oversight

Peace Corps: Meeting the Challenges of the 1990s

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-05-22.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                       Testimony
GAO


For Release             PEACE CORPS
on Delivery
Expected    at          Meeting        the   Challenges   of   the   1990s
1O:OO a.m.       EST
Tuesday,
May 22,    1990




                        Statement      of
                        Milton    J. Socolar,    Special        Assistant    to   the
                           Comptroller    General

                        Before  the Committee    on Government   Operations
                        Subcommittee  on Legislation     and National     Security

                        House     of    Representatives




 GAO/T-NSIAD-90-39                                                           GAO Form 160 (12/W)
                  PEACE CORPS: MJZETING THE CHALLENGES OF THE 1990s
                                SUMMARY OF STATEMENT BY
                        HILTON J. SOCOLAR, SPECIAL ASSISTANT
                              TO THE COMPTROLLER GENERAL

As the Peace Corps approaches           its    fourth      decade,      it faces many
challenges     adapting   to the evolving          needs of the countries            of the
developing     world.   Today's    Peace Corps has over 6,300 volunteers                    in
66 countries     and faces a bright         future,       with    the potential      for
adding     as many as 9 to 10 countries            and hundreds        of volunteers     each
year over the next 5 years.            The report         released     today presents      our
assessment     of the agency's     current       operations         and discusses
opportunities      for better   positioning         itself      to meet the challenges
of the 1990s.
Attainment      of a statutory       10,000 volunteer      goal may be a difficult
objective     for the Peace Corps to achieve            by the agency's            current
1995 target       date.     To do so, the Peace Corps budget              will     have to
grow more rapidly         than it has in recent        years.      Also,      developing
countries     are increasingly        requesting   volunteers        with      special
skills    and qualifications.           The Peace Corps will         need to improve
its efforts       to meet these needs by strengthening               its   recruitment
efforts    and development       of assignments      for volunteers           and, at the
same time,      strengthening      attainment    of its    intercultural           goals.
The Peace Corps can improve                         attainment        of its        first      goal of
providing          trained       manpower to developing                   countries           by strengthening
 its    recruitment           strategies          to attract         volunteers           with     scarce
skills.          The agency met nearly                   100 percent          of its        requests       for
generalists            in fiscal         years      1986 to 1988.             However,         it filled         only
about 84 percent                of the requests             for scarce          skill       volunteers,          and
24 percent           of these requests               were filled          with      "almost        match"
volunteers           who did not filly               meet the Peace Corps'                   own criteria           for
these positions.                 The ag'ancy did not fully                    implement          mechanisms,
such as its University                     Collaboration           program       or its Associate
Volunteer          program,        to attract          volunteers        with      skills        that are in
short      supply.          Instead,        the Peace Corps loosened                      its process          for
matching        volunteers           to assignments.               The agency also needs to
strengthen           procedures          in its recruitment               offices         for locating
scarce       skill       volunteers.            Peace Corps recruiters                    have had
difficulty           recruiting          scarce      skill      volunteers         largely         because       their
recruitment            approach        has focused         on generalists,                rather      than the
specialists            in demand by beneficiary                    countries.             However,       even as
it recruits           more scarce           skill      volunteers,         we believe            the Corps also
needs to be watchful                   to maintain         a balanced          generalist/specialist
force      to continue           its grass-roots              level     programs.
The Peace Corps must also strengthen                 the manner in which it
develops    assignments       for volunteers.         We found that      the Peace Corps
has been unable         to consistently      develop    adequate     assignments      for
volunteers,      largely    because      the Peace Corps has only recently
installed    an agency-wide         policy   for planning,      monitoring,       and
evaluating     programs.       Although     we observed     worthwhile      assignments
in the seven overseas            Peace Corps posts        we visited,         we met with
many volunteers         who were in assignments           that     had no specific           tasks,
objectives,       or responsibilities.           Volunteers        sometimes        spent 6- to
12-months      of their     two year tour developing             their     own assignments.
We also met volunteers            who lacked     adequate      language       skills      to
conduct     their    assignments       or did not have local            counterparts         to
carry     on once they left.           We also found volunteers              who were "slot
filling;"      that   is,   taking     positions    that could         be held by local
nationals.        Others    were assisting       wealthy     people,       rather      than the
poor who are suppose           to be the beneficiaries             of Peace Corps
efforts.

The Peace Corps has been generally                     successful         in achieving      its
second goal of promoting                 a better     understanding          of the American
people     among the peoples             served,     by working       directly     on a people-
to-people      basis      in the small         towns,    villages,       and rural      areas of
the countries          served.        However,     the Peace Corps can improve
achievement        of this       goal by strengthening             programs     aimed at
attracting       minorities         to become Peace Corps volunteers.                    The Peace
Corps needs to redouble                its efforts       in this      area not only to give
all    Americans       an equal opportunity            to serve,        but also     to
demonstrate        to the people          of beneficiary         countries      the diversity
of the American           culture.        As of January         1989, only 7 percent            of
Peace Corps volunteers                were from minority           backgrounds.         Peace Corps
officials       recently       informed      us that     they met their         10 percent
minority      recruiting         goal for their        spring      and summer 1990 programs,
but we have not evaluated                 these statistics.

The Peace Corps can improve            achievement        of its    third    goal of
promoting    a better      understanding       of other      peoples      on the part     of
the American     people      by implementing        programs     to enhance the efforts
of returned     Peace Corps volunteers             to teach the American           people
about the cultures         of beneficiary        countries.        The Peace Corps
operates    a number of programs          which seek to give returned                Peace
Corps volunteers        the opportunity        to teach Americans           about foreign
cultures.     Its new World Wise School               Program appears        to be an
excellent    opportunity       to involve      a number of active           volunteers
schools.     However,      the Peace Corps has not devoted                 a consistent
effort    or much resources        to its    third     statutory      goal.
Our report      makes several       recommendations         aimed at assisting         the
Peace Corps strengthen           its program        development      and recruiting        for
both scarce       skill     and minority      volunteers.         Peace Corps officials
informed    us that       they are making progress            in these areas,       and they
cited    a variety      of actions       they are taking        to effect   further
improvements.
Mr.     Chairman          and members of              the Committee:


It    is a pleasure                  to be here       today        to discuss         our    work        regarding            the
programs           and activities            of     the Peace Corps.


As the         Peace Corps            approaches          its     fourth       decade,       it    faces        many
challenges           adapting           to the      evolving          needs of        the    countries            of    the

developing           world.           The report          released          today     presents           our
assessment           of       the agency's          current         operations         and makes
recommendations                 to strengthen             its     ability       to attain          its     statutory
goals       and,     thus,        better     position            itself      to meet        the challenges               of
the     1990s.


BACKGROUND


The Peace Corps                 is    devoted       to development              and intercultural
understanding                 between      the American             people      and those          of     other
countries.               In accordance            with     its      enabling        legislation,               the     Peace
Corps       seeks        to promote         world        peace      and friendship            through           the
attainment           of       three     goals:


--    to help        the peoples            of beneficiary                countries         meet their            needs
      for      trained         manpower,         particularly             the basic         needs of           those
      living        in    the poorest            areas     of     such countries,


--    to help        promote          a better       understanding             of     the American              people        on
      the part           of    the peoples          served,         and
--     to    promote                  a better             understanding                 of    other       peoples             on the        part
       of    the        American               people.



During           its        early           years,          the     Peace        Corps         focused         largely           on
increasing                  the        number         of     volunteers                 and    on the         intercultural
aspects           of        its        volunteer             service.              During          this       period,           the        agency
experienced                      tremendous             budgetary               and volunteer                 growth.            For
instance,               the           agency's          budget            grew     from        $30 million               in     fiscal          year
1962        to    a high               of    $114 million                  in    fiscal          year      1966,         with         the    number

of     volunteers                     expanding             from     2,816         to     15,556          during         that         period.

This        growth           was followed                    by a period                 of    retrenchment               during            the
197Os,           when            the     agency         experienced               a substantial                   decline             in    budget

and number                  of        volunteers.


During           the        198Os,           Peace          Corps         headquarters              began          to    take      a more
active           role            in    developing              multi-country                   programs,            such        as the
Africa           Food        System            Initiative                 and    the      Small         Business          Assistance

Program.                The Corps'                   budget         grew        modestly          during           the    period,

although               in    constant                dollars         it     remained             well      below         mid     - to        late

- 1960s            levels.                  The Corps'              volunteer             numbers          also         grew     somewhat,
in     response                  to    a 1985         congressionally                     mandated            10,000          volunteer
goal.            But,         the        Corps        has      been        unable         to     achieve          this        goal.          The
numbers           of        volunteer                applications                fell         significantly               during            the
198Os,           but        Peace           Corps       officials               do not         believe         this       has      hampered




                                                                            2
recruiting.                   As the               decade            closed,            the          Agency              had about                6,300
volunteers               in      66 countries                        throughout                     the      world.


THE 10,000               VOLUNTEER OBJECTIVE


The Peace              Corps           will          have          difficultly                     achieving                  its       10,000
volunteer              objective                   by     the        current            1995              target          date.                To achieve
this       objective,                  the         agency's             budget           will               have         to     grow           more       rapidly
than       it     has      grown              over        the       past         few     years,               and         also          more          rapidly

than       the        Peace       Corps              itself           believes                    likely.             Although                  the       Peace
Corps           has    targeted                1995        as the            year            it      hopes          to        have          10,000

volunteers,                its         fiscal             year         1991          funding                request             is      based            on
projections                that          do not            contemplate                   achieving                       the         goal       until          1997.

At     this       point,          it          is     difficult               to       determine                    what         it      will        cost        for
the     Peace          Corps           to      grow           to     10,000           volunteers.                         The cost                will         depend
upon       inflation,                  the         foreign            exchange                    rates       of      the            dollar,             and
whether            the     Peace            Corps          increases                   the         number           of        volunteers                  at

existing              posts       or        opens          new posts.


Also,           developing               countries                  have         begun             to       request            more            volunteers
with       special            skills               and qualifications;                                  requests                the         Peace         Corps
has     had difficulty                         filling.                 At       the     same time,                       not         all       Peace          Corps
volunteers               have          been          placed            in    well-planned                       meaningful                      assignments.
The Peace              Corps           should             improve            its        abilities                   to meet                 current            needs

in     both        recruitment                     and volunteer                      assignments,                        providing                the
necessary              framework                   for     significant                   expansion,                       before             dramatically


                                                                                 3
increasing           the     size         of      its     volunteer           force.             In addition,                  while
attempting           to meet          increasing                  requests         for      skilled             volunteers,              the
Peace Corps           needs          to maintain                  a balanced             specialist               and generalist
volunteer           force         to continue               its     grass-roots                 level      involvement.


RECRUITMENT AND ASSIGNMENTS


The Peace Corps can improve its efforts   to provide                                                            trained                        ,
     .
manpower to beneficiary  countries by strengthening                                                             its     recruitment
strategies           and programs                  designed             to attract              volunteers              with      scarce
skills,       and by strengthening                            the process            by which              it         develops
assignments           for         volunteers.                At     the same time,                  the         Peace Corps
needs       to strengthen                 its      efforts          to attain             its     intercultural                   goals.


Recruitment


The agency           did     not      fully             implement         earlier          initiatives                  such as its
Univeksity           Collaboration                      program         or its      Associate              Volunteer
program,       to attract                 more highly               skilled         volunteers.                        Instead,          it
continued       to rely             heavily              on recruitment              methods             that          have
attracted       generalists;                     that       is,     volunteers             with         liberal          arts
degrees       but     no specialized                      skills,         such as woodworking.


To compensate               for     its         inability           to fully         meet countries                      needs         for
specialized           skills,             the Peace Corps                  has loosened                  its          process      for
matching       volunteers                 to assignments.                     It    has been encouraging                           its

                                                                    4
overseas            staff          to negotiate                  with         host-governments                      to develop
easier-to-fill                    requests.               While              the agency              met nearly             100 percent
of      the requests                   for    generalists                during         fiscal           years         1986 to 1988,
it      filled           only     about         84 percent               of     the     requests              it     received             for
individuals                with         scarce         skills.               Twenty-four                percent            of     these
requests            were         filled         with      "almost              match"          volunteers,                 who did          not
fully        meet         the Peace Corps'                       own criteria                  for      the        scare        skill
positions.


Peace Corps                recruiters             often           encountered               difficulty                attracting
volunteers                with         scarce      skills          because             their          approach             focused         on
generalists.                     Also,        advertising                was not          directed                 towards         recruiting
scarce           skill          volunteers.               And, Peace Corps                           recruiters             were not
offered            incentives                or rewards            for         recruiting               scarce        skill
volunteers.


The Peace Corps                        has also         relied           increasingly                  on older             applicants                to
meet needed volunteer                            numbers           and skill              levels.              As a result,                  the
percentage                of volunteers                 and trainees                   under          26 years         of age has
decreased                substantially            --from           a high             of about           88 percent                in     fiscal
year       1969 to about                     52 percent            in        fiscal       year         1988.          Volunteers                 in
the      26 to 50 age group,                           who often              possess           the professional                        skills
sought           by the Peace Corps,                        rose         to nearly              39 percent             of all
volunteers                by fiscal             year      1988.              Older      volunteers                  (those         over      50
years        old)         rose         to 8.8 percent                   of     the force              by that         time.



                                                                         5



                    -      . _     .
Our report            makes several             recommendations                     aimed   at encouraging                    the
Peace      Corps       to place         greater           emphasis          on targeted            recruitment
programs         to attract            scarce       skill          volunteers,            and providing
recruiters            with      incentives          for      meeting         or      exceeding          their         targeted
scarce       skill       recruitment            goals.


In April         1990,        Peace Corps           officials            told        us they       had begun            to
instruct         recruitment            offices           to focus          their      energies          on recruiting
scarce       skill      and minority               applicants.               They stated            that        the     flow          of
generalists            could      be easily          maintained.                  They also         told        us that
tracking         and monitoring              production              resulting            from     recruitment               and
advertising            has become a major                    focus      at      both      headquarters            and the
area offices.                 Headquarters           has also            increased          its     emphasis            on the
use of       incentives           in recruiting                increased            numbers        of    scarce         skill
and minority            applicants.                Because          these       actions      were taken               after
the completion                of our     review,            we have not             evaluated           their
effectiveness.


Volunteer            Assignments


Until      recently,           the   Peace Corps              had no centrally                    managed policy                 for
evaluating            and monitoring               assignments.                 Instead,          the Corps           relied
upon various            mechanisms           for     evaluating              programs,            none of which
required         in-country          management              to take         actions        on the basis               of       the
evaluations.                 As a result,           in-country            managers          were,        for     the most
part,      on their           own to develop                evaluation            or monitoring                systems          for

                                                               6



             .
their      programming.              While           we observed               many worthwhile                      assignments,
we also       visited        with        volunteers               who had little                    or nothing             to do or
who spent           6 to 12 months               of       their        2-year          tours        developing             their
own assignments.                  We also            interviewed               volunteers                who were not
receiving           sufficient           host-government                      support          or lacked               adequate
language        skills       to conduct               their           assignments.


These problems             contribute                to    the fact             that      about          one-third          of     all
volunteers           and one-half               of    older           volunteers           return           before         the     end
of   their      tours.           Older      volunteers                 return          early        at a faster             rate
largely       because        they        tend        to be more demanding                           of     their
assignments,             have difficulty                   with        the     rigors          of    Peace Corps              life,
and often           experience           greater           difficulty             learning               the       local
language.


We found       assignment-related                         problems            in several             of     the countries                we
visited.            In Ecuador,           for        example,           agency          officials                and volunteers
informed       us of many problems.                           Some volunteers                       were unable             to
perform       their       assignments                because           they      lacked         adequate             Spanish
language       proficiency.                Some volunteers                       cited         poor        job      definition           as
a problem.             In Honduras,              some volunteers                       found        that       their       local
supervisors            were unaware              that       they        were scheduled                     to arrive          and had
nothing       for      them to do.               Some assignments                       were poorly                 designed.
Others       had little           development               value.             Some volunteers                      were actually
working       for     wealthy        land        owners.               Other      volunteers                stated         that
their      assignments            no longer               served        useful          purposes.                Volunteers

                                                                  7
also      complained           about        not       having         local         individuals             who would
continue          their       work after              they     departed,             and some volunteers                          said
that      their      assignments              actually           took        jobs         away from         local
nationals.


In the Leeward                Islands         of      the Eastern              Caribbean,             agency        officials
and volunteers                identified              many problems                 concerning             assignment
programming;               They stated                that     the     Peace Corps                  was experiencing
difficulty           programming              development              projects             that      would       permit           a
transfer          of skills            from    volunteers              to local             nationals.              In a sense,
the Peace Corps                was simply              providing             free         labor      to help        compensate
for     the     "brain        drain"        experienced               by that          region         of    the world.
Even     host      government            officials             told      us that            they      sometimes
considered           volunteers             to be "free               or cheap             labor"      because         it      cost
them nothing              to have a volunteer                    working             for      them.


The situation              in Kenya was much like                            the     situation             in Honduras.
Peace Corps           staff       relied           heavily       on volunteers                      to structure             their
own assignments                rather         than      take     an active                 role      in defining
volunteer          responsibilities                    and coordinating                     their      efforts        with             the
local        supervisors.               The Peace Corps                  did        not     have long-term              plans
to link         the efforts            of     successive              generations                 of volunteers              in
program         sectors.          Both        staff          and volunteers                 in Kenya cited                  lack        of
job     definition            and program              continuity             as problems              limiting
volunteer          effectiveness.
    We found              a much better            situation           in Senegal.                        There         the    Peace Corps
    developed              long     term     plans       which     served             to coordinate                      the efforts
    of a series              of volunteers               placed        in     the same geographical                                  areas.
    It     also      identified             specific       tasks        Peace Corps                       volunteers            would
    perform          during         their       tours.      Senegal                has modified                   the way it
    defines          volunteer           job     responsibilities                     so that               volunteers           know
    specifically              what       they     are     supposed            to do.                It      has also           established
    work groups              in each project               so that            volunteers                   with         more technical
    training              or experience            can assist           lesser            skilled               or experienced
    volunteers.                   In-country         Peace Corps management                                has also            made an
    effort         to provide            volunteers         with        defined               job         duties,         and Peace
    Corps         staff      informed          us that      volunteers                 on the modified                         assignments
.
    are      more satisfied                 because       they     know what                  to do.


    The Peace Corps                   has been well              aware of             these          problems,                and recently
    implemented              agency-wide             policies          for         planning,               monitoring            and
    evaluating              programs.            The new systems,                     called              the     Integrated
    Planning              and Budgeting           System and the Programming                                      and Training
    System,          were being             implemented           in January                  1990 as we were
    completing              our     audit      work,      and we did                not       evaluate              them.


    Our report              recommends           that     the     Peace Corps                      follow         through        with         its
    efforts          to put         in place         pr0cedure.s             for      ensuring               that        each country
    post      develop         program          plans      that     provide              for         (1)      workable
    contributions                  to the countries'               continuing                      development,                (2)     the
    utilization              of     volunteers           upon their                arrival               in country,            (3)

                                                                   9



                                                                                              .,                    .
adequate         oversight           of    the     volunteers'                projects,            (4)     seeking            host-
government            support        for     continuation                of     the work after                the
volunteers*            departure,            and     (5) data            upon which               to judge         the
relative         merits        of    differing          types        of       contributions.                  While           it    is
too early          to reach          judgement         on the effectiveness                           of     the Peace
corps       ' recently         implemented            systems,            we believe               that      when fully
operative          they      should        address          many of our             recommendations.


Minority         Representation               Should         Be Improved


We believe            the Peace Corps,               by working                directly           on a people-to-
people        basis       in the small             towns      and villages                   of    the countries
served,        has been generally                   successful                in promoting                better
understanding             of    the American                people.            But attracting                 more
minorities            to become Peace Corps                       volunteers             would       serve         to heighten
an appreciation                of    the essential                diversity             of    the American               culture.
As of January              1989,      only       7 percent          of        Peace Corps            volunteers                were
from minority             backgrounds.               Also,         there        have been few minorities                                 in
the upper         levels        of    Peace Corps management                            to serve           as role        models
to assist          in recruitment                efforts.


Attracting            minorities,            who sometimes                are     from poorer               economic
backgrounds            and perceive              the Peace Corps                  as a largely                "white           middle
class"        institution,            is difficult.                  In April             1990,      Peace Corps
officials          informed          us that        the agency                now has 5 minorities                       in        top
management positions,                      and that          of    its        current         58 Country            Directors,

                                                              10
9 are minorities.                   They also          said       that        they         met their                 recently
established            10 percent           minority          recruiting              goal          for         the        trainees
they      began recruiting                in February             1990.          These         figures                were
achieved        after        we completed           our       review          and we have not                         verified
them.


Our report            recommends          that,     as part             of    the Peace Corps'                         efforts                  to
redesign        its     overall          recruitment            strategy,             it     should              develop               a
comprehensive               strategy        to attract            minorities.                  It         should            establish
realistic        minority           goals      and plans           for        improving              minority
participation               in Peace Corps             staff,           develop            plans          for        working               more
closely       with      minority          colleges,           and determine                  whether                  the      10
percent       minority          recruitment            goal       for        each area              office            is
appropriate.


Helping       America         Better        Understand            Other        Cultures


The Peace Corps               can better           achieve         its        third         goal       of promoting                         a
better      understanding                by Americans             of other            peoples              by implementing
programs        to enhance              the efforts          of    returned                Peace Corps                 volunteers
to teach        the American              people       about       the cultures                    of beneficiary
countries.'            The Peace Corps              operates             a number of programs                                to
provide       such opportunities                   to returned                volunteers;                  however,               it       has
not devoted            much consistent              effort         or resources                     to this            goal.




                                                             11



   ~. ._.     ., _ ._._._          _.                                    _                             ..       .-
    The agency            generally         believed                that      the returned            volunteers                would
    perform        this      function         on their               own.       Recently,          returned           volunteers
    formed       a national           association                 which        seeks,        among other             things,            to
    perform       such       "development               education"              activities.               The Peace Corps
    gave the        association             grants           of      $142,650          and has assisted                    in
    conducting            mailings,         but    Peace Corps                  has not         made full            use of        the
    association            and its         affiliated                groups.
,




    In summary,            Mr.     Chairman,          our evaluation                    of     Peace Corps            operations
    confirmed         the widely            held        view         that      this     unique        agency         has made
    significant            contributions                in     less         developed          countries.             The agency
    has made a major                contribution                  to presenting                a positive            image of
    American        generosity             to people              of other            lands.       I want         to assure              you
    that     my testimony,              and our          report             released         today,       while       raising
    several       management            concerns,             are          in no way meant               to detract              from
    these       positive          accomplishments.                         Instead,       our    report        and
    recommendations                are offered               with          the hope and expectation                         that
    improvements             in    these      areas          will          make the Peace Corps                   an even more
    effective         contributor             to our          overall           foreign         policy      objectives.


    This     concludes            my prepared            remarks.               Thank you again                for     the
    opportunity            to present           our      observations                  on the work of                the        Peace
    Corps.         We will         be happy        to respond                  to any questions               you may have.



                                                                      12