On March 1st, 2007 Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), a former Peace Corps Volunteer of the Dominican Republic, introduced the Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act. This legislation is meant to address the many issues brought forth by returned and current Peace Corps Volunteers regarding project funding, administration oversight and volunteer participation among other things.
What I’d like to do is go through each title and section of the act and break it down. For the sake of space, I’m not posting the legislation in its entirety but the links to each title of the Act.
Section 101 – Pertains to seed funding provided by Peace Corps itself. This act allows 1% of the total fiscal year ’08 (and every subsequent year) budget to be used as seed funding for the volunteers. Volunteers will submit their project proposals to their country directors and once approved, will receive funds not exceeding $1,000.00 per project. At the end of service, volunteers must submit a report on the project that money was funded toward.
Section 102 – States that volunteers can team up with US governmental organizations, NGOs and host country nationals in applying for grants and loans for projects. Before applying for funding or receiving money from friends/family, volunteers must request approval from their respective Peace Corps Country Directors. Once the money is received, records must be kept of all transactions and purchases. Repayment of loans is not addressed.
Section 103 – Provides funding for eligible non-profits and RPCVs to promote the goals of the Peace Corps. Funding under this section applies toward educational programs for elementary and highschool students that teaches about RPCV host countries, teaming up with local libraries to share other cultures and multimedia presentations regarding an RPCVs host country for general educational purposes.
Section 104 – Seeks to double the number of skilled professionals with at least five years of experience before entering Peace Corps. Works toward eliminating barriers to entering Peace Corps. Fiscal years ’08 – ’10, 20 sector-specific programs in at least 20 different countries for a minimum of five years of relevant work experience will be established.
Section 105 – This section is a bit ambiguous, it seeks to establish a system for promoting improved communications among Peace Corps volunteers and staff electronically, including password protected websites and email for in-country volunteers to discuss development strategies, funding resources, etc. All Close of Service reports will be available via these websites or e-mail links (?).
I don’t know if password-protected websites refer to an intranet or if this includes using external password protected websites, blogs and other various services, like Google Docs, wikis and so on. It also doesn’t mention the preservation of documented projects for the sake of organizational memory, a rather large omission.
Section 201 – Volunteers will be able to participate admin support staff oversight and shall be given “weight” in decision making regarding contract renewal. Volunteers also get a say in how their program functions with, again, appropriate “weight” given to their views.
Section 202 – Makes VAC a requirement in all countries and allows for quarterly recommendations to Country Director, Chief Administrative Officer, Associate Peace Corps Directors, and Peace Corps Medical Officers. Recommendations shall be forwarded to the Regional Peace Corps Director and appropriate “weight” given to VAC recommendations.
Section 203 – APCDs shall give substantial weight to volunteer recommendations on site selection, new/subsequent volunteers placement and volunteer training curriculum.
Section 301 – Reforms the health screening process by making it more transparent; listing conditions that disqualify people, explaining what conditions can be worked around, allowing input into the process, and allowing appeals to rejections on medical grounds. And most importantly providing full reimbursement for medical screening.
Section 302 – Currently, if a Peace Corps volunteer receives Federal health coverage prior to Peace Corps, they can suspend the coverage and resume enrollment post-service but not for State and local governments, private entities, and other organizations, that will soon change.
Section 303 – The Director of the Peace Corps has to inform Congress of the cost of extending volunteers post-service health coverage from one to five months.
Section 304 – Congress has to figure out what to do with the taxes you might owe if you sell your home to join Peace Corps, similar to what they’ve done with soldiers and the foreign service.
Section 305 – The Secretary of the Treasury and the Peace Corps Director get to decide how much of your gross income they get to keep in taxes after your service.
Section 306 – Volunteers can only be administratively separated from Peace Corps for conduct violations specified in the Peace Corps handbook. Volunteers will receive Whistleblower Protection when reporting the misconduct of Peace Corps staff or advocating for reforms. Volunteers do not need to seek prior approval for publishing stories, articles, or other materials unless it pertains to that volunteer’s host country or program. If a country director prohibits certain material from being published, that decision may be appealed to the Regional Director.
Section 307 – Guidance for volunteers on how to manage finances while serving overseas will be put forth.
Section 401 – Money. $336,000,000 for fiscal year ’08, $380,000,000 for fiscal year ’09, $450,000,000 for fiscal year ’10, and $618,000,000 for fiscal year ’11.
UPDATE: Attached is the pdf The Peace Corps EmpowermentÂ Act