March 31, 2002: PCOL Exclusive - RPCV Congressmen support Peace Corps Autonomy
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March 31, 2002: PCOL Exclusive - RPCV Congressmen support Peace Corps Autonomy
RPCV Congressmen support Peace Corps Autonomy
There are 165,000 Americans who have served in the Peace Corps. Out of an adult population of 234 million, that means that 1 American out of every 1400 adults is a returned volunteer. Statistically speaking, the House of Representatives should have much less than a single Congressman who has served in the Peace Corps. Yet there are actually six RPCVs who are members of Congress.
Volunteers should not be surprised that RPCVs are over-represented in Congress by more than an order of magnitude because the qualities and traits that influence citizens to join the Peace Corps are the same ones that lead returned volunteers to continue lives dedicated to public service and make them successful at it.
PCOL recently had the opportunity to speak to three members of Congress who have served in the Peace Corps and to ask their opinions about the USA Freedom Corps, the autonomy of the Peace Corps, and the Peace Corps' relation to the intelligence community.
The three Congressman we spoke to are Representative Sam Farr (Democrat - California) who served as a volunteer in Colombia from 1964- 66, Representative James Walsh (Republican - New York) who served in Nepal from 1970 - 72, and Representative Christopher Shays (Republican - Connecticut) who served in Fiji from 1968 - 70.
These are the men (along with Chris Dodd and Jay Rockefeller in the Senate) who because of their knowledge and interest in the Peace Corps, control the legislation and appropriations that govern how the Peace Corps is run. Below we share a short biography of each Congressman, his connection with the Peace Corps, and his views on Peace Corps autonomy.
Rep. Farr is a democrat who represents represents California's Central Coast. His district encompasses the majestic Big Sur coastline; the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary; the fertile Salinas Valley "salad bowl;" the redwoods, mountains and beaches of Santa Cruz County, and the majestic rural landscape of San Benito County.
Rep. Farr was the author of the original Oceans Act, a version of which passed Congress and was signed into law on Aug. 8, 2000. He has been recognized as an "Environmental Hero" by the League of Conservation Voters, garnering a perfect voting record in its 1996 and 1998 ratings, and has been given perfect voting scores by the Center for Marine Conservation and Children's Defense Fund. Rep. Farr is also known for his continuing involvement with the Peace Corps. He was Master of Ceremonies at the Peace Vigil at Lincoln Memorial last September for the Peace Corps 40th and recently spoke alongside Sargent Shriver at Peace Corps Headquarters.
U.S. Rep. Sam Farr will hold a press conference at the University of California at Santa Cruz on Thursday, April 4, to announce legislation he is introducing to double the size of the Peace Corps. Farr will be joined by a Peace Corps recruiter conducting a "mini-recruitment" following the press conference. UCSC ranks eighth nationally in the number of graduates serving in the Peace Corps.
When asked about the USA Freedom Corps and the plan for the Peace Corps to become part of the USA Freedom Crops, Rep. Farr responded that "We will fight to keep the Peace Corps from becoming part of the US Freedom Corps."
"The Peace Corps should maintain its independence, and not be associated with any particular presidential administration's policy," Rep. Sam Farr said. "The Peace Corps must preserve its long term, apolitical mission."
Read a more detailed biography of Representative Farr at:
Biography of Sam Farr
Rep. Walsh is a republican who represents Central New York in the House of Representatives as a member of the Committee on Appropriations. His district includes all of Onondaga and Cortland Counties, the northernmost half of Cayuga County and several towns in Tioga and Broome Counties
Rep. Walsh is chairman of the Subcommittee on the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies which has among it's duties is to oversee and approve the budget of the US Peace Corps in which he served as a volunteer. Mr. Walsh is responsible for the Walsh Visa, passed by Congress in 1998, which as part of the peace process will allow citizens from Northern Ireland and the border counties to live and work in the U.S. for five years. The goal is for them to learn a trade and to experience life in a multi-cultural society.Mr. Walsh is also nationally recognized as a leader in child nutrition through his support of the WIC Program (Women with Infants and Children) and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) and as sponsor of the Hunger Has a Cure bill in the House of Representatives.
He spent two years in Nepal working on agricultural programs. He recalled some of what the Peace Corps did for him, "The experience I had in the Peace Corps taught me that we're all the same across the world. We all want the world to be better for our kids - all across mankind. We are all idealists who believe things can be better."
Congressman Walsh told PCOL that "It is critical to its mission that the Peace Corps report directly to the President." The Congressman added that "I have spoken to Mr. John Bridgeland, the President's appointee to head the USA Freedom Corps, and first thing I asked him was 'Do you remember Action? It was a mistake.' Mr. Bridgeland assured me that in his view and interpretation, under existing statute the Peace Corps must retain it's independence." The Congressman went on to say "that Mr. Bridgeland is very aware that the Peace Corps is very covetous of its reputation as an independent agency" and "that the lines of authority (for running the Peace Corps) do not change."
PCOL asked the Congressman about the use of Peace Corps Volunteers in intelligence gathering and he said that "Every volunteer knows that the Peace Corps must be independent of the intelligence gathering community." PCOL asked him about concerns by some Returned Volunteers that Section 908 of the USA Patriot Act could pose a threat to the Peace Corps' independence from the intelligence gathering community and the Congressman said that he doubted that this was the case but went on to say that in the event that it did, that this would be corrected by Congress.
Rep. Walsh concluded by saying, "As a Member of Congress and a Returned Peace Corps volunteer, I'm thrilled that the President has set a goal of doubling the Peace Corps."
Read a more detailed biography of Representative Walsh at:
Biography of James Walsh
Rep. Shays is a republican who represents Connecticut in the House of Representatives.
Rep. Shays is a leader of the coalition supporting campaign finance reform, working with Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA), Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) and others to pass a ban on soft money and a prohibition on sham campaign ads that masquerade as "issue" ads for federal races. A nationally recognized environmentalist, Christopher has been endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club for his strong support of Clean Water and Endangered Species legislation, as well as his aggressive stand in favor of strict new Clean Air regulations. Congressman Shays and his high school sweetheart, Betsi, served together in the Peace Corps in Fiji from 1968 to 1970. A teacher for 25 years, Betsi returned to the Peace Corps in 1998 where she currently directs the Center for Field Assistance and Applied Research.
Betsi Shays remembers "Weeks after we got married, Chris and I hopped in a little black Volkswagon and drove to Washington, D.C., to fill out applications to the Peace Corps. Everything about the Peace Corps seemed wonderful to us: the opportunity to make a difference, to live and work in another country, to have a great adventure. Those two years provided some of the best Love stories of our lives."
When PCOL spoke to Congressman Christopher Shays about the US Peace Corps and the USA Freedom Corps, Congressman Shays began by saying he believed in a few basic principles - that he believed strongly in service and volunteerism - and he thinks it is good that the President wants to encourage it.
The Congressman said he likes the concept of the USA Freedom Corps - that it will coordinate only and that it will have no budgetary control over the Peace Corps. He went on to say that the Peace Corps has always been a unique agency that needs to maintain its autonomy. One example is the five year rule that prohibits staff from serving more than 5 years on PC staff.
PCOL asked if the Congressman had any concern when President Bush talks about the PCVs being sent to Muslim Countries that the PC is being used for an ideological purpose. The Congressman replied that he did have that concern. He said the Peace Corps was never designed to be a political instrument. He thinks that the President didn't express the role of the Peace Corps quite right and that when he speaks to the President about the Peace Corps he will talk to him about the subtle difference.
When asked about the op-ed piece written by a returned volunteer about the possibility that Section 908 of the USA Patriot Act could provide an inadvertent back door for Peace Corps information to be sent to an intelligence agency, Congressman Shays said that he had not read the piece yet, but that in his opinion we cannot afford to give even the impression that there is a connection between the Peace Corps and the intelligence community, and that if what the piece says is true he would seek to change the law.
Read a more detailed biography of Representative Shays at:
Biography of Christopher Shays
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