Politicizing the Peace Corps
In the August 4th Washington Post, this paragraph stuck out from the story “Gonzales Now Says Top Aides Got Political Briefings” :
At the July 24 hearing, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked Gonzales whether any of “the leadership of the Department of Justice” had participated in political briefings, pointing to examples involving employees from the State Department, Peace Corps and U.S. Agency for International Development. [emphasis mine]
Sen. Kennedy’s inquiry pertains to the 20 private briefings that the White House held on “Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity.” The deputy to chief White House political adviser Karl Rove presented these briefings in an effort to use Federal resources and personnel to help vulnerable Republicans in upcoming elections. Watch:
The only problem with these White House briefings is that they directly violate the the Hatch Act. Let’s visit this piece of legislation for a moment:
The Hatch Act of 1939 is a United States federal law whose main provision is to prohibit federal employees (civil servants) from engaging in partisan political activity. Named after Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico, the law was officially known as An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities.
It prohibits using any public funds designated for relief or public works for electoral purposes. It also forbids officials paid with federal funds from using promises of jobs, promotion, financial assistance, contracts, or any other benefit to coerce campaign contributions or political support.
The most restrictive measure was brought about by Republicans in the Senate. It dictates that persons below the policymaking level in the executive branch of the federal government must not only refrain from political practices that would be illegal for any citizen but must abstain from “any active part” in political campaigns.
The reputation of Peace Corps domestically and abroad is one of high regard and apolitical. Peace Corps depends on that non-partisan reputation to recruit new volunteers, ensure program integrity and affect change in developing countries.
A recent Senate hearing held by Senator and RPCV Christopher Dodd [D-Conn.] raised concerns that “the institution has allowed the White House entry into its offices and created a discouragingly inefficient, unfriendly bureaucracy.”
The mere perception of politics in the Peace Corps do little to secure the safety of volunteers on the ground and damage the overall reputation and mission of the organization. The repurcussions of injecting politics into a purposely apolitical environment could be severe.
The benefit of using the resources of Peace Corps to aid vulnerable Republican candidates comes at the expense of the integrity of the program itself and the safety and well being of our volunteers globally.