Peace Corps monument
Chuck Ludlam's House Parks Subcommittee in opposition to building a monument to the Peace Corps on the National Mall.
Oral Testimony: Chuck Ludlam Chairman Bishop and Members of the Subcommittee. Let me make four points. First, more important than listening to what I have to say would be viewing the ABC 20/20 report of its investigation into epic scandals in the Peace Corps. The Subcommittee should let these scandals run their course. It should be wary of authorizing a Monument that would, in effect, enable the Peace Corps to “change the subject” and gloss over these unresolved scandals. I am aware of at least three more installments in these scandals that may become public in the coming months. If the Subcommittee authorizes this Monument, it risks being blind-sided by upcoming developments. Over a period of years, we will have the verdict of history regarding the dimensions and meaning of all this. Adherence to the principle of letting history be the judge is precisely why the Commemorative Works Act sets a 25- year rule. The 20/20 expose focused on a Peace Corps Volunteer who was murdered by Peace Corps Staff because the Volunteer was a whistle blower. She was murdered in March of 2009, after President Obama took office. This murder arose as much from policies at Peace Corps Headquarters as from the situation in Benin. That’s why it presents an existential threat to the Peace Corps. This murder was NOT an isolated or unforeseeable incident. The 20/20 expose also highlighted the despicable ways in which the Peace Corps has mistreated Volunteers who have been raped or sexually assaulted. I urge you to watch the harrowing tape of the Volunteers’ testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 11 of this year. To authorize this Monument would be to ignore these scandals and imply that they are meaningless and irrelevant. Before my retirement in 2005, I served on the staff of Congressional committees over a 40 year period. If I were serving on your staff today, my advice would to be that given these scandals, don’t touch the Peace Corps with a 10 foot pole. 2 Second, in terms of the Commemorative Works Act, the sponsors argue that the Peace Corps satisfies the 25-year rule because it was founded more than 25 years ago. If that were true, the Subcommittee could today authorize a monument to President Reagan because he was born in 1911.
This is the second time the NPCA has attempted to evade the 25-year rule. In 1987 NPCA secured authorization for a National Peace Garden to be located at Haines Point. Back then NPCA believed that any monument that mentioned the Peace Corps or Peace Corps Volunteers would violate the 25-year rule. So it proposed a Peace Garden instead. Yet today NPCA is pushing a monument that explicitly mentions the Peace Corps and Peace Corps Volunteers. NPCA is playing both ends against the middle.
The Park Service is rightfully concerned about authorizing Mall monuments to ideals. The ongoing scandals show what the Peace Corps ideals mean in practice today. It would be sadly ironic if the first Mall monument to American volunteerism glorified a bureaucrat run volunteer program that costs some $50,000 per year per Volunteer.
This Monument would, in effect, give the good housing keeping seal of approval to an existing government agency that comes back each year to the Congress for authorizations and appropriations. From my service on the Board of NPCA, I know that this monument is intended to support its lobbying effort to increase Peace Corps appropriations and fight against unwanted changes in the Peace Corps authorization. The Subcommittee should not be a party to an NPCA strategy to use this Monument to sandbag or influence other Committees on the Hill regarding the Peace Corps.
This Monument would, in effect, endorse a government spending program at a time when government spending is rightfully seen as excessive? What are you going to say on the House Floor if a fiscally responsible Member asks why you are authorizing a monument to government spending? This Monument is also, in effect, a second monument to President John F. Kennedy. One monument per President is sufficient.
Third, the Peace Corps is one of the worst managed agencies of the government. In 35 countries the early-quit rate among Volunteers has exceeded 40%. Volunteers are talking with their feet. The Peace Corps surveys of the Volunteers reveal that perhaps only 15 of the 75 country programs are well managed. Finally, what in the world would this Monument mean over the coming decades if additional scandals arise or if the Peace Corps becomes obsolete or dies? What would we do with an obsolete and embarrassing Mall monument?
The Peace Corps monument bill H.R. 4195 was NOT adopted by the 111th Congress. Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation was to establish a monument to Peace Corps on United States Mall in Washington DC, the bill passed the House and when it arrived in the Senate, it was referred to the Senate Committee but did not receive a hearing and was never reported; the result of efforts by advocates who believe the Third goal of Peace Corps should be funded rather than a physical monument.
"The monument that returned Volunteers do need is funding to help them fulfill the third goal (informing Americans about the countries where they served), which the Congress and the Peace Corps have never adequately provided. If the Congress wants to honor the RPCVs, these grants should be the focus, not a monument of marble and bronze.....We need Third goal funding. And, as for satisfaction and pride in service, RPCVs have those in their hearts. " Source: Letter to Park and Planning Commission.
September 2nd 2009 An Open Letter by Chuck Ludlam
To Oppose legislation to authorize a commemorative monument to the Peace Corps near the National Mall in Washington DC
Dear National Parks Subcommittee, Commission on Fine Arts, and National Capital Planning Commission Staff, and Judy Scott Feldman (Save the Mall): 09/02/09
Proposals are under discussion to seek introduction and enactment of legislation to authorize a commemorative monument to the Peace Corps near the Mall. We believe this proposal is ill conceived and should be rejected.
Several of you have said you share our view that this commemorative monument does not fall within the ambit of the Commemorative Works Act (P.L. 107-217; Chapter 89) that "limits monuments to memory of an individual, group, event or other significant element of American history that have been dead or past 25 years."
Clearly this proposal does not meet the "25 year" test and cannot be a monument to the Volunteers or the deceased Volunteers. Proponents of this idea seem to believe, however, that the Act leaves latitude to authorize a commemorative monument to an idea, in this case the idea of the Peace Corps. Several of you have said that this is not a reasonable interpretation of this law.
In any event, the proposal should not be authorized for the reasons presented here.
Is the idea of the Peace Corps so "monumental" that we need a monument to commemorate it near the Mall? If the Congress is going to authorize monuments to ideas rather than individuals and historical events, then we should start with the biggest ideas like the Bill of Rights, racial equality and tolerance, free enterprise economics, and liberal immigration policies.
If a commemorative monument is authorized regarding the idea of volunteer service, it should focus on the American tradition of community service rather than on one particular, recent and government-run model of this service. If we single out one particular program, why the Peace Corps rather than, for example, the AFS or the Fullbright program? Why single out a government program when most of our society's volunteerism lies in the private sector?
We must remember that the Peace Corps is one of hundreds of government programs that are authorized and funded year by year. It is not permanent. Moreover, it is not unusual in representing a great idea; all government programs represent ideas.
Are the ideas represented by the Peace Corps exceptional compared to those embodied in other government programs? We have no monument on the Mall to the New Deal or Great Society programs. We have no monument to the space program. We have no memorial to the Land Grant College Act. Or to the national parks/wilderness systems. Or to environmental programs. Or labor rights or child welfare programs. The Peace Corps is but one of hundreds of well-intentioned government programs and a rather small one at that. Its 200,000 participants are few by government standards and a fraction of the number of participants in AmeriCorps/Vista.
Many of us who served as Volunteers find the notion of a commemorative monument to be embarrassing. Our pride in our service is strong but we see no need to be lionized with a monument. Moreover, few Volunteers in the field would support a monument. Their view of the Peace Corps is that it should be reformed, not expanded (46% to 20%).
If this proposal goes forward, we may well see pickets at the groundbreaking ceremony from Volunteers. Support for this proposal could be seen as self-referential and politically self-serving for the returned Volunteers who are Members of Congress.
The monument that returned Volunteers do need is funding to help them fulfill the third goal (informing Americans about the countries where they served), which the Congress and the Peace Corps have never adequately provided. Strangely and sadly, the 2009 version of Senator Dodd's Peace Corps authorization deletes the authorization for these grants that was included in his 2007 bill. If the Congress wants to honor the RPCVs, these grants should be the focus, not a monument of marble and bronze.
The principal proponent of this proposal, the National Peace Corps Association, has not as yet acted on a pending proposal to raise up to $7 million for the project. To begin to raise these funds before this monument is authorized would be premature. It should not do so, but rather, should focus its fundraising on endowing a program to support returned and current Volunteers. The proposed $7 million could endow 35 $10,000 grants per year for Volunteers, a much better use of these funds.
The sentiment for the monument is seems similar to that driving NPCA's "more Peace Corps" campaign to double Peace Corps funding, e.g. that the Peace Corps should be immune from serious criticism and reform because it embodies great ideas and attracts idealistic Americans. This type of sentimentality stands in the way of reflection, renewal and reform and has led to atrophy at the agency.
Indeed, The Peace Corps has deeply embedded and fundamental problems. The pervasive mismanagement is documented by the Volunteers in the 2008 Peace Corps survey. There are perhaps 15 well-managed programs out of more than 70. The Volunteers are voting with their feet with 35% terminating before completing their service. The Peace Corps claims that 20 countries are "shovel ready" for the Peace Corps and that there is a big surplus of applicants. Both assertions are contrary to fact. The Peace Corps record of First Goal results (development projects abroad) is undocumented and unevaluated. Can anyone name a single development idea or program that the Peace Corps has taken to scale worldwide? These issues are discussed in depth in the Peace Corps reform plan that we have published (see attached).
Finally, the future of the Peace Corps is not clear. Congress has enacted legislation and supported funding for another program, Volunteers for Prosperity (the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act), which will compete directly with the Peace Corps. The new program relies on the AmeriCorps model of placing volunteers with NGOs at one quarter the cost per individual. Over the next 10 years we'll see if the Peace Corps model-one that is bureaucratic, risk averse and spending $45,000 per Volunteer per year-is more effective than a decentralized, private sector approach. Then we'll know if the Peace Corps has stood the test of time and competition. For now it's premature to say how relevant the Peace Corps model of service will be over the long term.
We urge you to oppose this proposal and protect the National Mall from narrow and special interest commemorative monuments. We urge you to consider whether the Congress and NPCA will be embarrassed by this transparent act of self-congratulation. What we need is fundamental Peace Corps reform so that this program does not continue to atrophy. We need Third Goal funding. And, as for satisfaction and pride in service, RPCVs have those in their hearts.
By way of introduction, we have both twice served as Peace Corps Volunteers (Chuck: Nepal, 68-70, and Senegal, 05-07; Paula, Kenya 68-70 and Senegal 05-07). Chuck serves on the Board of the National Peace Corps Association, served as an advisor to the Obama transition team for the Peace Corps, and founded Friends of Nepal. We were selected by Senator Chris Dodd to represent the 8000 Volunteers in his July 2007 hearing on Peace Corps reform, flying in from Senegal at our own expense. Chuck served on the staff of various House and Senate Committees between 1965 and 2005 and the staff of the Carter White House and Federal Trade Commission. He also served for seven and a half years as the principal lobbyist for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). Paula has served on the Friends of Kenya Board and has had a 35-year career as a teacher, journalist, writer, and editor.
It is because we love the Peace Corps and believe in its ideals that we have led the push to secure fundamental Peace Corps reform and now take the lead in opposing the commemorative monument.
Thank you very much for considering our point of view.
Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff