March 25, 2004 - Orange County Register: Peace Corps defends workers' safety

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: March 25, 2004: What other News Agencies say about the Peace Corps Safety and Security Hearings: March 25, 2004 - Orange County Register: Peace Corps defends workers' safety

By Admin1 (admin) ( on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 10:20 am: Edit Post

Peace Corps defends workers' safety

Peace Corps defends workers' safety

Peace Corps defends workers' safety

Peace Corps defends workers' safety

Walter Poirier, father of a volunteer missing in Bolivia since 2001, testifies before Congress on Peace Corps Safety and Security

Director Vasquez cites improvements to panel that also heard missing man's dad.

“The safety and security of each volunteer is the agency’s top priority.”
Gaddi Vasquez, Peace Corps director


The Orange County Register

WASHINGTON – Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to defend against charges that his volunteers don't have adequate security at their posts around the world, allegations that have led lawmakers to propose legislation to more tightly regulate the agency.

"The safety and security of each volunteer is the agency's top priority," Vasquez told the House International Relations Committee. "I am always mindful of the new security environment that Sept. 11 placed on overseas organizations like the Peace Corps."

Vasquez, a former Orange police officer who went on to become an Orange County supervisor, has created an Office of Safety and Security at the Peace Corps, adding 80 people to the number of full-time staff in that area. There is now a dedicated safety and security coordinator in all 71 Peace Corps posts around the world.

The panel heard emotional testimony from Walter R. Poirier, whose son Walter J. Poirier was a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia who went missing in early 2001. Poirier said the Peace Corps didn't have an adequate system to keep track of volunteers and was insensitive in its dealings with the Poirier family during the search for his son.

"Congress must be brave and bring about change,'' Poirier said.

Committee members also heard the testimony from the editor of the Dayton Daily News, which published a series last year chronicling deaths and assaults of volunteers at Peace Corps posts.

The incidents cited in the series happened before Vasquez's tenure and before new security procedures. But Jess Ford, director of international affairs and trade for Congress' watchdog agency, the General Accounting Office, said the impact of those changes has yet to be demonstrated.

Members expressed sympathy for the Poirier family but also said volunteers must understand that they assume a certain amount of risk when they join up.

"The job of the Peace Corps volunteer is inherently dangerous," said Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, who as chairman of the Africa subcommittee has been urging the agency to expand into more countries on that continent. "Now more than ever, we should be doing more," he added.

Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill. and Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, plan to introduce a bill that would create a Peace Corps ombudsman, make the safety director position Vasquez created permanent and make the agency's inspector general more independent.

Royce said he believes the ombudsman and safety director aspects of the bill will not be controversial. But he questioned the need change the fact that the agency's inspector general is hired and fired by the agency's director.

Vasquez said an ombudsman would duplicate work already done by other officials at the agency. He also prefers to leave the inspector general office as is.

Some lawmakers also have suggested requiring that at least two volunteers be sent to each site.

That, says the head of the National Peace Corps Association, could inhibit the agency's effectiveness.

"That would diminish the experience and lessen the impact of Peace Corps without necessarily enhancing the safety and security of volunteers," said Kevin Quigley, a returned volunteer who heads the association. "Two volunteers posted together tend to be less well-integrated and perhaps less well-accepted by the local community.''

Vasquez said after the hearing that having just one volunteer in a particular site means that person will truly become a part of the community the volunteer is trying to serve.

The need to further the Peace Corps' mission of sending volunteer ambassadors to developing nations has increased since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, members said.

One former volunteer, now a member of Congress, pleaded with the committee not to micromanage the agency.

"I would strongly urge the committee not to overreact and create more bureaucracy, more rules, more regulations that are going to inhibit or keep people from reporting" violent incidents or other security problems, said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, who volunteered in Colombia.

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Story Source: Orange County Register

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Congress; Hearings; Legislation; Safety and Security of Volunteers



By Pailes ( - on Saturday, April 03, 2004 - 11:09 am: Edit Post

You can talk about Priorities.

People are watching action.

What have you done for volunteers who have gone through safety gliches Mr. Vasquez? I can tell you. Your agency has not done anything for many volunteers who have been victims of violence.

Why should anybody trust what you say? You didn't serve in Peace Corps, you didn't go through one of these situations and you have not been treated poorly by the agency. Actually, you are making alot of money, One hundred plus thousand dollars and you have traveled to many countries. You are benefiting.

Where are your priorities?

I think the Agencies position and response to the hearing was ridiculous. Many people feel the same. Trust will come, when you come all the way to understand what these individuals and families have gone through in their service.


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