Telling Congress how we can bring the world home
by Kevin F. F. Quigley
On July 25, I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the most talked about Peace Corps goal, the Third Goal of bringing the world back home. I urged that this was an opportune time to link the provision of substantial financial resources to support outstanding Third Goal activities to plans to significantly expand Peace Corps.
Thanks to Peace Corps pioneer and former Senator Harris Wofford, I understand that our Third Goal was not simply to bring the world back home but to do so in ways that change how the United States interacts with the rest of the world. In accomplishing the Third Goal, we would fulfill President Kennedy's initial vision of 100,000 volunteers a year and within a decade a million alumni would serve as a vocal and reliable constituency for a more cooperative U.S. foreign policy. Thus, there is a natural link between The Third Goal and National Peace Corps Association's campaign of expanding Peace Corps and enhancing its impact.
During this Senate hearing on the Volunteer Empowerment Act (S.732), many witnesses discussed a variety of provisions in legislation introduced by Senator, Presidential Candidate Chris Dodd (Dominican Republic 66-68) of Connecticut. Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter (India 66-68) talked about his 50-plus initiative and administrative efforts to improve the medical clearance process. Former Peace Corps Director Mark Schneider shared his perspective on this legislation. Current Senegal Peace Corps volunteers Chuck Ludlum (Nepal 68-70) and Paula Hirschoff (Kenya 67-69) addressed the challenges to service for 50-plus volunteers and offered suggestions regarding how volunteers could participate in Peace Corps programming, staff assessment and fundraising. In perhaps the most compelling testimony of the hearing, Peace Corps applicant Nicol Fiol Molina from San Juan, Puerto Rico described the likely 18-month application process and the considerable out-of-pocket expenses associated with her application, as well as her ongoing commitment to serve in Peace Corps.
Given the potential impact on our community, I spoke specifically about Senator Dodd's proposal to provide an additional $10 million for a competitive fund to support outstanding examples of projects that were bringing the world back home. If enacted, this would be the first time in Peace Corps history that funds were set aside for this Third Goal purpose. Lack of financial support is certainly one of the principal reasons that our community here at home has not done as well on the Third Goal as initially envisioned or as we aspired to do. Having these resources could make a major difference, and in my testimony I strongly supported this provision although some may argue that this provision could have the effect of reducing resources available for putting volunteers in the field. Without Congress directing Peace Corps to provide financial resources for group-sponsored projects, our Third Goal efforts are likely to always fall short of what is required.
Furthermore, this “zero-sum” argument is short-sighted because if we can raise the profile and impact of our bringing the world home efforts, it will naturally attract greater U.S. attention to Peace Corps and thereby garner increased popular support and greater political and legislative support for the agency.
Following President's Bush 2002 State of the Union pledge to double Peace Corps, there has not been a significant and sustained effort to do this. Now, as part of the lead-up to the 50th anniversary in 2011, is the opportune time to accomplish this. Thus, in my testimony I commended Senator Dodd for his legislation that would provide the authority for appropriations over the next four years that would finally enable a doubling of Peace Corps.
In the next few months, NPCA will be launching a national campaign to expand Peace Corps and to improve its impact, especially as part of an effort to restore U.S. standing in the world. This campaign will seek to raise this issue in the Presidential elections and work with the major parties' candidates to ensure that this is an important aspect of their international agendas. For a report on the July 25 hearing, including copies of testimony, please see our website at www.peacecorpsconnect.org.
As always, I welcome your comments on these ideas or any other matters related to our Peace Corps community.