Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Volunteer Empowerment Act

On March 1st of this year, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT, along with cosponsor Edward Kennedy, D-MA) introduced S.732, The Volunteer Empowerment Act. It is currently under review by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

I read about the bill in a recent issue of WorldView magazine (a Peace Corps magazine). Unfortunately there wasn't much information on what the bill actually said. So, I went online and looked it up. And for the first time in my life, I read a piece of legislation from start to finish.

S.732 (summary, full text) is a bill the Peace Corps needs. Most importantly (to me) the bill would:

  • Increase Volunteer input. For example, Volunteer input would be included in performance reviews of high-level staff (e.g. APCDs and Country Directors) and Volunteers input would also be sought in evaluating the effectiveness of programs and initiatives.
  • Protect Volunteer rights. It would mandate whistleblower protection from administrative separation, and create an appeals process for administrative and medical separations.
  • Target experienced Volunteers. The bill mandates an increased focus on recruitment of Volunteers with at least 5 years of professional experience.
  • Provide additional funds for 'Third Goal' projects. The 'Third Goal' of Peace Corps - increasing domestic understanding of foreign cultures - will for the first time receive financial support in the form of small grants available to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) and nonprofit organizations with RPCV board members.
  • Increase overall funding of the Peace Corps in order to achieve President Bush's pledge to double the number of volunteers. This, to me, is the most important and by itself makes me support the bill.
Right now the bill is in committee. Most bills don't ever make it out of committee. It would be a shame if that happened to this bill. Here is a list of the members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Please, if your senator is on this committee, take a few minutes to write them urging that they act to move this bill forward.