July 25, 2002 - GAO Report: Peace Corps Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security Challenges Hold Promise, but Progress Should be Assessed

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Library: Peace Corps: Safety and Security of Volunteers: Safety and Security of Volunteers: July 25, 2002 - GAO Report: Peace Corps Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security Challenges Hold Promise, but Progress Should be Assessed

By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, August 01, 2002 - 3:37 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security Challenges Hold Promise, but Progress Should be Assessed

Read and comment on the AO Report on Peace Corps Safety and Security Issues. The text below is the Executive Summary only. Follow the link below for the full report plus the "Agency Response to the GAO Report" in Appendix V of the Report at:

Peace Corps Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security Challenges Hold Promise, but Progress Should be Assessed*

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Peace Corps Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security Challenges Hold Promise, but Progress Should be Assessed

Executive Summary

The Peace Corps has reported increased numbers of assaults against its volunteers since it established a data collection system in 1990.

The reported incidence rate for major physical assaults nearly doubled from about an average of 9 per 1,000 volunteer years1 in 1991-93 to an average of about 17 per 1,000 volunteer years in 1998-2000.

The agency is not certain of the reasons for the higher occurrence rate, but officials have stated that its efforts to improve its system for collecting crime data may be a factor that has led to higher reported crimes.

Yet it is unclear what the full extent of incidents may be because volunteer surveys have indicated that there is significant underreporting of crime.

The Peace Corps has initiated efforts to encourage reporting and collect additional data, but there are also other unrealized opportunities for additional examination of data.

For example, our analysis suggests that newer volunteers may be more likely to become victims of crime than their more experienced colleagues.

Additional data analysis by the Peace Corps could enhance the agency’s ability to refine its intervention and prevention strategies.

The Peace Corps designates maintenance of volunteers’ health, safety, and security as the agency’s highest priority.

To reduce the risks facing its volunteers, the Peace Corps has adopted policies that address, in broad terms, monitoring and disseminating information on the security environment; volunteer training; development of safe and secure housing and work sites for volunteers; monitoring volunteers and responding to incidents and concerns; and planning for emergencies such as evacuations.

In addition to establishing agency policies, Peace Corps headquarters is responsible for providing guidance and training on how to implement these policies and supervision and oversight.

The agency relies on its country directors—the heads of agency posts in foreign capitols—to develop and implement procedures that suit conditions in individual countries.

Volunteers also play a role in ensuring their own safety by complying with agency policies and exercising good judgment and common sense.

The Peace Corps’ efforts to ensure effective implementation of its safety and security policies have produced varying results.

Volunteer surveys and our visits to five overseas posts indicate that volunteers appear to be generally satisfied with agency training programs and other efforts designed to emphasize safety and security awareness.

However, there is mixed performance in key areas, such as developing safe and secure full year of service by a volunteer or trainee.

housing and work sites for volunteers, monitoring volunteers and responding when they express security concerns or experience criminal incidents, and preparing for emergencies.

For example, while many volunteers are provided with adequate housing and clearly defined assignments, some experience safety problems resulting from housing that has not been inspected or does not meet post standards.

A number of factors, including unclear guidance, staff training that is sometimes inadequate, uneven application of supervision and oversight mechanisms, and staff turnover, hamper Peace Corps efforts to ensure high-quality performance for the agency as a whole.

For example, the Peace Corps has reported that high staff turnover, caused in part by the agency’s statutorily imposed 5-year limit on employment for U.S. direct hire staff, has resulted in a lack of institutional memory, producing a situation in which agency staff are continually "reinventing the wheel.

In May 2002, the Peace Corps informed us of a number of initiatives the agency intended to pursue to improve current safety and security practices.

These initiatives are directed at many of the obstacles to improved performance that we identified, though they do not address turnover in agency staff.

The Peace Corps has implemented some of these initiatives but many have yet to be integrated into agency operations.

We recommend that the Director of the Peace Corps develop indicators to assess the effectiveness of the agency’s new initiatives and include the results of these initiatives in its annual reports under the Government Performance and Results Act.

We also recommend that the Peace Corps develop a strategy to address staff turnover as it implements its initiatives.

In written comments on a draft of this report, reprinted in appendix V, the Peace Corps concurred with our findings and provided additional information on the agency’s safety and security initiatives and technical comments that we incorporated as appropriate.

The Peace Corps agreed to report on the results of its initiatives in its annual reports under the Government Performance and Results Act, as we recommended.

However, the agency stated it could not effectively address the issue of staff turnover as we recommended because of its statutorily imposed 5-year limit on employment for U.S. direct hires.

We modified our recommendation to suggest that the Peace Corps submit a proposal to Congress for changes in the law that would facilitate agency efforts to improve its safety and security practices.


Created in 1961, the Peace Corps is mandated by statute to help meet developing countries’ need for trained manpower while promoting mutual understanding between Americans and other peoples.

By developing relationships with members of the communities in which they live and work, volunteers contribute to greater intercultural understanding between Americans and host country nationals.

Volunteers are expected to maintain a standard of living similar to that of their host community colleagues and coworkers.

They are provided with stipends that are based on local living costs and housing similar to their hosts.

Volunteers are not supplied with vehicles.

Although the Peace Corps accepts older volunteers and has made a conscious effort to recruit minorities, the current volunteer population has a median age of 25 years and is 85 percent white.

More than 60 percent of the volunteers are women.

The Peace Corps emphasizes community acceptance as the key to maintaining volunteer safety and security.

The agency has found that volunteer safety is best ensured when volunteers are well–integrated into their host communities and treated as extended family members and contributors to development.

While emphasizing protection measures such as locks and window bars, the Peace Corps generally avoids measures such as housing volunteers in walled compounds, which would reduce volunteer integration into the community.

The agency also typically withdraws from countries in which breakdowns in civil authority require strong protection or deterrence measures to protect volunteers.

3 To the extent that they share the Peace Corps’ commitment to advancing intercultural understanding, other organizations that face similar security and safety challenges also tend to emphasize community acceptance as an underlying The Peace Corps Act, as amended (codified at 22 U.S.C. 2501 et seq.), directs the agency to "help the peoples of interested countries in meeting their needs for trained manpower, particularly in meeting the basic needs of those living in the poorest areas of such countries, and to help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served and a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.

From 1993 through 2001, the Peace Corps closed or suspended operations at 24 posts because of civil unrest or warfare.

The agency occasionally sends former volunteers to provide short-term "Crisis Corps" assistance during humanitarian crises or natural disasters.

In recent years, such volunteers have been sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Guinea, and hurricane-devastated areas of Central America.

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