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Testimony:

Before the Committee on International Relations, House of 
Representatives:

United States General Accounting Office:

GAO:

For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:30 a.m. EST:

Wednesday, March 24, 2004:

Peace Corps:

Status of Initiatives to Improve Volunteer Safety and Security:

Statement of Jess T. Ford: 
Director, International Affairs and Trade:

GAO-04-600T:

GAO Highlights:

Highlights of GAO-04-600T, testimony before the Committee on 
International Relations, House of Representatives 

Why GAO Did This Study:

About 7,500 Peace Corps volunteers currently serve in 70 countries. The 
administration intends to increase this number to about 14,000. 
Volunteers often live in areas with limited access to reliable 
communications, police, or medical services. As Americans, they may be 
viewed as relatively wealthy and, hence, good targets for crime. In 
this testimony, GAO summarizes findings from its 2002 report Peace 
Corps: Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security Challenges Hold 
Promise, but Progress Should be Assessed, GAO-02-818, on (1) trends in 
crime against volunteers and Peace Corps’ system for generating 
information, (2) the agency’s field implementation of its safety and 
security framework, and (3) the underlying factors contributing to the 
quality of these practices.

What GAO Found:

The full extent of crime against Peace Corps volunteers is unclear due 
to significant under-reporting. However, Peace Corps’ reported rates 
for most types of assaults have increased since the agency began 
collecting data in 1990. The agency’s data analysis has produced useful 
insights, but additional analyses could help improve anti-crime 
strategies. Peace Corps has hired an analyst to enhance data collection 
and analysis to help the agency develop better-informed intervention 
and prevention strategies.

In 2002, we reported that Peace Corps had developed safety and security 
policies but that efforts to implement these policies in the field had 
produced varying results. Some posts complied, but others fell short. 
Volunteers were generally satisfied with training. However, some 
housing did not meet standards and, while all posts had prepared and 
tested emergency action plans, many plans had shortcomings. Evidence 
suggests that agency initiatives have not yet eliminated this 
unevenness. The inspector general continues to find shortcomings at 
some posts. However, recent emergency action plan tests show an 
improved ability to contact volunteers in a timely manner (see 
figure).

In 2002, we found that uneven supervision and oversight, staff 
turnover, and unclear guidance hindered efforts to ensure quality 
practices. The agency has taken action to address these problems. To 
strengthen supervision and oversight, it established an office of 
safety and security, supported by three senior staff at headquarters, 
nine field-based safety and security officers, and a compliance 
officer. In response to our recommendations, Peace Corps was granted 
authority to exempt 23 safety and security positions from the “5-year 
rule”—a statutory restriction on tenure. It also adopted a framework 
for monitoring post compliance and quantifiable performance indicators. 
However, the agency is still clarifying guidance, revising indicators, 
and establishing a performance baseline.

What GAO Recommends:

In 2002, to ensure that Peace Corps initiatives to improve safety and 
security performance would have their intended effect, GAO recommended 
that the agency (1) develop indictors to assess the effectiveness of 
these initiatives and (2) develop a strategy to address staff 
turnover.

www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-600T.

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Jess T. Ford at (202) 
512-4268 or fordj@gao.gov.

[End of section]

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I am pleased to be here to discuss Peace Corps' efforts to ensure the 
safety and security of its volunteers. My testimony is based on our 
July 2002 report[Footnote 1] and information we were able to obtain 
from the Peace Corps to update our analysis.

About 7,500 Peace Corps volunteers currently serve in 70 "posts" 
(country missions) around the world. The administration intends to 
increase this number to about 14,000 over the next few years, and 
Congress has increased appropriations for the Peace Corps to support 
this expansion. Volunteers often live in areas with limited access to 
reliable communications, police, or medical services. As Americans, 
they may be viewed as relatively wealthy and, hence, good targets for 
criminal activity. In many countries, female volunteers face special 
challenges; more than a third of female volunteers report experiencing 
sexual harassment on at least a monthly basis.[Footnote 2]

My testimony today will summarize and update, where possible, key 
findings from our 2002 report related to (1) trends in crime against 
volunteers and the agency's system for generating such information, (2) 
the agency's field implementation of its safety and security framework, 
and (3) the underlying factors that contributed to Peace Corps' 
performance in the field. I will also discuss actions that Peace Corps 
has taken to improve the safety and security of its volunteers since we 
issued our report.

We conducted fieldwork at Peace Corps' headquarters and visited five 
countries with Peace Corps programs to prepare our report. To develop 
our analysis, we:

* analyzed Peace Corps' crime data;

* reviewed agencywide safety and security policies, guidelines, 
training materials, volunteer satisfaction surveys, and Inspector 
General reports;

* interviewed key staff and more than 150 volunteers; and:

* examined practices for selecting volunteer sites, developing 
emergency action plans, and performing other tasks.

We conducted our work from July 2001 through May 2002 and from February 
2004 through March 2004, in accordance with generally accepted 
government auditing standards.

In summary, we found the following:

Peace Corps' reported incidence rates of crimes committed against 
volunteers have remained essentially unchanged since we last 
reported.[Footnote 3] Reported rates for most types of assaults have 
increased since Peace Corps began collecting data in 1990, but reported 
rates have stabilized in recent years. For example, the reported 
incidence rate for major physical assaults nearly doubled from an 
average of about 9 per 1,000 volunteer years in 1991-1993 to an average 
of about 17 per 1,000 volunteer years[Footnote 4] in 1998-2000. Data 
for 2001 and 2002 show that this rate has not changed. The full extent 
of crime against Peace Corps volunteers is unknown because there is 
significant underreporting of crime by volunteers. We reported that 
Peace Corps had initiated efforts to encourage reporting and collect 
additional data but that there were also other unrealized opportunities 
for additional examination of data. For example, our analysis showed 
that newer volunteers may be more likely to become victims of crime 
than their more experienced colleagues. In response to our findings, in 
April 2003, Peace Corps hired an analyst to enhance its capacity for 
gathering and analyzing crime data. The analyst has focused on 
upgrading the crime data system and shifting the responsibility for 
data collection and analysis from the medical office to the newly 
created safety and security office, to place the responsibility for 
crime data in an office dedicated to safety and security. According to 
the analyst, additional crime analyses have not yet been conducted, as 
the focus has been on upgrading the process for collecting and 
reporting data.

We reported that Peace Corps' headquarters had developed a safety and 
security framework but that the field's implementation of the framework 
had produced varying results. While volunteers were generally satisfied 
with the agency's training programs, there was mixed performance in key 
elements of the framework such as in developing safe and secure housing 
sites, monitoring volunteers, and planning for emergencies. For 
example, at each of the five posts we visited, we found instances of 
volunteers who began their service in housing that had not been 
inspected and had not met Peace Corps' guidelines. We also found that 
the frequency of staff contact with volunteers and the quality and 
comprehensiveness of emergency action plans varied. Recent tests of the 
emergency action plans indicate that the agency has made improvements 
in the length of time needed to contact volunteers. To improve safety 
and security practices in the field, in 2002, the agency increased the 
number of field-based safety and security officers charged with 
reviewing post practices and assisting them in making improvements, and 
created a safety and security position at each post. Peace Corps hired 
a compliance officer charged with independently assessing each post's 
compliance with the framework. However, recent Inspector General 
reports indicate that safety and security shortcomings in the field are 
still occurring.

We reported that a number of factors, including staff turnover, 
informal supervision and oversight mechanisms, and unclear guidance 
hampered Peace Corps' efforts to ensure high-quality performance for 
the agency as a whole. For example, Peace Corps reported that high 
staff turnover, caused in part by the agency's statutorily imposed 5-
year limit on employment for U.S. direct hire staff, had resulted in a 
lack of institutional memory, producing a situation in which agency 
staff are continually "reinventing the wheel." We made a recommendation 
that Peace Corps develop a strategy to address staff turnover, 
including an assessment of the "5-year rule"--a statutory restriction 
on the tenure of U.S. direct hire employees.[Footnote 5] In response to 
our recommendation on staff turnover and the difficulties it created, 
Peace Corps was granted authority to exempt safety and security staff 
from the 5-year rule. The agency has exempted 23 staff positions from 
the 5-year rule and plans to conduct a study to determine whether there 
are additional positions that should be exempted. To strengthen 
supervision and oversight, Peace Corps created an office of safety and 
security that centralizes safety and security functions under an 
associate directorship. The office is supported by a staff member in 
each of the three regional bureaus, a compliance officer, an analyst, 
and nine field-based security officers. We also recommended that Peace 
Corps develop performance indicators and report on its safety and 
security initiatives. The agency is still clarifying its guidance on 
how to apply its revised framework, revising its indicators of 
progress, and establishing a base line for judging performance in all 
areas of safety and security.

In conclusion, since we issued our report in July 2002, it is clear 
that the agency has taken a number of steps designed to improve the 
safety and security of its volunteers. However, Peace Corps is still in 
the process of implementing many of these actions and their full effect 
has yet to be demonstrated.

Background:

Created in 1961, Peace Corps is mandated by statute to help meet 
developing countries' needs for trained manpower while promoting mutual 
understanding between Americans and other peoples. Volunteers commit to 
2-year assignments in host communities, where they work on projects 
such as teaching English, strengthening farmer cooperatives, or 
building sanitation systems. By developing relationships with members 
of the communities in which they live and work, volunteers contribute 
to greater intercultural understanding between Americans and host 
country nationals. Volunteers are expected to maintain a standard of 
living similar to that of their host community colleagues and co-
workers. They are provided with stipends that are based on local living 
costs and housing similar to their hosts. Volunteers are not supplied 
with vehicles. Although the Peace Corps accepts older volunteers and 
has made a conscious effort to recruit minorities, the current 
volunteer population has a median age of 25 years and is 85 percent 
white. More than 60 percent of the volunteers are women.

Volunteer health, safety, and security is Peace Corps' highest 
priority, according to the agency. To address this commitment, the 
agency has adopted policies for monitoring and disseminating 
information on the security environments in which the agency operates, 
training volunteers, developing safe and secure volunteer housing and 
work sites, monitoring volunteers, and planning for emergencies such as 
evacuations. Headquarters is responsible for providing guidance, 
supervision, and oversight to ensure that agency policies are 
implemented effectively. Peace Corps relies heavily on country 
directors--the heads of agency posts in foreign capitals--to develop 
and implement practices that are appropriate for specific countries. 
Country directors, in turn, rely on program managers to develop and 
oversee volunteer programs. Volunteers are expected to follow agency 
policies and exercise some responsibility for their own safety and 
security. Peace Corps emphasizes community acceptance as the key to 
maintaining volunteer safety and security. The agency has found that 
volunteer safety is best ensured when volunteers are well integrated 
into their host communities and treated as extended family and 
contributors to development.

Reported Crime Incidents Have Increased, but Full Extent of Crime 
against Volunteers Remains Unknown:

Reported incidence rates of crime against volunteers have remained 
essentially unchanged since we completed our report in 2002.[Footnote 
6] Reported incidence rates for most types of assaults have increased 
since Peace Corps began collecting data in 1990, but have stabilized in 
recent years. The reported incidence rate for major physical assaults 
has nearly doubled, averaging about 9 assaults per 1,000 volunteer 
years in 1991-1993 and averaging about 17 assaults in 1998-2000. 
Reported incidence rates for major assaults remained unchanged over the 
next 2 years. Reported incidence rates of major sexual assaults have 
decreased slightly, averaging about 10 per 1,000 female volunteer years 
in 1991-1993 and about 8 per 1,000 female volunteer years in 1998-2000. 
Reported incidence rates for major sexual assaults averaged about 9 per 
1,000 female volunteer years in 2001 -2002.

Peace Corps' system for gathering and analyzing data on crime against 
volunteers has produced useful insights, but we reported in 2002 that 
steps could be taken to enhance the system. Peace Corps officials 
agreed that reported increases are difficult to interpret; the data 
could reflect actual increases in assaults, better efforts to ensure 
that agency staff report all assaults, and/or an increased willingness 
among volunteers to report incidents. The full extent of crime against 
volunteers, however, is unknown because of significant underreporting. 
Through its volunteer satisfaction surveys, Peace Corps is aware that a 
significant number of volunteers do not report incidents, thus reducing 
the agency's ability to state crime rates with certainty. For example, 
according to the agency's 1998 survey, volunteers did not report 60 
percent of rapes and 20 percent of nonrape sexual assaults. Reasons 
cited for not reporting include embarrassment, fear of repercussions, 
confidentiality concerns, and a belief that Peace Corps could not help.

In 2002, we observed that opportunities for additional analyses existed 
that could help Peace Corps develop better-informed intervention and 
prevention strategies. For example, our analysis showed that about a 
third of reported assaults after 1993 occurred from the fourth to the 
eighth month of service--shortly after volunteers completed training, 
arrived at sites, and began their jobs. We observed that this finding 
could be explored further and used to develop additional training.

Efforts to Improve Data Collection and Analysis Are in Process:

Since we issued our report, Peace Corps has taken steps to strengthen 
its efforts for gathering and analyzing crime data. The agency has 
hired an analyst responsible for maintaining the agency's crime data 
collection system, analyzing the information collected, and publishing 
the results for the purpose of influencing volunteer safety and 
security policies. Since joining the agency a year ago, the analyst has 
focused on redesigning the agency's incident reporting form to provide 
better information on victims, assailants, and incidents and preparing 
a new data management system that will ease access to and analysis of 
crime information. However, these new systems have not yet been put 
into operation. The analyst stated that the reporting protocol and data 
management system are to be introduced this summer, and responsibility 
for crime data collection and analysis will be transferred from the 
medical office to the safety and security office. According to the 
analyst, she has not yet performed any new data analyses because her 
focus to date has been on upgrading the system.

Safety and Security Framework Unevenly Implemented in the Field:

We reported that Peace Corps' headquarters had developed a safety and 
security framework but that the field's implementation of this 
framework was uneven. The agency has taken steps to improve the field's 
compliance with the framework, but recent Inspector General reports 
indicate that this has not been uniformly achieved. We previously 
reported that volunteers were generally satisfied with the agency's 
training programs. However, some volunteers had housing that did not 
meet the agency's standards, there was great variation in the frequency 
of staff contact with volunteers, and posts had emergency action plans 
with shortcomings. To increase the field's compliance with the 
framework, in 2002, the agency hired a compliance officer at 
headquarters, increased the number of field-based safety and security 
officer positions, and created a safety and security position at each 
post. However, recent Inspector General reports continued to find 
significant shortcomings at some posts, including difficulties in 
developing safe and secure sites and preparing adequate emergency 
action plans.

Volunteers Are Generally Satisfied with Training:

In 2002, we found that volunteers were generally satisfied with the 
safety training that the agency provided, but we found a number of 
instances of uneven performance in developing safe and secure housing. 
Posts have considerable latitude in the design of their safety training 
programs, but all provide volunteers with 3 months of preservice 
training that includes information on safety and security. Posts also 
provide periodic in-service training sessions that cover technical 
issues. Many of the volunteers we interviewed said that the safety 
training they received before they began service was useful and cited 
testimonials by current volunteers as one of the more valuable 
instructional methods. In both the 1998 and 1999 volunteer satisfaction 
surveys, over 90 percent of volunteers rated safety and security 
training as adequate or better; only about 5 percent said that the 
training was not effective. Some regional safety and security officer 
reports have found that improvements were needed in post training 
practices. The Inspector General has reported that volunteers at some 
posts said cross-cultural training and presentations by the U.S. 
embassy's security officer did not prepare them adequately for safety-
related challenges they faced during service. Some volunteers stated 
that Peace Corps did not fully prepare them for the racial and sexual 
harassment they experienced during their service. Some female 
volunteers at posts we visited stated that they would like to receive 
self-protection training.

Mixed Performance in Housing, Monitoring Volunteers, and Emergency 
Action Plans:

Peace Corps' policies call for posts to ensure that housing is 
inspected and meets post safety and security criteria before the 
volunteers arrive to take up residence. Nonetheless, at each of the 
five posts we visited, we found instances of volunteers who began their 
service in housing that had not been inspected and had various 
shortcomings. For example, one volunteer spent her first 3 weeks at her 
site living in her counterpart's office. She later found her own house; 
however, post staff had not inspected this house, even though she had 
lived in it for several months. Poorly defined work assignments and 
unsupportive counterparts may also increase volunteers' risk by 
limiting their ability to build a support network in their host 
communities. At the posts we visited, we met volunteers whose 
counterparts had no plans for the volunteers when they arrived at their 
sites, and only after several months and much frustration did the 
volunteers find productive activities.

We found variations in the frequency of staff contact with volunteers, 
although many of the volunteers at the posts we visited said they were 
satisfied with the frequency of staff visits to their sites, and a 1998 
volunteer satisfaction survey reported that about two-thirds of 
volunteers said the frequency of visits was adequate or better. 
However, volunteers had mixed views about Peace Corps' responsiveness 
to safety and security concerns and criminal incidents. The few 
volunteers we spoke with who said they were victims of assault 
expressed satisfaction with staff response when they reported the 
incidents. However, at four of the five posts we visited, some 
volunteers described instances in which staff were unsupportive when 
the volunteers reported safety concerns. For example, one volunteer 
said she informed Peace Corps several times that she needed a new 
housing arrangement because her doorman repeatedly locked her in or out 
of her dormitory. The volunteer said staff were unresponsive, and she 
had to find new housing without the Peace Corps' assistance.

In 2002, we reported that, while all posts had tested their emergency 
action plan, many of the plans had shortcomings, and tests of the plans 
varied in quality and comprehensiveness. Posts must be well prepared in 
case an evacuation becomes necessary. In fact, evacuating volunteers 
from posts is not an uncommon event. In the last two years Peace Corps 
has conducted six country evacuations involving nearly 600 volunteers. 
We also reported that many posts did not include all expected elements 
of a plan, such as maps demarcating volunteer assembly points and 
alternate transportation plans. In fact, none of the plans contained 
all of the dimensions listed in the agency's Emergency Action Plan 
checklist, and many lacked key information. In addition, we found that 
in 2002 Peace Corps had not defined the criteria for a successful test 
of a post plan.

Actions Taken to Improve Field Compliance, but Implementation Still 
Uneven:

Peace Corps has initiated a number of efforts to improve the field's 
implementation of its safety and security framework, but Inspector 
General reports continued to find significant shortcomings at some 
posts. However, there has been improvement in post communications with 
volunteers during emergency action plan tests. We reviewed 10 Inspector 
General reports conducted during 2002 and 2003. Some of these reports 
were generally positive--one congratulated a post for operating an 
"excellent" program and maintaining high volunteer morale. However, a 
variety of weaknesses were also identified. For example, the Inspector 
General found multiple safety and security weaknesses at one post, 
including incoherent project plans and a failure to regularly monitor 
volunteer housing. The Inspector General also reported that several 
posts employed inadequate site development procedures; some volunteers 
did not have meaningful work assignments, and their counterparts were 
not prepared for their arrival at site. In response to a recommendation 
from a prior Inspector General report, one post had prepared a plan to 
provide staff with rape response training and identify a local lawyer 
to advise the post of legal procedures in case a volunteer was raped. 
However, the post had not implemented these plans and was unprepared 
when a rape actually occurred.

Our review of recent Inspector General reports identified emergency 
action planning weaknesses at some posts. For example, the Inspector 
General found that at one post over half of first year volunteers did 
not know the location of their emergency assembly points. However, we 
analyzed the results of the most recent tests of post emergency action 
plans and found improvement since our last report. About 40 percent of 
posts reported contacting almost all volunteers within 24 hours, 
compared with 33 percent in 2001. Also, our analysis showed improvement 
in the quality of information forwarded to headquarters. Less than 10 
percent of the emergency action plans did not contain information on 
the time it took to contact volunteers, compared with 40 percent in 
2001.

Underlying Factors Contributed to Uneven Field Implementation, but 
Agency Has Taken Steps to Improve Performance:

In our 2002 report, we identified a number of factors that hampered 
Peace Corps efforts to ensure that this framework produced high-quality 
performance for the agency as a whole. These included high staff 
turnover, uneven application of supervision and oversight mechanisms, 
and unclear guidance. We also noted that Peace Corps had identified a 
number of initiatives that could, if effectively implemented, help to 
address these factors. The agency has made some progress but has not 
completed implementation of these initiatives.

High staff turnover hindered high quality performance for the agency. 
According to a June 2001 Peace Corps workforce analysis, turnover among 
U.S. direct hires was extremely high, ranging from 25 percent to 37 
percent in recent years. This report found that the average tenure of 
these employees was 2 years, that the agency spent an inordinate amount 
of time selecting and orienting new employees, and that frequent 
turnover produced a situation in which agency staff are continually 
"reinventing the wheel." Much of the problem was attributed to the 5-
year employment rule, which statutorily restricts the tenure of U.S. 
direct hires, including regional directors, country desk officers, 
country directors and assistant country directors, and Inspector 
General and safety and security staff. Several Peace Corps officials 
stated that turnover affected the agency's ability to maintain 
continuity in oversight of post operations.

In 2002, we also found that informal supervisory mechanisms and a 
limited number of staff hampered Peace Corps efforts to ensure even 
application of supervision and oversight. The agency had some formal 
mechanisms for documenting and assessing post practices, including the 
annual evaluation and testing of post emergency action plans and 
regional safety and security officer reports on post practices. 
Nonetheless, regional directors and country directors relied primarily 
on informal supervisory mechanisms, such as staff meetings, 
conversations with volunteers, and e-mail to ensure that staff were 
doing an adequate job of implementing the safety and security 
framework. One country director observed that it was difficult to 
oversee program managers' site development or monitoring activities 
because the post did not have a formal system for performing these 
tasks. We also reported that Peace Corps' capacity to monitor and 
provide feedback to posts on their safety and security performance was 
limited by the small number of staff available to perform relevant 
tasks. We noted that the agency had hired three field-based security 
and safety specialists to examine and help improve post practices, and 
that the Inspector General also played an important role in helping 
posts implement the agency's safety and security framework. However, we 
reported that between October 2000 and May 2002 the safety and security 
specialists had been able to provide input to only about one-third of 
Peace Corps' posts while the Inspector General had issued findings on 
safety and security practices at only 12 posts over 2 years. In 
addition, we noted that Peace Corps had no system for tracking post 
compliance with Inspector General recommendations.

We reported that the agency's guidance was not always clear. The 
agency's safety and security framework outlines requirements that posts 
are expected to comply with but did not often specify required 
activities, documentation, or criteria for judging actual practices--
making it difficult for staff to understand what was expected of them. 
Many posts had not developed clear reporting and response procedures 
for incidents such as responding to sexual harassment. The agency's 
coordinator for volunteer safety and security stated that unclear 
procedures made it difficult for senior staff, including regional 
directors, to establish a basis for judging the quality of post 
practices. The coordinator also observed that, at some posts, field-
based safety and security officers had found that staff members did not 
understand what had to be done to ensure compliance with agency 
policies.

Peace Corps Taking Steps to Address These Factors:

The agency has taken steps to reduce staff turnover, improve 
supervision and oversight mechanisms, and clarify its guidance. In 
February 2003, Congress passed a law to allow U.S. direct hires whose 
assignments involve the safety of Peace Corps volunteers to serve for 
more than 5 years. The Peace Corps Director has employed his authority 
under this law to designate 23 positions as exempt from the 5-year 
rule. These positions include nine field-based safety and security 
officers, the three regional safety and security desk officers working 
at agency headquarters, as well as the crime data analyst and other 
staff in the headquarters office of safety and security. They do not 
include the associate director for safety and security, the compliance 
officer, or staff from the office of the Inspector General. Peace Corps 
officials stated that they are about to hire a consultant who will 
conduct a study to provide recommendations about adding additional 
positions to the current list.

To strengthen supervision and oversight, Peace Corps has increased the 
number of staff tasked with safety and security responsibilities and 
created the office of safety and security that centralizes all 
security-related activities under the direction of a newly created 
associate directorate for safety and security. The agency's new crime 
data analyst is a part of this directorate. In addition, Peace Corps 
has:

* appointed six additional field-based safety and security officers, 
bringing the number of such individuals on duty to nine (with three 
more positions to be added by the end of 2004);

* authorized each post to appoint a safety and security coordinator to 
provide a point of contact for the field-based safety and security 
officers and to assist country directors in ensuring their post's 
compliance with agency policies, including policies pertaining to 
monitoring volunteers and responding to their safety and security 
concerns (all but one post have filled this position);

* appointed safety and security desk officers in each of Peace Corps' 
three regional directorates in Washington, D.C., to monitor post 
compliance in conjunction with each region's country desk officers; 
and:

* appointed a compliance officer, reporting to the Peace Corps 
Director, to independently examine post practices and to follow up on 
Inspector General recommendations on safety and security.

In response to our recommendation that Peace Corps' Director develop 
indicators to assess the effectiveness of the new initiatives and 
include these in the agency's annual Government Performance and Results 
Act reports, Peace Corps has expanded its reports to include 10 
quantifiable indicators of safety and security performance.

To clarify agency guidance, Peace Corps has:

* created a "compliance tool" or checklist that provides a fairly 
detailed and explicit framework for headquarters staff to employ in 
monitoring post efforts to put Peace Corps' safety and security 
guidance into practice in their countries,

* strengthened guidance on volunteer site selection and development,

* developed standard operating procedures for post emergency action 
plans, and:

* concluded a protocol clarifying that the Inspector General's staff 
has responsibility for coordinating the agency's response to crimes 
against volunteers.

These efforts have enhanced Peace Corps' ability to improve safety and 
security practices in the field. The threefold expansion in the field-
based safety and security officer staff has increased the agency's 
capacity to support posts in developing and applying effective safety 
and security policies. Regional safety and security officers at 
headquarters and the agency's compliance officer monitor the quality of 
post practices. All posts were required to certify that they were in 
compliance with agency expectations by the end of June 2003. Since that 
time, a quarterly reporting system has gone into effect wherein posts 
communicate with regional headquarters regarding the status of their 
safety and security systems and practices.

The country desks and the regional safety and security officers, along 
with the compliance officer, have been reviewing the emergency action 
plans of the posts and providing them with feedback and suggestions for 
improvement. The compliance officer has created and is applying a 
matrix to track post performance in addressing issues deriving from a 
variety of sources, including application of the agency's safety and 
security compliance tool and Inspector General reports. The compliance 
officer and staff from one regional office described their efforts, 
along with field-based safety and security staff and program experts 
from headquarters, to ensure an adequate response from one post where 
the Inspector General had found multiple safety and security 
weaknesses.

However, efforts to put the new system in place are incomplete. As 
already noted, the agency has developed, but not yet introduced, an 
improved system for collecting and analyzing crime data. The new 
associate director of safety and security observes that the agency's 
field-based safety and security officers come from diverse backgrounds 
and that some have been in their positions for only a few months. All 
have received training via the State Department's bureau of diplomatic 
security. However, they are still employing different approaches to 
their work. Peace Corps is preparing guidance for these officers that 
would provide them with a uniform approach to conducting their work and 
reporting the results of their analyses, but the guidance is still in 
draft form. The Compliance Officer has completed detailed guidance for 
crafting emergency action plans, but this guidance was distributed to 
the field only at the beginning of this month. Moreover, following up 
on our 2002 recommendation, the agency's Deputy Director is heading up 
an initiative to revise and strengthen the indicators that the agency 
uses to judge the quality of all aspects of its operations, including 
ensuring volunteer safety and security, under the Government 
Performance and Results Act.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be happy to 
respond to any questions you or other Members of the Committee may have 
at this time.

Contact and Staff Acknowledgments:

For further information regarding this statement, please contact 
Phyllis Anderson, Assistant Director, International Affairs and Trade, 
at (202) 512-7364 or andersonp@gao.gov. Individuals making key 
contributions to this statement were Michael McAtee, Suzanne Dove, 
Christina Werth, Richard Riskie, Bruce Kutnick, Lynn Cothern, and 
Martin de Alteriis.

FOOTNOTES

[1] U.S. General Accounting Office, GAO-02-818, Peace Corps: 
Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security Challenges Hold Promise, 
but Progress Should be Assessed (Washington, D.C.: July 25, 2002). We 
reported separately on events surrounding one specific security 
incident--the disappearance of a volunteer in Bolivia in early 2001. 
See The Peace Corps Failed to Properly Supervise Missing Volunteer and 
Lost Track of Him, GAO-O1-970R (Washington, D.C.: July 20, 2001).

[2] Most recent available data, from Peace Corps Volunteer Survey 
Global Report 2002, Peace Corps (August 2003).

[3] The Peace Corps crime data system records and tracks data by 
criminal "event" rather than by volunteer; those charged with filing 
reports are instructed to count events involving more than one 
volunteer only once. 

[4] One volunteer year is equivalent to 1 full year of service by a 
volunteer or trainee.

[5] See U.S.C. 2506(a)(5), (6) and Public Law 108-7, the Consolidated 
Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2003, as well as Public Law 108-199, 
the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2004.

[6] Crime data are available through 2002. Based on our the assessment 
of crime data that we performed in preparing our 2002 report and 
subsequent discussions with agency officials, we concluded that the 
data we obtained to update the rates and trends in crime against 
volunteers were sufficiently reliable for purposes of this statement.