August 17, 2007
August 7, 2007
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.
July 26, 2007
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 Empowerment Act
July 24, 2007
Last.fm “builds a detailed profile of each user’s musical taste by recording details of all the songs the user listens to, either on the streamed radio stations or on the user’s own computer or iPod. This information is transferred to Last.fm’s database (“Scrobbled”) via a plugin installed into the users’ music player. The profile data is displayed on a personal web page.“
I’ve received this question a few times from various folks after sending them invites. We’re usually quick to point out that blogs, photos, video and similar records are important to the organizational memory of a group, but song is usually forgotten.
The FROG group on Last.fm – FROG Music – takes into account the collective tastes of it’s members and organizes them into various categories, time-frames and relationships. And this is useful how?
Ultimately I see this adding value to FROG.
Last.fm provides another way for members of FROG to connect, chronicles our musical tastes and gives persona to our organization.
It promotes dialogue among members
FROG members signed up to the Last.fm group can write one another, check out each others musical preferences and listen to recommended songs.
Last.fm chronicles our musical preferences over time
For most of us music is deeply embedded into our culture, is a strong part of our own identities and can quickly draw up deep emotions and memories. This is no different for an organization made up of people. Chronicling the musical tastes of our members will put into context the history of FROG.
FROG Music helps people discover who we are
The musical preferences of FROG will provide the collective flavor for our organization. If you want to know more about who we are, just look at the music that moves us.
Check it out – http://www.last.fm/group/FROG+Music/
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will convene on July 25th to hear testimony on S. 732, The Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act. Witnesses include:
The Honorable Ronald A. Tschetter
The Honorable Mark L. Schneider
Former Director of the Peace Corps
Senior Vice President and Special Adviser
on Latin America International Crisis Group
Mr. David Kotz
Ms. Kate Raftery
Country Director, Eastern Caribbean
Mr. Chuck Ludlam
Ms. Paula Hirschoff
Mr. Kevin Quigley
National Peace Corps Association
Ms. Nicole Fiol
Applicant to the Peace Corps
Bayamón, Puerto Rico
July 18, 2007
33 members of Guy 19 will be sworn in on July 26th, 2007. From the Guyana Chronicle:
The 19th group of American Peace Corps volunteers, a batch of 33, will be taking the oath to serve in Guyana on July 26.
The announcement said they will be sworn at the residence of United States Ambassador, Mr. David Robinson, Cummings Lodge, after an eight-week training programme that began on June 1.
A press release said they will be assigned within the health, education and information technology sectors to join 30 others already serving in eight of the 10 Administrative Regions.
The trainees, who arrived on May 31, have been involved in pre-service course, with the focus on providing them with opportunities and experience which would enable them to function effectively in the project areas of community health education and promotion, the release said.
The release said the course was also to integrate them easily into the Guyanese society and make them consciously responsible for their personal health and safety and understand Peace Corps policies and procedures to enhance their field work.
The statement said, so far, at least 160 volunteers have served in this country and the new group will be spend two years.
It recalled that the Peace Corps was created by the late President John F. Kennedy, in March 1961, with the aim of providing human resource technology assistance to requesting developing countries.
From 1966 through 1971, about 60 of its volunteers did service in Guyana and the Peace Corps was invited to return, by the late President Dr. Cheddi Jagan in 1993, resulting in the next batch arriving in 1995.
The statement said Peace Corps is pleased to provide assistance to the people of Guyana and extends its gratitude to the Government and people for the hospitality and opportunity it offers the volunteers to assist in achieving the nation’s development aspirations.