October 11, 2001 - Email circulates alleging Illegal Acts at Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2001: 10 October 2001 Peace Corps Headlines: October 11, 2001 - Email circulates alleging Illegal Acts at Peace Corps

By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, October 12, 2001 - 9:52 am: Edit Post

Following is an email which has been circulating on Returned Volunteers listservs alleging Illegal Actions at the Peace Corps. After you read it, then please also read our "Message from the Publisher" above.

Subject: Illegal actions at Peace Corps

Please see the following message with our grave concerns regarding the current leadership of Peace Corps.

Dear Honorable Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

This is to call to your attention a matter of clear illegality concerning the leadership of the Peace Corps. Recent events, intended to force the rapid confirmation of Gaddi Vasquez as Peace Corps Director, have been in direct and INTENTIONAL violation of the Vacancies Act. The Bush Administration has intentionally filled a vacancy in the position of acting Director in a manner that is unlawful under the Vacancies Act, as amended. And this has been done despite the fact that the most recent acting General Counsel of the Peace Corps specifically advised that the course that has been taken is illegal.

This sequence of events, described below, have created unprecedented legal turmoil with respect to the performance of governmental functions by an executive branch agency. Moreover, through this intentional noncompliance with the law, it has created an unprecedented legal vacuum as well as a serious leadership vacuum at a critical time when the safety of almost 7000 Peace Corps Volunteers serving around the world has never been more precarious.

The current situation is as follows.

Acting Director Charles Baquet was recently asked to again provide his resignation effective October 1, which he did and which was accepted. As the Deputy Director, he had previously offered his resignation as did all other political appointees of the Clinton Administration in January.

Mr. Baquet, who was confirmed by the Senate as Deputy Director in 1993, assumed the authorities of Director (as Acting Director) in January 2001 when Director Mark Schneider's resignation was accepted by the Bush Administration. Our research has shown that this was consistent with the requirements of the Vacancies Act, as amended in 1998. The Director and Deputy are the only positions at the Peace Corps that are filled by presidential appointment, with the advice and consent of the Senate. (Our understanding is that the only other position at the Peace Corps that is mandated by law is the Inspector General. However, the IG at the Peace Corps, which is one of the 33 "designated entities" under the Inspector General Act, is appointed by the Director and is not subject to Senate confirmation.)

Upon Mr. Baquet's departure, a non-career political appointee to the Peace Corps, Lloyd Pierson, has effectively assumed the role of acting Director of a the Peace Corps, in a way that is unquestionably unlawful. In September, it was announced in an agency wide memorandum that Mr. Pierson had been named by the White House as "Chief of Staff" which was reported to have the effect of making him "first assistant to the Deputy Director". This statement was apparently intended to invoke the provisions of the Vacancies Act, in which a vacancy in the position of an "executive officer" (defined as one filled by presidential appointment, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate) is filled automatically by the "first assistant".

However, the law also clearly states that "the President (and only the President) may direct an officer or employee of such Executive agency to perform the functions and duties of the vacant office temporarily in an acting capacity." As we understand it, the President made no such personal direction.

In addition, while Mr. Pierson has met the requirement of having been an employee of the agency for the 90 day minimum period required under the law to be eligible to serve in an acting capacity, he was non-competitively appointed to a special assistant position. The Peace Corps has its own unique personnel system in which all employees are, technically non-career, but clear standards have been established to distinguish which of the Peace Corps' employees are "career" within the Peace Corps context, and which are equivalent to Schedule C/non-career SES (usually referred to as "political appointees). Mr. Pierson, as a noncompetitively appointed GS-15 equivalent position as special assistant in January, obviously is of the "Schedule C" category of Peace Corps employees.

As you must know, the Republican leadership pushed through the "Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998" as part of the omnibus appropriations bill. The "reforms" of the law were said to address what was seen as a loophole that was used to appoint Bill Lan Lee as Acting Attorney General for Civil Rights when his nomination was not acted upon by the Senate. The law specifically addresses the process to be followed when a vacancy occurs in an executive branch position made by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

However, the current political leadership of the Peace Corps, led by Mr. Pierson, has therefore engineered precisely the type of ascension into an acting role, exercising the duties and responsibilities of the Director, that was intended to be eliminated by the reforms. A review of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing and report on the legislation clearly indicates that the intention was to enable career employees to assume acting positions. As noted below, Mr. Pierson simply does not fall into that category.

This entire scenario is simply outrageous. Mr. Pierson was appointed to be Chief of Staff (under the law, a non-statutory position), to a Deputy Director serving as Acting Director who is being forced out. Thus, he has become a "first assistant" to the Deputy Director and then has assumed, by double-default, the acting directorship of a $265 million federal agency responsible for the health and safety of 7000 Americans.

In addition, Mr. Pierson's reported appointment to be Chief of Staff by "the White House" is in itself unlawful. It is clear that, upon reading the provisions of the Peace Corps Act, that appointment authorities for such senior positions are derived from the formal delegation of authority by the President to the Peace Corps Director. We believe this is true for virtually all executive branch agencies.

The Peace Corps Act formally vests appointment power, as well as contractual and all other legal authorities, in the President. By Executive Order, these authorities have been delegated to the Director of the Peace Corps, and in turn, internal Peace Corps regulations clarify which authorities may be exercised by certain Peace Corps employees. There is, simply, no legal authority for the "White House" to appoint any person to any position within the Peace Corps. This is typically not an issue, because the Schedule C and non-career SES appointments within an agency are technically done by the agencies, with concurrence by the White House personnel office and monitoring by OPM, which maintains the list to ensure that the number of such positions is not exceeded.

Most offensive is that, despite the fact of being warned that this move was illegal, the Bush Administration took this step to force the confirmation of Mr. Vasquez, whose nomination is highly controversial. Clay Johnson, the Director of Presidential Personnel, advised Mr. Baquet that his resignation would help speed the confirmation.

It is difficult to describe how unsettling these actions have been. In addition to the obvious legal problems - including, whether there is anyone exercising legal authority at the Peace Corps - this behavior is so utterly contrary to the traditions of this agency. This is the most politically manipulative behavior that any of us has ever witnessed.

Because the facts of this behavior are, by themselves, so compelling, we will not address at length the completely demoralizing effect they have had on the agency. The notion that these maneouvers are undertaken to force members of the Senate to confirm Mr. Vasquez is incredibly offensive. His record of public service, entangled in a bankruptcy scandal as an elected official, and now serving in a public relations position at a utility company on the verge of bankruptcy, is more than merely embarrassing. It should be DISQUALIFYING. As is his apparently buying into this position with campaign funds he raised but no longer needed when he resigned before being recalled by the voters from office.

The Peace Corps, during its 40th anniversary year, in the midst of an international crisis, and with thousands of Americans serving abroad deserves so much better. Please exercise the leadership and courage that are called for by you as elected officials responsible for overseeing this agency. There is clear violation of the law, and gross violation of the trust that is inherent in this public institution by people who do not deserve to serve in these high positions of public trust.

Sincerely, Concerned Peace Corps Staff, Returned Volunteers, and Friends of the Peace Corps

By MajorOz on Friday, October 26, 2001 - 1:17 pm: Edit Post

"This is the most politically manipulative behavior that any of us has (sic) ever witnessed"

....say what ?

You folks must be from out of town.

PC is the most PC organization in North America (well....maybe second to Boulder Colorado)

If you don't want the nominee to be confirmed, say so. But don't whine and bitch about who is watching the store while the process works itself out.


oz -- RPCV, Micronesia and Palau, 94-96

By jjgarcia on Wednesday, October 31, 2001 - 5:47 pm: Edit Post

As an RPCV and a Hispanic I am ashamed by the decision made by the current administration. Clearly this is a weak attempt to placate the Hispanic voter and nominate a weak candidate to a position, that this arrogant administration considers obviously of no importance to the future of this country. But, as we have witnessed the unselfish and beautiful work that RPCV's and PCV's have accomplished is so important. I believe that for our country and world to survive it is essential that we make a concerted effort to expand the work of Peace Corps and other similar agencies. Clearly our foreign policy has been mistaken and now is the opportunity to rectify this through humanitarian efforts and love.

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