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June 21, 2004: More Exemptions to 5-Year Rule
Critical Flaw in Proposed PC Safety & Security Bill

My name is Hugh Pickens, I served in the Peace Corps in Peru from 1970 to 1973, I publish a Web Site and News Forum that is read by 100,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Friends of the Peace Corps every month, and I am here to point out a critical fault in the proposed "Peace Corps Safety and Security Bill of 2003" that needs to be corrected before this bill passes the Senate.

The Five Year Rule

The Peace Corps is unique among federal agencies because employees receive time-limited appointments and most employees are limited to a maximum of five years of employment with the agency. The five-year rule has been a cornerstone of Peace Corps' organizational structure and has kept the Peace Corps institutionally young and innovative over the past 40 years. Its purpose is to ensure that the agency does not fall into the trap of entrenched government bureaucracies where it is impossible to fire a civil servant no matter how incompetent he or she may be. As a volunteer organization, the principle has been that neither Peace Corps Volunteers nor Peace Corps employees have lifetime employment at the agency.

The five-year rule was instituted by Sargent Shriver and was codified into law as an amendment to the Peace Corps Act in 1965. Over the years there have been numerous critiques of the five-year rule: that it interferes with the Peace Corps' institutional memory, that the agency continually has to break in new people, and that the Peace Corps has to let people go just when they are getting good at their jobs.

At the same time the rule has been modified so that a certain percentage of Peace Corps employees are eligible to have their employment extended for up to 8-1/2 years (three 2-1/2 year terms plus a one year extension). Still the principle of "In, Up, and Out" has remained the same over the past 40 years - to keep the Peace Corps institutionally young by continuously bringing in new blood.

An Exemption to the Five Year Rule

One year ago a clause was put into the "Consolidated Appropriations Bill of 2003" that exempted employees working in Safety and Security from the five year rule:

Provided further, That the Director of the Peace Corps may make appointments or assignments, or extend current appointments or assignments, to permit United States citizens to serve for periods in excess of 5 years in the case of individuals whose appointment or assignment, such as regional safety security officers and employees within the Office of the Inspector General, involves the safety of Peace Corps volunteers:

Provided further, That the Director of the Peace Corps may make such appointments or assignments notwithstanding the provisions of section 7 of the Peace Corps Act limiting the length of an appointment or assignment, the circumstances under which such an appointment or assignment may exceed 5 years, and the percentage of appointments or assignments that can be made in excess of 5 years."

Director Vasquez supported this change to the five-year rule and wrote letters to over fifty members of Congress on the Conference Committee for the Appropriations bill urging them to support this change to the five year rule.

This Bill expands the Exemption

The "Safety and Security Bill" that is now under consideration takes the exemption one step further and provides an exemption to the five year rule to employees who work in safety and security, members of the Inspector General's office and personnel involved in medical services.

This Bill also contains a clause for the Comptroller General to study the five year rule and report back in one year with recommendations, if any, for legislation to amend provisions of the Peace Corps Act relating to the five year rule.

These exemptions will create a two-tiered employment structure at the Peace Corps which will damage morale at the agency. More importantly, these "lifers" will begin to dominate PC operations given their longevity and "institutional knowledge," resulting in cynicism and hard feelings among non-tenured staff. Returned Volunteers also fear that over the next few years the increasing numbers and influence of safety and security employees not subject to the five-year rule will change the nature of the Peace Corps.

Hugh Pickens
Publisher, Peace Corps Online
Baltimore, MD

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