Puzey Act volunteer surveys
Puzey Act Volunteer Surveys: Empowering Volunteers and Applicants to Secure Peace Corps Reform
- November 2011
By Chuck Ludlam
The recently-enacted Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act has become law includes a mandate that the Peace Corps conduct annually a “confidential survey of volunteers regarding the effectiveness of Peace Corps programs and staff and the safety of volunteers.” (See Section 8E) It goes on to say, “Results from the annual volunteer survey shall be considered in reviewing the performance of Peace Corps representatives” under “goals, metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans” set by the Peace Corps.
This provision originated in the 2007 Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act (S. 732), introduced by Senator Chris Dodd on March 1, 2007. It was the principal focus of testimony that my wife Paula Hirschoff and I gave to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at its hearing on the bill on July 25, 2007. This proposal was analyzed in depth in our July 24, 2009 “Plan to Strengthen and Expand the Peace Corps: Priorities for President Obama's First Term.”
- Ludlam/Hirschoff testimony (2007)
- Text of S. 732:
- Ludlam/Hirschoff explanation of the Volunteer survey process from their 2009 reform report:
Taken together these documents explain the intent and content of this new mandate.
The specific context for the Puzey Act, of course, is the murder of Kate Puzey allegedly by a contractor working for the Peace Corps because she blew the whistle on him. The survey mandate is intended to give Volunteers a confidential opportunity to evaluate Peace Corps staff performance. The surveys mandated by the legislation will focus on specific Peace Corps staff (and programs). This is the means by which the Congress intends that the Peace Corps hold its staff accountable for their performance. Peace Corps has deployed an annual confidential survey to the Volunteers since 2008.
The Peace Corps has been conducting surveys of the Volunteers for many years. We obtained a copy of the 2008 survey from the Peace Corps, including the country-by-country breakouts of the survey. These were posted in a spread sheet on Wiki that enables applicants and others to rank the countries question-by-question.
Advice to Applicants
As we said in our “Advice to Applicants” applicants need to know whether they have been posted to a country that is well or poorly ranked.
As we said, Applicants should request the results of the most recent agency survey of the Volunteers for the country in which they are invited to serve. They should request the complete country-by-country results of the survey so that they may rank the countries. To be sure, the Peace Corps has thus far refused to release the results of these surveys in response to Freedom of Information requests. We obtained a copy of the 2008 Volunteer survey and the country-by-country results and published them in Peace Corps Wiki. PCW has publishes spread sheets that enable applicants to rank the countries with regard to various key questions. One of the most important questions in the survey is the one that focuses on the quality of the Country Director, the individual who sets the tone and standards for Peace Corps operations in each country. If the ratings for the Country Director are low, it is likely that the country program has problems. Applicants should also request to see the survey responses, including the responses to open-ended questions, for the Volunteers who serve in the specific program in which the applicant is invited to serve (i.e. health, education, agriculture). If the Peace Corps refuses to release the most recent survey results and the country-by-country and program-by-program results, or if the country or program are ranked in the bottom half or bottom quarter of the countries where Volunteers serve, the applicant should consider carefully whether or not to accept the invitation to serve.
Note: In addition to requesting the survey results – including a spread sheet enabling applicants to rank the countries against one another – we have recommended that applicants demand to see the Early Termination (early quit) rates for all of the countries. We have posted the most recent early-quit rates country-by-country on Wiki. *http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/ETrates
We emphasized these same points about the need for confidential surveys in our May 2011 testimony submitted to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. *Ludlam_statement_House_Congressional_hearing_May_11_2011
FOIA and lawsuit
While the Peace Corps acknowledged that the 2008 survey country-by-country results was producible under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), when we requested under FOIA for production of the 2009 and 2010 survey country-by-country breakouts, the Peace Corps reversed its position and balked. Apparently it had found that our posting of the 2008 survey country-by-country results had created problems in its placing applicants in the worst-ranked countries. If this is true, we view it as an entirely positive result. If the Peace Corps cannot stuff applicants into the worst-ranked programs, it will have an incentive (finally) to clean up these programs! The Peace Corps obviously will go to great lengths to make sure applicants do not have the information they need to make choices, as applicants and consumers possess in virtually every other context (book and car ratings, college rankings, work place rankings, etc.)
As a result of the Peace Corps intransigence, we filed a lawsuit against the Peace Corps to compel it to divulge the country-by-country survey break outs. We will be reporting soon on the results of that lawsuit. And the results of this lawsuit will determine whether the new surveys, mandated by the legislation, will also be made public. Stay tuned.