June 25, 2002 - Statement at the Senate Hearings: Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez: "Collectively, we are all at the beginning stages of reviewing the legislation."
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June 25, 2002 - Statement at the Senate Hearings: Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez: "Collectively, we are all at the beginning stages of reviewing the legislation."
Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez: "Collectively, we are all at the beginning stages of reviewing the legislation."
Six months ago PCOL began coverage of the new Peace Corps legislation that Senator Dodd and Congressmen Farr and Udall were preparing. On April 4, Congressman Sam Farr announced his proposal for legislation including Peace Corps independence from Freedom Corps, the Shriver Peace Fund, increased Peace Corps Support Staff, and a robust Peace Corps advisory board. On May 20, the first version of the legislation became available for comment and we reported on it and provided comment on the legislation and an exclusive interview with Congressman Farr on the legislation. On June 16, Senator Chris Dodd announced he would be introducing the new legislation in the Senate and provided another draft version which we analyzed and commented on.
Now the legislation has been introduced into both houses of Congress and on June 25, Senator Dodd held hearings in his Senate Subcommittee which has jurisdiction over the Peace Corps and we were there to provide coverage of the hearings. Please read this special report which includes a copy of the final bill as it was introduced in the Senate, our reporting on the hearings, a report on the hearings from the Orange County Register and from John Coyne and the statements of the following five individuals who were invited by Senator Dodd's office to testify on the bill.
Gaddi Vasquez, Director of the Peace Corps Read and comment on the prepared statement by Gaddi Vasquez (shown at the hearings in the photo above) on the New Peace Corps legislation at:
RPCV Mark Schneider, Former Peace Corps Director and Senior Vice President of the International Crisis Group
RPCV Dane Smith, President of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA)
RPCV John Coyne, founder and editor of the Peace Corps Writers and co-founder of the Peace Corps Fund
RPCV Barbara Ferris, President of the International Women's Democracy Center and co-founder of the Peace Corps Fund
Statement of Gaddi H. Vasquez*
* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.
Statement of Gaddi H. Vasquez
Director, The Peace Corps
Before the United States Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations
Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Narcotics Affairs
June 25, 2002
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
I am pleased to appear before your Committee today. I have a heightened appreciation for your interest in the Peace Corps and sincere admiration for your own service in the Dominican Republic in the late 1960’s. Because you are a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), I know you share in our enthusiasm to ensure the Peace Corps continues as a world-class organization promoting world peace and friendship abroad.
While I understand the purpose of today’s hearing, let me reserve some general comments on the legislation for later in my testimony, but at the outset, let me say that I look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman, and your staff and hope that together we can continue a productive relationship that will serve this agency and our Volunteers well. In an effort to put my testimony in context, one must understand the past, present, and future of the Peace Corps. Valuable lessons have been learned over the last 41 years. We remain committed to the core values of the Peace Corps and believe that any changes or alterations to the management structure and administration of the agency require thoughtful and constructive dialogue and, again, we look forward to working with you.
I thought I would begin my comments by reviewing with you some of the actions and initiatives that I have taken since my swearing-in on February 15th of this year. It has been an exciting four months at the agency as we set the stage to carry out President Bush’s call for public service and his goal to double the number of Peace Corps Volunteers over the next five years. Mr. Chairman, never in the history of our nation has the mission of Peace Corps been more important. As you are quite familiar, the work of the Volunteers is carried out through three goals as outlined by President
John F. Kennedy upon the formation of the Peace Corps. Those goals are:
-- to help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their need for trained men and women;
-- to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and
-- to bring that information back home to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
While the world today is very different from how it was in 1961, and even more so since September 11th – the American spirit of sharing with others remains a fundamental part of our democratic society.
Many host country leaders and community members have expressed deep feelings about the Peace Corps, similar to those shared recently by Mr. Teburoro Tito, the President and Foreign Minister of Kiribati, when he said, “This Republic is in love with the Peace Corps,” he said. “We are in love with them, with their goals, their hard work, and their willingness to live like us.”
And, just as President Kennedy challenged a new generation during the establishment of the Peace Corps in 1961 to join “…a grand and global alliance…to fight the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war…To those people in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery,” he said, “we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves.” Kennedy went on to note that, “…the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”
Travel to Past and Present Peace Corps Countries
In the spirit of President Kennedy’s remarks, and inspired by the challenge from President Bush, in early March, I traveled to the countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan where I met with government officials to discuss Peace Corps programs and future opportunities that may exist for our Volunteers. In Afghanistan, in particular, I met with the Peace Corps assessment team members who were conducting programming and security assessments, along with embassy officials, to determine if conditions would support the sending of our agency’s Crisis Corps Volunteers. I traveled to China, and had an incredible visit—with Helen Raffel a Peace Corps volunteer who, at age 74, teaches environmental science and English at Sichuan University in the Chengdu province of China. Her enthusiasm, vigor, and accomplishments were truly amazing and offered many insights into the needs of these nations. Peace Corps has the ability to provide trained men and women to meet the emerging needs of their respective peoples, but within our grasp is the ability to touch an entire generation of people throughout the world.
I traveled to Peru during President Bush’s visit with President Alejandro Toledo, and I had the privilege of signing a bilateral agreement with the government of Peru. This agreement will allow Peace Corps volunteers to return to Peru for the first time in more than 27 years. As a young man, President Toledo was taught by Peace Corps Volunteers who lived in his family home. The Volunteers made a lasting impact on his life and he remains a strong advocate of the Peace Corps today.
In June, I visited Peace Corps programs in Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco. While in the city of Azib, Morocco, I visited an environmental Volunteer and the Women’s Center where she works. The Volunteer is providing training and assistance to expand the sales of their locally produced crafts.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I report to you today, that the future of the Peace Corps is brighter than ever and we are setting into motion plans that will lead the agency into the 21st Century and increase our efforts around the world. This Administration is committed to the Peace Corps and the President has demonstrated his support by requesting an increase in our budget from $275 million in FY ’02 to $320 million in FY ’03. We believe that the budget request will enable us to increase the number of Volunteers while at the same time ensure that the quality of our Volunteers and the Volunteer experience remain high. We advocate full funding, which we believe is warranted.
Safety and Security
Safety and security remains a top priority for the Peace Corps particularly in the aftermath of September 11th . Meeting the President’s initiative to double the number of Peace Corps Volunteers over the next five years is dependent on the Peace Corps providing a safe and secure environment during each Volunteer’s term of service. A number of important initiatives are now underway. These initiatives not only strengthen the safety and security training for our Volunteers, but also galvanize the security infrastructure at posts around the globe.
These new initiatives include:
The implementation and compliance of new procedures for Volunteer/Trainee Safety and Security (Manual Section 270) to measure and monitor posts’ compliance with important safety and security requirements;
The hiring of over 40 new personnel in the field and at headquarters in security related positions;
The addition of one full day of safety and security training during staging for new trainees;
The establishment of regular safety and security staff training on a two-year cycle;
An enhancement of the safety and security information message that a potential applicant receives from his or her first contact with Peace Corps—during recruitment and throughout the application process; and
The ready availability of a library of safety and security information on the Peace Corps Intranet.
Strategic Plan to Double the Number of Peace Corps Volunteers
Following President Bush’s State of the Union Address when he called for the doubling of Peace Corps Volunteers, we had an immediate 300 percent increase in traffic to the Web site in the first 48 hours. Since January, interest in the Peace Corps remains high. Traffic to the Web site is 89 percent higher than the same period of time last year, inquiries—requests to our offices for an application—are up 39 percent over last year and the number of applications submitted both online and on paper total 4,701, a 17 percent increase over this same period of time last year.
We received approximately 94,500 inquiries last year resulting in 8,897 applications, which produced 3,166 trainees in addition to those who were serving in the field. Our standards remain high as to the suitability requirements and technical skills required of the Peace Corps assignments. Currently, we have a number of task forces to examine our recruitment and selection process, our internal processing of applications and to identify and examine barriers and obstacles to service.
Although there are more and more Volunteers who have advanced degrees and specialized technical skills who are joining the Peace Corps, the vast majority are people with solid generalist backgrounds with lots of leadership and community service experience. Volunteers serve in a broad range of programs. Such as:
Education Recruiting is one of our key challenges and in responding to the President’s challenge to increase the number of Volunteers, our agency has recently delivered to Congress our Fiscal Year 2003 Congressional Budget Presentation, which outlines our eleven goals to accomplish this effort.
Health and HIV/AIDS
Information and Communication Technology
The first goal is to reacquaint the American people with the mission of the Peace Corps—by introducing the value of Peace Corps service to a broader audience, particularly school children, seniors and those “baby boomers” who are nearing retirement, we bring the visibility of the work of the Volunteers to a new audience of potential Volunteers.
Second, the agency will seek to expand recruitment efforts and increase diversity of our Volunteer population. This means that recruitment efforts will grow beyond college campuses. Just as the face of America has changed over the past 40 years, so will our recruitment efforts so that we reach out to all people regardless of faith, married couples and the disabled, seniors and retirees, and the scores of men and women who are currently in the work force or between jobs and looking to make a meaningful contribution to the United States.
Third, efforts will be made to optimize the number of Volunteers and staff currently working in each country. The Peace Corps will continue to seek advice from country directors about possibilities for growth and the placement of additional Volunteers in new programs. We believe that incremental growth in a number of countries will increase the number of Volunteers worldwide.
Fourth, the Peace Corps will expand programs into new countries. I am pleased to announce that just last week, we sent 19 eager and enthusiastic Volunteers to the new nation of East Timor. It is thrilling to know that these Volunteers, after traveling over 36 hours, will be the first Americans that many people of this island nation will see. We will also be re-opening the Peru program this August. We have been approached by a large number of representatives from the governments of countries who are anxious to have Peace Corps return to their country. We are also eager to forge new alliances with countries that have never had Peace Corps Volunteers.
Fifth, we are going to explore new ideas such as expanding current alliances with organizations such as the American Red Cross and the AOL Time Warner Foundation, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We are also working with the RPCV community on how to make best use of their collective talents. The 165,000 RPCVs are a resource that we intend to maximize both in their important work with Third Goal activities and in the recruitment of potential new Volunteers.
Sixth, Peace Corps plans to improve the Volunteer delivery process. Nearly 60 percent of current applications are now using the online application, which decreases considerably the Volunteer delivery timetable. However, we have more work to do to shorten the time between the first contact with a potential applicant and the time that the applicant departs to begin training.
Seventh, we plan to expand and broaden the Crisis Corps program, which mobilizes returned Volunteers to respond to natural disasters throughout the world on a short-term basis. To date, more than 450 Crisis Corps Volunteers have served in 30 countries. Currently, Crisis Corps Volunteers work in eight countries in Africa on HIV/AIDS-related activities.
Eighth, we are going to review the participation of the Peace Corps in the United Nations Volunteer program. This program was developed in 1971 by the United Nations General Assembly and is administered by the United Nations Development Program. There are approximately 50 United States citizens currently serving in two-year UNV assignments supported by Peace Corps.
Ninth, I intend to strengthen and expand the scope of the Peace Corps’ domestic programs that are designed to help educate Americans about other countries. The Volunteers’ years of experience working and living in cross-cultural situations presents a treasure trove of information that must be preserved and made available to the American public. Development of publications and placing these materials online will be useful to domestic and international educators, students, domestic volunteer organizations, and people who volunteer in their home communities. Examples of our publications include: Culture Matters: The Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Workbook and Insights From the Field: Understanding Geography, Culture and Service.
Tenth, we intend to continue to provide high-quality programming and training support to our overseas staff and Volunteers. Building on our agency’s existing strength in teaching Volunteers to speak new languages, the Peace Corps will re-assess and redesign our training programs. We are looking at additional training opportunities prior to departure to ensure that Volunteers are prepared to undertake increasingly sophisticated project activities in complex environments with difficult-to-learn languages.
Our eleventh goal is to place a special emphasis on the use of world-class technology to communicate and share knowledge to achieve improvements in overseas communications and connectivity around the globe. In August 2000, Peace Corps headquarters completed its migration from a Macintosh-based to a Windows-based computing platform. The Peace Corps also recently redesigned its website (www.peacecorps.gov) and was nominated by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for their prestigious “Webby” award. The Peace Corps was very pleased to have been nominated among such notable organizations as Amazon.com, Google.com and the United States Army.
The Peace Corps Charter for the 21st Century Act
Collectively, we are all at the beginning stages of reviewing the legislation just introduced at the end of last week. While I have not had sufficient time to thoroughly examine the specifics of the proposal, one of the major strengths of the Peace Corps Act is that it is a broad authorization, which has over the years, given ample opportunity for the agency to maintain its independence and its effectiveness. Congress set forth broad objectives, and let the Executive Branch, in consultation with the host government or its peoples and Congress, establish programs that meet the individual needs of each country. Few agencies have been so successfully and efficiently managed over such a long period. In addition to its traditional Volunteer programs, this broad authority has enabled the Peace Corps to launch such successful initiatives as the Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools Program and the Crisis Corps. These accomplishments were possible because of the flexibility under the Peace Corps Act.
Our effectiveness in an era of continued growth and opportunity requires the flexibility to manage a decision-making process that best serves the agency and, most importantly, the Volunteers. While there are a number of initiatives and programs that we have undertaken at the Peace Corps, several stand out as prime examples of our ongoing efforts to build the Peace Corps for the 21st Century.
First, we consider the RPCV community to be the most underutilized resource we have. That is why I have made it my highest priority to meet with RPCVs at every opportunity in the U.S. and abroad. As I stated earlier, I believe they are one of our best resources for recruitment. These RPCVs have first hand experience in the field and can help us to capture the imagination of those interested in international volunteer service. I have also been working with Dane Smith, President of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), to design a strategy to expand the role for RPCVs and former Peace Corps staff in America.
Peace Corps has been in countries with predominantly Muslim populations since the program began. Currently, 23 percent of Volunteers are serving in countries with predominantly Muslim populations, while two-thirds of potential new country entries are predominantly Muslim countries. From Senegal to Kazakhstan, the Peace Corps’ mission in these regions has become increasingly important. Host communities are exposed to positive and personal images of America, and returning Volunteers share their new understanding of different cultures with friends and family in the United States.
The Peace Corps continues to be actively engaged in activities addressing HIV/AIDS. Fighting the ravages of this disease continues to be paramount to the lives of people across the globe, and to this agency. Volunteers who serve in Africa—regardless of their program sector—are trained to provide HIV/AIDS prevention and education as part of their duties. This year we are re-entering Botswana and Swaziland, exclusively to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in those countries. In June of 2000, the original HIV/AIDS Initiative was greatly strengthened with additional funding from USAID and grants from the Gates and Packard Foundations. In the future, we anticipate a further expansion of HIV/AIDS programs outside of the Africa region.
The Peace Corps has a clear mission that has served the agency well for the past 41 years. The strategy outlined above is our blueprint as we set out to double the number of Peace Corps Volunteers over the next five years, heighten the visibility of the work of the Volunteers, and create a renewed worldwide interest in international volunteer service. Our FY 2003 budget request of $320 million will also support the enhancements to the safety and security of our Volunteers and permit the Peace Corps to open new programs and, at the proper time, re-open currently suspended programs with dedicated Volunteers.
In conclusion, I am grateful to you and members of the Committee for your continued support of the Peace Corps mission. September 11th is a grim reminder that the work of past, present, and future Volunteers is more critical than ever. I believe that the Peace Corps is well positioned to achieve expansion and build upon the successes of the past 41 years.
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