November 2, 2003 - Dayton Daily News: For the Series: Easier to believe myth than face need for reform by former Peace Corps Assistant Inspector General John Hale

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: October 26, 2003: Dayton Daily News reports on Peace Corps Safety and Security: Archive of Stories and Commentary: November 2, 2003 - Dayton Daily News: For the Series: Easier to believe myth than face need for reform by former Peace Corps Assistant Inspector General John Hale

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For the Series: Easier to believe myth than face need for reform by former Peace Corps Assistant Inspector General John Hale

For the Series: Easier to believe myth than face need for reform by former Peace Corps Assistant Inspector General John Hale

Easier to believe myth than face need for reform

Agency reacts strongly when its virtue questioned

By John Hale

The Dayton Daily News has done a first-rate job with its Peace Corps series. Some response has likely been fierce, ad hominem and visceral. In dozens of investigations and audits, my staff at the Peace Corps office of inspector general which included professional investigators who had served decades in demanding settings were often surprised at how little "peace" there was in the corps when its virtue was questioned.

While the Daily News' vignettes effectively describe the human realities, they are not simply an anecdote or two. How can one dismiss the radical increase in incidents (much less noting how an "incident" may, in fact, comprise multiple crimes against multiple victims)? How can critics discount the informed views of a man who was the Peace Corps' own security director for seven years?

While zealots may continue to defend the status quo, and while few politicians may have the fortitude to address this bureaucratic icon, the Daily News has said what an adult looking at the facts would say.

(A cable television channel, by the way, recently documented the near-negligence of the Peace Corps toward its outlying volunteers during an uprising and eventual evacuation from Albania.)

This agency should stand up and face its responsibility openly before the taxpayers who pay for it from their weekly paychecks. Rather than allow a federal agency to perpetuate its tribal rituals, I would do the following:

Re-engineer the Peace Corps' personnel system, which cultivates a revolving cadre of secular "believers" who dismiss unpleasant facts when they contradict Peace Corps myth.

Reduce the agency's presence to those assignments where qualified volunteers can work closely with international relief agencies, competent charitable non-governmental organizations and others in meaningful projects. (If we simply want "feel-good" exchanges, expand the Fulbright Program.)

Privatize the Peace Corps. Establish it as a government-chartered corporation whose public funding must first be led by private-sector contributions. Is this mythic little expeditionary force from "Camelot's round table" really about American citizens meeting the world's citizens? If so, let's get more American citizens and institutions involved, hopefully accountable ones. Not just a klatch near K Street in Washington, D.C., and their cheerleaders.

The difficulty, of course, with government reform is obvious: This agency is, in the big picture, so small that it is not worth the pain and suffering a legislator would endure to reform it. Its partisans are intensely dedicated to preserving their sinecure; meanwhile, members of Congress have other huge issues before them. The general public pays little attention and simply does not have the facts.

So it is easier to believe the myth. In American politics, it is hard to overcome what the historian and Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin described in his brilliant book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. Images can be manipulated to seem more vivid and compelling than the truth itself.

The deeper truth compelling me is simply personal. I mourn any young man or woman murdered and brutalized in pursuit of a sloppy, negligent Peace Corps assignment. I am happy for all the happy volunteers with happy times and many happy little villages overseas. But that does not justify a single, avoidable brutality against your son or daughter, or mine.

I have two strapping sons. One is an ex-varsity football player walking the streets of Manhattan daily. The other is a formidable freshman linebacker at a college in Virginia. But I would not send them to the Peace Corps. The Red Cross, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Compassion International, a kibbutz? Sure. But not the Peace Corps.

That's too bad. When I undertook to serve in the Peace Corps, its values inspired me. I arrived in belief. I left in disbelief.

John Hale was the Peace Corps' assistant inspector general from 1991-93. He was the acting inspector general in 1992. Later he directed the science and technology team for Vice President Al Gore's re-engineering government initiative. He also led the online development of the Clinton administration's youth anti-drug media campaign.

[From the Dayton Daily News: 11.02.2003]

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Story Source: Dayton Daily News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Safety and Security of Volunteers; Investigative Journalism



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