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Vasquez gets his orders
Bush tells O.C. appointee to return the Peace Corps to Afghanistan.
February 16, 2002
By DENA BUNIS The Orange County Register
WASHINGTON -- Gaddi Vasquez had only been Peace Corps chief for minutes Friday when President George W. Bush substantially expanded his job, directing him to bring volunteers back into Afghanistan and double the agency's presence worldwide.
The former Orange County supervisor was sworn in at a private Oval Office ceremony, becoming the highest-profile administration official from Orange County.
"A spirit of sacrifice and service gave birth to the Peace Corps more than 40 years ago," Bush said after Vasquez's swearing in. "We needed the Peace Corps then, and we need the Peace Corps today."
Bush's Peace Corps expansion plan includes doubling to 15,000 the number of volunteers, making it the largest Peace Corps since 1966.
And for the first time since 1979, the Peace Corps will have a mission in Afghanistan. A team to scope out the needs, safety and extent of such a mission will head to Afghanistan within the next three weeks.
For the first time, Bush wants to send volunteers to Azerbaijan, East Timor and Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as return volunteers to Peru, Swaziland, Chad and Botswana. Volunteers left those countries for a variety of reasons, including a rebel uprising in Chad in 1989 and accusations in 1977 that volunteers in Peru were actually spies.
Bush, who will visit Asia next week, said he plans to push Chinese officials to allow an expansion of the Peace Corps there.
In each of these countries, Vasquez said, a thorough assessment will be done before sending in volunteers.
"The assessment will make sure the programs we implement are first of value to the volunteers so that it is a rewarding experience and of value and benefit to the host country," Vasquez said in an interview after his White House swearing-in. Vasquez was sworn in by White House Counsel Al Gonzalez while Bush and Vasquez's wife and son looked on.
"The Peace Corps volunteers carry the American idea with them," Bush said. "If we were not to allow the Peace Corps to expand, we would be doing exactly what the terrorists want us to do, and we're not going to let them cause us to abandon what we hold dear."
At Vasquez's confirmation hearing, former volunteers tried to block his nomination, saying he had no Peace Corps experience. They also raised his handling of the Orange County bankruptcy as a reason he should not be confirmed. Their arguments failed, and Vasquez was easily approved.
Before being named to the Peace Corps, Vasquez was head of public affairs at Southern California Edison Co. He was a California adviser to Bush's presidential campaign and transferred $100,000 from his dormant campaign treasury to the Bush effort. His salary will be $133,700 a year.
Bush's expansion announcement Friday, Vasquez said, will give the program the kind of boost it needs. But that's just a start.
"We need to engage in a good outreach effort," Vasquez said. "We need a strong growth strategy that is inclusive. We could do better in terms of the minorities that are participating in the Peace Corps."
Vasquez said he hopes his bilingual ability will help him court the Latino community, which does not have a history of widespread Peace Corps participation.
"I hope I can inspire them to take a look at the Peace Corps," he said.
Vasquez said he doesn't know if he will be part of the Afghanistan assessment team. The group is expected to include former Peace Corps volunteers, current staff members and security experts who will study construction, education, water and other potential projects.
The corps left Afghanistan 23 years ago during the Soviet occupation of the country.
Former Peace Corps volunteer Pauline Buzan, 81, of Laguna Hills said the Afghan people would benefit from the Peace Corps' presence.
"People will go there and do good, just like we do in every country," said Buzan, who returned last year from working in Jamaica.
But Lorena Alvarez, 33, of Anaheim thinks officials should wait a few years before sending volunteers into the war-torn country.
"There is a need there, but there is no guaranteed political stability," said Alvarez, a former Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa. "Personally, I wouldn't feel safe there now."
Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Newport Beach, attended the event after Vasquez's swearing in.
Cox said despite Vasquez being a novice to the agency, he believes his people skills and ability to judge talent will serve him well.
"Director Vasquez is taking over at a moment when President Bush has written the Peace Corps directly into the country's worldwide mission to spread freedom and fight terrorism," Cox said.
Bush wants to increase the Peace Corps budget by 15 percent in each of the next five years -- an added $200 million. Staff writer Rachanee Srisavasdi contributed to this report.
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