Peace Corps: Initiatives for Addressing Safety and Security Challenges Hold Promise, but Progress Should Be Assessed

GAO-02-818 Published: Jul 25, 2002. Publicly Released: Jul 25, 2002.
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About 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers now serve in 70 countries, often living in areas with limited access to reliable communications, police, or medical services. Moreover, as Americans, they may be viewed as relatively wealthy and hence good targets for criminal activity. The Peace Corps has reported rising numbers of assaults against its volunteers since it began collecting data in 1990. However, the Peace Corps' record is mixed when it comes to developing safe and secure housing and worksites for volunteers, monitoring volunteers and responding to security concerns or criminal incidents, and preparing for emergencies. To reduce risks to its volunteers, the Peace Corps has adopted policies that address monitoring and disseminating information on the security environment; volunteer training; development of safe and secure housing and work sites for volunteers; monitoring volunteers and responding to incidents and concerns; and planning for emergencies, such as evacuations. Volunteer surveys and GAO visits to five overseas ports indicate that volunteers are generally satisfied with agency training programs and other efforts designed to emphasize safety and security awareness. The agency is not certain, but officials have stated that efforts to improve its system for collecting crime data may have led to higher reported rates. In May 2002, the Peace Corps told GAO of several initiatives to improve current safety and security practices. Although these initiatives are directed at many of the obstacles to improved performance, they do not address staff turnover.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Peace Corps To help ensure that the Peace Corps' initiatives have their intended effect, the Director should develop indicators to assess the effectiveness of the initiatives and include results of these initiatives in the agency's annual reports under the Government Performance and Results Act. The director should also develop a strategy to address staff turnover as it implements its initiatives. Among other things, this strategy could include proposals to Congress to change the law concerning the 5-year limit on employment of U.S. direct hire staff.
Closed – Implemented
In a July 2002 report, GAO found that Peace Corps efforts to implement safety and security measures had produced uneven results. It also identified high staff turnover as a contributing factor. GAO noted that high turnover could be attributed partly to a provision in the Peace Corps Act that limits U.S. direct hire staff to a term of five years service with the agency. Citing GAO's report, Congress included in Peace Corps appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2003 a provision allowing U.S. direct hires whose assignment involves the safety of Peace Corps volunteers, such as regional safety and security officers and employees within the Office of the Inspector General, to serve for more than 5 years.

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