June 26, 2002 - Orange County Register: Peace Corps proposals discussed

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Peace Corps proposals discussed

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Peace Corps proposals discussed *

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Peace Corps proposals discussed

Director Vasquez cautions against changes that may hinder decisions.

June 26, 2002

By DENA BUNIS The Orange County Register

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Christopher Dodd, a former Peace Corps volunteer, elicited a promise Tuesday from director Gaddi Vasquez that the agency will remain independent of politics and grow into a larger and more effective organization.

"Now more than ever, Peace Corps volunteers play a pivotal role in helping us achieve a greater understanding of America abroad, especially in predominantly Muslim nations," Dodd, D-Conn., said at a hearing on the corps.

Dodd has introduced a bill to provide enough money to more than double the number of volunteers to 15,000 from 7,000, increase the stipend volunteers get when they complete their service and require the director to consult with an advisory council before starting a new program.

While much of Dodd's bill parallels the goals President George W. Bush set for Vasquez when he was sworn in four months ago, the former Orange County supervisor cautioned against micromanagement of the agency.

"A director needs to have a latitude and managerial freedom to make important decisions affecting the safety and security of volunteers and staff overseas," said Vasquez, adding that he is concerned that changes could "hamper the directors' ability to make critical and timely decisions."

Vasquez has visited seven countries since being sworn in. He said volunteer applications are up 17 percent and that the corps has made an agreement to return to Peru after a 27-year hiatus.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., one of several former volunteers in the House, said after the hearing that he doubts the advisory council portion of Dodd's legislation would be implemented. "An advisory group is fine," Shays said, as long as it's at the discretion of the director.

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