nothing to
do, characterizing the agency as failing to plan, evaluate, and monitor volunteers.29 While most
volunteers rate their overall experience highly, about 20% of volunteers in 2018 reported they did
not have enough to do at their work site, and 23% were dissatisfied with support received from
Peace Corps staff in site selection and preparation.30 Chronic shortcomings include ineffective
volunteer training, poor site development practices, inadequately implemented safety and security

27 Peace Corps, “Advancing Health Professionals,” https://www.peacecorps.gov/volunteer/peace-corps-
response/advancing-health-professionals/, accessed February 17, 2021.
28 An additional 3,183 applied to the Peace Corps Response Program in FY2017.
29 Government Accountability Office, Peace Corps: Meeting the Challenges of the 1990s, May 1990, NSIAD-90-122.
30 Peace Corps, Annual Volunteer Survey 2018 Global Tabular Results, pp. 25, 36. Reported results are among
respondents only. An additional 14% of volunteers neither agreed nor disagreed that they had enough to do at their
work site.
Congressional Research Service

9

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

procedures, and limited coordination with country ministries and project partners.31 Of the
FY2015 volunteer cohort, 21% resigned prior to completing their term, a sign of dissatisfaction
that has steadily increased since FY2012.32
The Peace Corps has recently established systematic approaches to project development, annual
project reviews, and increased opportunities for site visits and volunteer feedback. The agency
has also analyzed volunteer satisfaction with site selection and preparation, identifying its top five
drivers as (1) community members being prepared for the volunteer’s arrival, (2) work being
meaningful, (3) work matching the volunteer’s skills, (4) sufficient work being available, and (5)
work reflecting community needs. As the agency has become more data-driven, it is trying to
quantify these points and measure progress toward achieving them.33 The Farr-Castle Act requires
the Peace Corps to continue administering the annual volunteer survey, mandates its public
release, and requires that country programs take volunteer feedback into account as they develop
their country performance plans.
Safety and Security
The safety and security of Peace Corps volunteers has long been a prime concern for Congress,
and attention has grown in recent years, as noted above. Since its creation, 301 volunteers have
died in service, though incidents have declined since the 1970s. The top cause of volunteer death
has long been motor vehicle accident, with disease and drowning also major causes.34 In the wake
of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Peace Corps established a standalone Safety and Security Office
to better coordinate physical risk mitigation efforts worldwide.35 Yet a 2010 IG report cited
multiple shortcomings in its safety and security program, though it noted significant
improvements over recent years.36 The IG criticized a lack of effective processes, standardized
training, and skilled personnel to manage and implement discrete aspects of the Peace Corps’
safety and security programs. The IG also found numerous instances of recurring evaluation
findings.37
The 2010 IG report made 28 recommendations. Among them were that the Office of Safety and
Security establish clear lines of authority to manage its work, and enact a training program for
Officers and Coordinators. It also advised the Peace Corps to adequately track the office’s

31 Peace Corps Office of Inspector General, Recurring Issues Report: Final Report Fiscal Years 2012-2015, September
2016, pp. 6-12.
32 Peace Corps, FY2018 Early Termination Report, March 2019, pp. 1, 5. Resignations are defined as “a decision made
by a volunteer who no longer wishes to continue his or her Peace Corps service.” The resignation rate is a subset of the
early termination rate and excludes termination of service factors such as medical separation and interrupted service
due to evacuations. The cohort rate, as opposed to the annual rate, measures the behavior of volunteers who entered on
duty during a specific fiscal year and who did or did not complete their entire term of service. Because it follows this
cohort of volunteers to the end of service, the FY2014 results are only now available in the FY2017 report.
33 Peace Corps, Performance and Accountability Report FY2015, p. 70.
34 Peace Corps, 2017 Statistical Report on Crimes Against Volunteers, Washington, DC, 2018, pp. 19-20,
https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/documents/open-government/
2017_Statistical_Report_of_Crimes_Against_Volunteers.pdf.
35 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.
36 Peace Corps, Office of the Inspector General, Final Audit Report: Peace Corps Volunteer Safety and Security
Program
, IG-10-08-A, April 2010; 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.
37 Ibid., pp. i, 17.
Congressional Research Service

10

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

recommendations. The IG recommended Peace Corps provide volunteers a safety handbook
during recruitment and staging and require them to sign a code of conduct on basic security
principles before departure. The IG also recommended the Peace Corps establish a formal
agreement with the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security to clarify the roles of
each agency.38 By July 2012, the Peace Corps had implemented all of these recommendations. In
2018, the annual volunteer survey reported that 92% of volunteers felt “safe” or “very safe”
where they live, and 95% where they work.39
The Peace Corps has further responded to ongoing concerns about the threats of terrorism, natural
disasters, and civil strife by upgrading communications protocols and security measures, and by
updating country-specific Emergency Action Plans (EAP) annually. EAPs define roles and
responsibilities for staff and volunteers, explain standard policies and procedures, and list
emergency contact information for every volunteer.
Volunteer safety has remained an active issue for Congress. The Farr-Castle Act of 2018 enacted
several reforms; among them, it mandates consultation with the IG on volunteer deaths and
requires new notifications to volunteer candidates on safety and security considerations for their
country assignment. An early draft of the Farr-Castle Act would have established procedures for
prosecuting perpetrators of certain crimes against volunteers, but it was not enacted.
Sexual Assault
Sexual assault of volunteers continues to generate significant public and congressional attention.
The 2011 Puzey Act has facilitated congressional oversight of these issues. Among other actions,
the law
 requires the Peace Corps to submit an annual report to Congress on safety and
security matters;
 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;
 requires that sexual assault protocols and guidelines be developed and training be
provided to staff regarding implementation;
 establishes alternative reporting systems for reports of sexual assault to ensure
volunteer anonymity;
 establishes a victims advocate position to assist sexually assaulted volunteers and
facilitate access to available services and a Sexual Assault Advisory Council to
evaluate training and policy; and
 requires 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.
In a series of reports on its implementation, the Peace Corps IG and the Sexual Assault Advisory
Council have praised the Peace Corps for “markedly improved” support systems for addressing

38 Ibid., pp. 49-51.
39 Peace Corps, 2018 Annual Volunteer Survey, p. 30, available under the heading “volunteer survey reports” at
http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/open/documents/.
Congressional Research Service

11

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

sexual assault and for commitment to Puzey Act mandates.40 An example cited by the IG was the
training provided to all 27-month volunteers on best practices for sexual assault risk reduction
and response.41
The Farr-Castle Act further advanced several of the Puzey Act mandates. It made the Office of
Victim Advocacy permanent, integrating it into the Peace Corps’ organizational structure, and
extended and gave more investigative authority to the Sexual Assault Advisory Council.
Evacuations and Program Closures
Given that many volunteers serve in remote, inaccessible locations,42 the Peace Corps often
evacuates its volunteers more readily than other U.S. agencies with overseas operations. Since
2000, volunteers have been evacuated from at least 17 countries, and stability concerns have
frustrated programs in several new countries. Most often, evacuations were due to political
instability, crime, and civil unrest. Examples include the following:
 In sub-Saharan Africa, security crises have led to program suspensions in Mali
and Niger, while the Burkina Faso and Kenya programs were suspended more
recently due to ongoing security concerns. Programs in Guinea, Liberia, and
Sierra Leone were also temporarily suspended during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
 In Central America, the Peace Corps withdrew from all Northern Triangle
countries in 2011 over drug trafficking and gang violence. It has since returned to
Guatemala and has announced plans to return to El Salvador.43 Nicaragua was
evacuated in 2018 due to its ongoing political crisis.
 In the Europe and Central Asia region, the Peace Corps suspended its
Kazakhstan program in 2011, reportedly due to the rape of several volunteers and
terrorist attacks.44 The Peace Corps also suspended its program in Ukraine in
2014 due to the conflict with Russia there but has since returned. Azerbaijan’s
program ended in 2014 due to “lack of agreement with the host government.”45
 In the Middle East and North Africa, the Peace Corps has scaled back its
presence over safety concerns. A new Tunisia program was announced after the
Arab Spring but was indefinitely suspended in 2013, following an attack on the
U.S. Embassy and ongoing security uncertainties. The long-standing Jordan
program was suspended in 2015 due to the “current regional environment,”
leaving Morocco the only remaining Peace Corps program in the region.

40 Peace Corps Office of the Inspector General, The Peace Corps’ Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response
Program: Final Report
, IG-17-01-E, November 2016; Peace Corps Sexual Assault Advisory Council, Annual Report,
October 2015, under the heading “volunteer safety” at http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/open/documents/.
41 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.
42 The median volunteer lives four hours away from the nearest Peace Corps office. Peace Corps, 2018 Annual
Volunteer Survey Results
, November, 2018, p. 28, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/documents/open-
government/AVS_Global_Tabular_Report_2018_-_Final_-_03_18_2019.pdf.
43 Peace Corps, “The Peace Corps Announces Return to El Salvador,” press release, November 20, 2020. The Honduras
program remains suspended.
44 See Peace Corps Online, November 18, 2011, at http://peacecorpsonline.org/.
45 Peace Corps, Performance and Accountability Report FY2015, November 16, 2015, p. 53,
https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/policies/annrept2015.pdf.
Congressional Research Service

12

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

While security concerns have impeded Peace Corps’ expansion in the Middle East, many
Muslim-majority countries have active Peace Corps programs. In FY2016, about 16% of all
volunteers served in countries with Muslim populations of over 40%, including in Indonesia, the
most populous Muslim country in the world.46 Programs in East Asia have not been forced to
evacuate in recent years, due to relative stability in that region.
Congress maintains interest in Peace Corps’ geographic distribution. The Farr-Castle Act
established a requirement of congressional notification by Peace Corps prior to entry or exit for
any country program.
Volunteer Health Care
The Peace Corps provides serving volunteers with comprehensive health care, including routine
care provided by a medical officer at each post and emergency care provided as deemed
advisable, including medical evacuation to the United States. The agency has taken a number of
steps in recent years to improve the quality of this care. To strengthen volunteer medical care,
Peace Corps hired new Regional Medical Officers and established a Health Quality Improvement
Council in response to the 2010 Agency Assessment. The agency now facilitates direct
communication between volunteers and medical professionals at headquarters, has taken steps to
improve the supervision and hiring of medical officers, initiated electronic medical records, and
strengthened malaria prevention and treatment efforts, among other actions. The 2018 Volunteer
Survey found 71% of volunteers were satisfied or very satisfied with medical support provided by
the Peace Corps.47 IG reports reflect that some problems continue to occur, including
inappropriate qualifications of medical officers and insufficient support to volunteers.
The Farr-Castle Act seeks to further improve volunteer health care by mandating periodic reports
on implementation of several IG recommendations, establishing review procedures for all
volunteer deaths, and requiring Peace Corps to report to Congress on progress on medical care
reforms. It also requires new performance criteria for medical officer candidates and consultation
with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on volunteer prescriptions, particularly for
malaria prophylaxis.
Antimalarial Medication
With many volunteers serving in malaria-affected countries, medication and treatment of malaria
is a recurring concern for volunteer health care. In March 2015, a former volunteer sued the Peace
Corps for providing mefloquine, an antimalarial medication that may incur serious side effects,
without appropriate warnings. The Peace Corps disputed this claim and noted that its policy is to
monitor closely for tolerance and to offer changes in medication if requested.48 A 2017 joint study
by Peace Corps and CDC researchers found that mefloquine had the highest adherence rate of all
antimalaria medications prescribed by the Peace Corps, despite its side effects.49 In 2018, a
volunteer in Comoros who had been prescribed Doxycycline, another antimalarial medication,

46 Data provided by Peace Corps to CRS.
47 Peace Corps, 2018 Annual Volunteer Survey Results: Global Tabular Report, March 2019, p. 36.
48 Joe Palazzolo, “Former Peace Corps Volunteer Sues Over Malaria Drug,” Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2015;
Peace Corps, Recommendations to the Peace Corps Director from the Post-Service Healthcare Task Force, November
30, 2015, Appendix II, at http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/policies/docs/.
49 Kathrine R. Tana, Susan J. Henderson, John Williamson, et al., “Long term health outcomes among Returned Peace
Corps Volunteers after malaria prophylaxis, 1995–2014,” Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, vol. 17 (May/June
2017), pp. 50-55.
Congressional Research Service

13

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

died as a result of malaria infection, possibly after failing to take the medication daily.50 The Farr-
Castle Act requires the Peace Corps to consult with experts at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention about best practices for antimalarial medications.
Post-Service Health Care
RPCVs with maladies attributable to their Peace Corps service have long complained of
inadequate support from Peace Corps and considerable frustration trying to obtain the health
services for which they are eligible. Former volunteers with volunteer-related health problems
must file claims under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) and work with the
Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) to have those
claims adjudicated. The Peace Corps itself is responsible for reimbursing DOL. The length and
complexity of the established process, compounded by OWCP’s perceived lack of understanding
of volunteer service and the types of illnesses characteristic of work in developing nations, have
elicited complaints from affected RPCVs.51
To address these concerns, the Peace Corps has hired staff to assist volunteers with their claims
and attempted to shorten the claims process by working better with OWCP. In November 2015, a
Healthcare Task Force, established by the Peace Corps, offered a set of actions based on 28
recommendations previously made by GAO, Peace Corps, and nongovernment interest groups.
Among other steps, the Task Force suggested that the Peace Corps seek legislation to raise the
ceiling on disability compensation, improve explanation of post-service health benefits to
volunteers and RPCVs, and provide greater assistance to volunteers on post-service options
regarding accessibility to insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.52 The
Farr-Castle Act authorized the Peace Corps to provide medical care to returning volunteers for
120 days after termination of service for likely service-related conditions. While a version of the
bill introduced in the House would have increased disability compensation and mandated a report
on the disability claims process, neither of those provisions was included in the enacted law.
Volunteer Access to Abortion
Since 1979, annual appropriations measures that fund the Peace Corps have prohibited funds
from being used to pay for abortions. Enacted appropriations measures from FY2015 through
FY2019 have included exceptions for volunteers in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s
life is endangered. The exception provision as currently enacted must be repeated each year to
remain in effect.53 Opponents of the exceptions argue that they constitute an expansion of
abortion services by the federal government.54 Those in favor maintain that Peace Corps

50 Peace Corps Office of the Inspector General, Management Advisory Report: Review of the Circumstances
Surrounding the Death of a Volunteer in Peace Corps/Comoros
, IG-19-04-SR, April 9, 2019, p. 30,
https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/documents/inspector-general/Management_Advisory_Report-
Review_of_the_Circumstances_Surrounding_the_Death_of_a_Volunteer_in_Comoros-IG-19-04-SR.pdf.
51 GAO, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers: Labor and Peace Corps Need Joint Approach to Monitor Access to and
Quality of Health Care Benefits
, GAO-13-27, November 2012; GAO, Workers’ Compensation: Health Benefits
Programs for Peace Corps Volunteers and for Employees of U.S. Agency for International Development Contractors
,
GAO-16-28R, October 30, 2015.
52 Peace Corps, Recommendations to the Peace Corps Director from the Post-Service Healthcare Task Force,
November 30, 2015, at http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/policies/docs/.
53 Appropriations language can apply to a longer period than a fiscal year if explicitly stated to do so, or can be carried
into the next fiscal year by a continuing resolution.
54 For an overview of the debate, see Josh Hicks, “Spending measure allows abortion coverage for Peace Corps
Congressional Research Service

14

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

volunteers should have the same health benefits provided to other women on federal health care
plans.55
Third Goal Activities
As part of the response to the 2010 assessment, the Peace Corps has sought to more fully and
effectively address the so-called “third goal,” the mandate that Peace Corps volunteers “help
promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” While this goal has
consistently received less attention and funding than the agency’s work abroad, the Peace Corps
has broadened third goal efforts. Although funding remains relatively small (less than 0.3% of the
FY2018 budget), the agency has established an Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer
Services and expanded the Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program, which connects
volunteers with school classrooms throughout the United States.56
Post-Service Benefits
Upon completion of service, returned volunteers are entitled to several benefits, many of which
are based on legislative mandates. Benefits include the following:
Readjustment allowance: An allowance to facilitate a returned volunteer’s
“readjustment” to life after Peace Corps accrues monthly for the duration of a
volunteer’s service, one of the principal volunteer benefits Congress established
in the Peace Corps Act of 1961.57 The readjustment allowance is currently
$350/month,58 though its statutory minimum was set at $125/month in 1981.59
Several proposals were introduced in the 2000s to increase this minimum, most
recently in the 110th Congress (H.R. 2410).
Student loans: Volunteers are eligible for cancellation of up to 70% of their
federal Perkins loans.60 However, the expiration of authority to issue new Perkins
loans in October 2017 limits the applicability of that benefit moving forward.
Volunteers may also count payments made during their service toward eligibility
for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.61 Legislation proposing

volunteers,” Washington Post, December 18, 2014, and Lisa Rein, “Peace Corps Volunteers Could Get Health
Insurance Coverage for Abortions,” Washington Post, April 26, 2013.
55 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. However, Peace Corps volunteers are
considered federal employees only for certain designated purposes (see 22 U.S.C. §2504).
56 Peace Corps, Performance and Accountability Report FY2013, p. 55, reports that the educational institutions served
increased from 502 to 1,485 from FY2009 to FY2013. From FY2013 to the end of the Obama Administration,
participation continued to grow, from 9,754 participants to 15,426 from FY2014 to FY2016 (Peace Corps, Annual
Performance Report FY2016
, p. 43, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/documents/open-government/
annual-performance-report-fy16-plan-fy18.pdf).
57 The original Peace Corps Act established the readjustment allowance at no more than $75/month.
58 Peace Corps, Volunteer Handbook, Washington, DC, September 2017, pp. 27-28, https://files.peacecorps.gov/
multimedia/pdf/documents/volunteer_handbook.pdf. The allowance is $450/month for Peace Corps Response
volunteers and volunteers extending beyond the standard two-year tour.
59 Section 606 of the International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1981, P.L. 97-113,
https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-95/pdf/STATUTE-95-Pg1519.pdf.
60 Section 464 of the Higher Education Amendments of 1986, P.L. 99-498. A volunteer may have 15% of his or her
loan canceled for each of the first and second year of service, and 20% for each of the third and fourth.
61 This program was established in the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, P.L. 110-84.
Congressional Research Service

15

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

changes to this program was introduced in the 116th Congress in the Senate (S.
1203) and the House (H.R. 2441).
Noncompetitive Eligibility (NCE): NCE allows federal agencies to hire
volunteers without going through a competitive recruitment process for up to 12
months after a volunteer’s completion of service.62 This benefit typically applies
at the discretion of the agency. For example, the State Department has utilized
NCE for civil service positions but not the Foreign Service.63
Health insurance: Peace Corps provides health insurance for one month after a
volunteer’s termination of service. Volunteers can choose to extend their
coverage for two months and have this paid out of their readjustment
allowance.64 Peace Corps is meant to share information with departing volunteers
about options for coverage after their service as well. Congress has considered
investigating an extension of this benefit. A 2007 bill, S. 732, would have
provided for a cost estimate to extend this health insurance to six months.
The Five-Year Rule
The five-year rule, which became law in August 1965 in an amendment to Section 7(a) of the
Peace Corps Act, limits most Peace Corps staff to five years’ employment. The rule does not
apply to personal service contractors or foreign nationals.
The rule has been long discussed in the Peace Corps community and periodically addressed by
Congress. The rule is seen to have had both positive and negative effects on the performance of
the Peace Corps. Positive features may include that it
 creates a workforce generally perceived as vibrant, youthful, and energetic;
 permits the hiring of more returned volunteers due to high turnover (53% of all
direct hires and 78% of overseas leadership posts between 2000 and 2010 were
RPCVs), whose recent experience in the field provides high-quality policy input;
 generates a flow of staff departing for other international agencies that increases
the influence of the Peace Corps on foreign policy;
 facilitates removal of poorly performing staff;
 provides a performance incentive for currently serving volunteers who might
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 IG, quadruple that of the rest of the
federal government. It is repeatedly noted as a cause of excessive personnel turnover in the IG’s

62 Executive Order 11103, “Providing for the appointment of former Peace Corps volunteers to the civilian career
services,” 28 Federal Register 3571, April 10, 1963. While NCE is sometimes referenced in proposed legislation (see,
e.g., Section 207 of H.R. 2987 in the 115th Congress), it is not based in statute.
63 Peace Corps, “Everything You Need To Know About Noncompetitive Eligibility: A guide for federal agencies,” p. 3.
64 Peace Corps, Volunteer Handbook, Washington, DC, September 2017, p. 26, https://files.peacecorps.gov/
multimedia/pdf/documents/volunteer_handbook.pdf.
Congressional Research Service

16

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

annual statement of management and performance challenges.65 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 impacts include
 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 IG and GAO reports focusing on volunteer support, contract, and
financial management; and
 high staff recruitment costs—costs strictly attributable to five-year rule turnover
were estimated by the IG to be between 0.8% and 0.9% of the agency’s budget
from 2005 through 2009.
A 2012 IG evaluation made five broad recommendations to the Peace Corps, including that the
Director should carry out reforms, including legislative remedies, to reduce the rate of turnover,
increase length of employment, and identify which core functions suffer from turnover and
develop processes to retain those personnel. The evaluation did not specify what those reforms
might be.
The Peace Corps has since taken steps to mitigate the negative impacts of the five-year rule by
leveraging several exceptions Congress established for the rule. The Peace Corps intends to
broaden the use of one-year “special circumstances” extensions for U.S. direct hires. The Peace
Corps has replaced its previous 30-month appointments with a full five-year appointment for new
U.S. direct hires, and plans to use its statutory authority to reappoint up to 15% for an additional
30 months. While Peace Corps can only rehire staff after they have worked outside the agency as
long as their previous appointment (to avoid workarounds to the five-year rule), the Farr-Castle
Act allows the Director to designate “critical management support” staff for renewable
appointments without the five-year limit. The Puzey Act also exempted the IG from the five-year
rule.
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. Actions to date do not appear to
have been successful, as the average length of employment has fallen from a 2013-2015 average
of 4.2 years to 3.3 in 2016-17.66 In July 2017, the IG noted that recommendations on this issue
had not yet been fully addressed by the Peace Corps.67
Partnerships
The Peace Corps has made efforts in recent years to build new partnerships with international
organizations, U.S. government agencies, and others. In September 2012, the Peace Corps

65 Peace Corps Office of the Inspector General, Management and Performance Challenges, Fiscal Year 2017, at
https://www.peacecorps.gov/about/inspector-general/reports/.
66 Peace Corps, FY2017 Annual Performance Report, p. 14, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/
documents/open-government/Annual_Performance_Report_FY2017.pdf.
67 Peace Corps Office of the Inspector General, Management Implication Report—Challenges Associated with Staff
Turnover
, July 31, 2017, Appendix D.
Congressional Research Service

17

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues

established its first global partnership with a corporation, Mondelez (formerly Kraft Foods), to
support agriculture and community development. Volunteers also play a significant role in
implementing presidential initiatives at the village level, partnering with the State Department
and the U.S. Agency for International Development to advance presidential priorities. The Peace
Corps takes part in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Feed the Future, and Let
Girls Learn, and has announced plans to support President Trump’s new Women’s Global
Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) initiative.68
Peace Corps Commemorative Site
In 2014, Congress authorized the creation of a Peace Corps commemorative site on federal land
in the District of Columbia (P.L. 113-78). Through a process spearheaded by the Peace Corps
Commemorative Foundation, a site near the U.S. Capitol Grounds was selected and the initial
concept approved by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. However, a May 2, 2019, hearing before
the National Capital Planning Commission raised concerns about both the concept design and the
site selection and suggested revisiting an alternative site near the World Bank. The proposal is
under review to address the issues raised. In January 2021, Congress enacted an extension for the
foundation’s work through 2028 (P.L. 116-318).69

Author Information

Nick M. Brown

Analyst in Foreign Assistance and Foreign Policy


Acknowledgments
An earlier version of this report was written by Curt Tarnoff, Specialist in Foreign Policy, who retired from
CRS in April 2018. It has since been managed by Marian Lawson, Specialist in Foreign Assistance. Both
Curt and Marian made invaluable contributions to this product.

68 Peace Corps, “Statement from Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen on the Women’s Global Development and
Prosperity initiative,” press release, February 7, 2019, https://www.peacecorps.gov/news/library/statement-peace-
corps-director-jody-olsen-womens-global-development-and-prosperity-initiative/.
69 For further information on this and other memorials in the District of Columbia, see CRS Report R43744,
Monuments and Memorials Authorized Under the Commemorative Works Act in the District of Columbia: Current
Development of In-Progress and Lapsed Works
, by Jacob R. Straus.
Congressional Research Service

18

The Peace Corps: Overview and Issues



Disclaimer
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in
its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include copyrighted images or
material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you wish to
copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.

Congressional Research Service
RS21168 · VERSION 73 · UPDATED
19