IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
March 1, 2007
Mr. Dodd (for himself and Mr. Kennedy) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations
To empower Peace Corps volunteers, and for other purposes.
This Act may be cited as
Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment
Table of contents
The table of contents for this Act is as follows:
Sec. 1. Short title.
Sec. 2. Table of contents.
TITLE I—Promotion of Peace Corps projects and goals
Sec. 101. Seed funding for volunteer projects.
Sec. 102. Charitable fundraising by Peace Corps volunteers.
Sec. 103. Programs and projects of returned Peace Corps volunteers to promote the goals of the Peace Corps.
Sec. 104. Recruitment of experienced volunteers.
Sec. 105. Digital Peace Corps.
TITLE II—Empowerment of Peace Corps volunteers
Sec. 201. Participation of Peace Corps volunteers in reviews of senior staff and programs.
Sec. 202. Volunteer Advisory Committees.
Sec. 203. Input of volunteers regarding site selection and training curriculum.
TITLE III—Personnel issues and benefits
Sec. 301. Reforms to medical screening process.
Sec. 302. Health insurance coverage for retirees who serve as Peace Corps volunteers.
Sec. 303. Report on costs associated with extending post-service health coverage.
Sec. 304. Sense of Congress on need for special rule for Peace Corps volunteers and employees in determining exclusion of gain from sale of principal residence.
Sec. 305. Treasury guidance regarding tax deductions.
Sec. 306. Protecting rights of Peace Corps volunteers.
Sec. 307. Financial guide for Peace Corps volunteers and applicants.
TITLE IV—Authorization of appropriations
Sec. 401. Authorization of appropriations.
Promotion of Peace Corps projects and goals
Seed funding for volunteer projects
Congress makes the following findings:
The Peace Corps is an agency focused on grassroots, bottom-up development.
Seed funding for local demonstration projects is crucial to the success of Peace Corps volunteers.
Demonstration projects are a very effective method for Peace Corps volunteers to educate people in host countries.
There is authorized to be appropriated up to 1 percent of the total amount appropriated for the Peace Corps for fiscal year 2008 and each fiscal year thereafter for seed funding for Peace Corps volunteers to carry out demonstration projects that have been approved in advance by the Peace Corps Country Director in the country where the volunteer is serving.
Seed fund awards
Availability of funds
The Director of the Peace Corps shall determine at the beginning of each fiscal year the amount of funding that will be available as seed money for demonstration projects for that fiscal year and inform each Country Director of the portion of that amount that will be available to distribute to volunteers under the supervision of such Country Director.
Awarding of funds
The Director of the Peace Corps shall promulgate rules pursuant to which each Country Director may award seed funds made available under this section to eligible Peace Corp volunteers.
To be eligible for a seed fund award under this subsection, a Peace Corps volunteer shall—
submit to the Country Director of the country where the volunteer is serving a plan for a demonstration project, including an explanation of how the demonstration project will lead to sustainable development; and
make a written attestation that funds awarded under this subsection are utilized for the purposes specified in the plan.
Amount of awards
A seed fund award provided to a volunteer under this subsection may not exceed $1,000.
Each Peace Corps volunteer who receives a seed fund award under this subsection shall submit to the Country Director of the country where the volunteer is serving before the close of such volunteer's service a report on the demonstration project funded by the award.
Charitable fundraising by Peace Corps volunteers
Sense of Congress on assistance in fundraising
It is the sense of Congress that Peace Corps volunteers should apply for grants and loans from nongovernmental organizations to carry out demonstration projects, including by partnering with governmental and nongovernmental agencies and working with host country nationals.
Fundraising by volunteers
Subject to subparagraph (B), Peace Corps volunteers are authorized to solicit contributions for demonstration projects from persons personally known to them, including family members, friends, and members of their home community in the United States, and from government and nongovernmental agencies, including by working through the Peace Corps Partnership Program. Any such solicitation shall state the demonstration project or projects to which contributed funds will be applied.
A Peace Corps volunteer shall seek and receive advance approval from the Country Director of the country where the volunteer is serving before exercising the authority under subparagraph (A).
Peace Corps volunteers receiving contributions pursuant to the authority under paragraph (1) shall—
maintain records and receipts to confirm the proper application of contributed funds; and
ensure that such funds are expended solely for the demonstration project or projects for which they were intended.
Programs and projects of returned Peace Corps volunteers to promote the goals of the Peace Corps
The purpose of this section is to provide support for returned Peace Corps volunteers to develop and carry out programs and projects to promote the third purpose of the Peace Corps Act, as set forth in section 2(a) of that Act (22 U.S.C. 2501(a)), relating to promoting an understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.
Grants to certain nonprofit corporations and returned Peace Corps volunteers
The Director of the Peace Corps shall award grants on a competitive basis to private nonprofit corporations and returned Peace Corps volunteers for the purpose of enabling returned Peace Corps volunteers to use their knowledge and expertise to develop programs and projects to carry out the purpose described in subsection (a).
Programs and projects
The programs and projects that may receive grant funds under this section include—
educational programs designed to enrich the knowledge and interest of elementary school and secondary school students in the geography and cultures of other countries where the volunteers have served;
projects that involve partnerships with local libraries to enhance community knowledge about other peoples and countries; and
audiovisual projects that utilize materials collected by the volunteers during their service that would be of educational value to communities.
Returned peace corps volunteers
To be eligible for a grant under this section, an individual who has served as a Peace Corps volunteer shall have successfully completed all aspects of the volunteer's required Peace Corps service.
To be eligible for a grant under this section, a nonprofit corporation shall have a board of directors composed of one or more returned Peace Corps volunteers with a background in community service, education, or health.
Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Director of the Peace Corps shall promulgate rules and guidelines as to the appropriate accounting and audit standards and other reporting requirements that must be adhered to by an individual or nonprofit corporation as a condition of eligibility to receive grants under this section.
Status of the fund
Nothing in this section shall be construed to make any individual or nonprofit corporation supported under this section an agency or establishment of the Federal Government or to make any member of the board of directors or any officer or employee of such nonprofit corporation an officer or employee of the United States.
Grant recipients under this section shall be subject to the appropriate oversight procedures of Congress.
In addition to any other funds made available to the Peace Corps under any other provision of law, there is authorized to be appropriated for the Peace Corps for fiscal year 2008 and each fiscal year thereafter $10,000,000 to carry out this section.
Amounts appropriated pursuant to paragraph (1) are authorized to remain available until expended without regard to fiscal year.
Recruitment of experienced volunteers
Congress makes the following findings:
The vast majority of Peace Corps volunteers have recently graduated from college.
The Peace Corps should include among its ranks more experienced individuals as Peace Corps volunteers to help meet specific development needs in certain countries and to serve as mentors for less experienced volunteers.
The Director of the Peace Corps shall set a goal of doubling by December 31, 2009, the number of Peace Corps volunteers with at least 5 years of relevant work experience serving in the Peace Corps and shall implement measures to achieve such goal.
The Director shall periodically report to Congress the progress made in achieving the recruitment goal established pursuant to paragraph (1).
Survey of experienced volunteers
The Director of the Peace Corps shall conduct, every 2 years, a survey of Peace Corps volunteers with substantial work experience who are serving in country to determine what additional actions would reduce or eliminate disincentives and barriers to service for Peace Corps volunteers with substantial work experience.
Plan for eliminating disincentives
The Director of the Peace Corps shall direct a study on the disincentives and barriers to service for Peace Corps volunteers with substantial work experience and shall establish and report to Congress on a plan for eliminating such disincentives and barriers. The plan shall include the development and use of substantial written language curriculum materials designed to facilitate the learning of foreign languages by Peace Corps volunteers with varying degrees of work experience and academic training.
The Director of the Peace Corps shall designate for each of fiscal years 2008, 2009, and 2010 at least 20 sector-specific programs in at least 20 different countries for which a minimum of 5 years of relevant work experience shall be required of Peace Corps volunteers. The Director shall evaluate the issues that arise with respect to those programs as they are implemented and conducted.
Digital Peace Corps
The Director of the Peace Corps shall establish a system for promoting, by electronic means, improved communication among Peace Corps volunteers and staff, including the establishment of websites and e-mail links for use on a password-only basis by Peace Corps volunteers in country to discuss development strategies, funding sources, and other issues. All close of service reports shall be available on such websites or e-mail links.
Empowerment of Peace Corps volunteers
Participation of Peace Corps volunteers in reviews of senior staff and programs
Reviews of senior staff
The Director of the Peace Corps shall establish a mechanism for soliciting the views of Peace Corps volunteers serving in country regarding the support provided by senior staff. The information shall be kept confidential and reported to the appropriate Regional Peace Corps Directors.
Consideration of reviews in connection with contract decisions
The information collected pursuant to paragraph (1) shall be given appropriate weight in the decisionmaking process with respect to the extension of contracts for Country Directors, Chief Administrative Officers, Peace Corps Medical Officers, and Associate Peace Corps Directors.
Reviews of Peace Corps programs
The Director of the Peace Corps shall establish a mechanism for soliciting the views of Peace Corps volunteers serving in country regarding the design, effectiveness, and continued need for the programs in which they serve. The information shall be kept confidential and reported to the appropriate Regional Peace Corps Directors.
Consideration of reviews in connection with program decisions
The information collected pursuant to paragraph (1) shall be given appropriate weight in the decisionmaking process with respect to the design of, and continued need for, Peace Corps programs.
Volunteer Advisory Committees
There shall be established in each country in which Peace Corps programs exist a Volunteer Advisory Committee composed of representatives elected from among the volunteers serving in such country.
Each Volunteer Advisory Committee shall meet at least quarterly to make recommendations to the Country Director, Chief Administrative Officer, Associate Peace Corps Directors, and Peace Corps Medical Officers serving in that country. The recommendations shall be forwarded to the Regional Peace Corps Director.
Responsiveness to recommendations a factor in performance reviews
The responsiveness of the senior staff described in subsection (b) to Volunteer Advisory Committee recommendations shall be given appropriate weight in the decisionmaking process with respect to performance reviews and extensions of contracts.
Input of volunteers regarding site selection and training curriculum
Associate Peace Corps Directors shall give substantial weight to the recommendations of Peace Corps volunteers regarding—
Peace Corps site selection, including the placement of additional or subsequent Peace Corps volunteers at existing sites; and
the training curriculum for Peace Corps volunteers.
Personnel issues and benefits
Reforms to medical screening process
As part of the effort to recruit more experienced Peace Corps volunteers, the director of the Peace Corps shall reform the medical screening process used by the Peace Corps. The reforms shall include the following measures:
Publication on the Internet website of the Peace Corps the Medical Screening Guidelines used by the Peace Corps, including a listing of—
medical conditions that typically disqualify individuals from serving as Peace Corps volunteers; and
medical conditions that typically lead to a medical accommodation and a listing of countries available to accept volunteers with such medical accommodations.
Establishment of a process for applicants and other interested parties to propose changes to the Medical Screening Guidelines.
Establishment of a process allowing volunteers to appeal rejections on medical grounds, including the right to base an appeal on the inadequacy of the Medical Screening Guidelines.
Publication on the Internet website of the Peace Corps of a detailed description of the medical screening process applicable to Peace Corps volunteers, including definitions of all applicable terms of art.
Improved information for Peace Corps volunteers and applicants regarding the meaning and implications of failure to disclose medical information.
Full reimbursement for medical tests required by the Peace Corps of volunteers and applicants.
Health insurance coverage for retirees who serve as Peace Corps volunteers
Congress makes the following findings:
Peace Corps volunteers, who receive health care benefits from the Peace Corps during their service, have the right, pursuant to regulations promulgated by the Office of Personnel Management (subpart C of part 890 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations), to suspend Federal health benefits coverage during their terms of service, when they receive benefits provided by the Peace Corps, and resume enrollment when their service is complete.
Peace Corps volunteers do not have the same right of reenrollment with respect to health benefits coverage provided by State and local governments, private entities, and other organizations, which serves as a substantial financial disincentive for retirees to serve as volunteers.
The Director of the Peace Corps shall seek to secure the right for Peace Corps volunteers to suspend enrollment in retiree health plans of State and local governments, private entities, and other organizations during their terms of service and to resume enrollment after completion of such service.
Report on costs associated with extending post-service health coverage
Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Director of the Peace Corps shall submit to Congress a report on the costs and policy issues associated with extending the one-month period of health coverage provided to Peace Corps volunteers upon completion of their terms of service by an additional 5 months.
Sense of Congress on need for special rule for Peace Corps volunteers and employees in determining exclusion of gain from sale of principal residence
It is the sense of Congress that the Department of the Treasury should propose and Congress should enact legislation to provide tax treatment related to gain from sales of principal residence by Peace Corps volunteers during their period of active service that is similar to the treatment given members of the uniformed services and the foreign service.
Treasury guidance regarding tax deductions
The Secretary of the Treasury shall, in consultation with the Director of the Peace Corps, publish guidance with respect to expenses which may be deducted from gross income that are pertinent to individuals enrolled as volunteers or volunteer leaders under the Peace Corps Act (22 U.S.C. 2501 et seq.).
Protecting rights of Peace Corps volunteers
Conduct subject to termination
The Director of the Peace Corps shall ensure that Peace Corps volunteers are subject to administrative separation only for specific conduct violations specified in section 204 of the Peace Corps Manual and that volunteers are made fully aware of the consequences of such violations.
The Director of the Peace Corps shall ensure that Peace Corps volunteers reporting the misconduct of Peace Corps staff or advocating for reforms are treated in accordance with the provisions of chapter 23 of title 5, United States Code, prohibiting certain personnel practices (commonly referred to as whistleblower protection provisions).
Right To publish without prior approval
Except as provided in paragraph (2), Peace Corps volunteers shall not be required to submit stories, articles, or other material they publish to Country Directors for prior approval.
Exception related to country-specific material
A Peace Corps volunteer shall be required to submit to a Country Director for review and prior approval any stories, articles, or other material that the volunteer intends to publish that relate specifically to the Peace Corps program operating in the country where the volunteer is serving or to policies or actions by officials of the government of such country.
Right to appeal
The decision of a Country Director regarding material submitted for approval under subparagraph (A) shall be appealable to the Regional Peace Corps Director.
Financial guide for Peace Corps volunteers and applicants
The Peace Corps shall publish a financial guide for Peace Corps volunteers and applicants regarding how to manage finances in the United States while serving abroad.
Authorization of appropriations
Authorization of appropriations
Section 3(b)(1) of the Peace Corps Act (22 U.S.C. 2502(b)(1)) is amended to read as follows:
There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out the purposes of this Act $336,000,000 for fiscal year 2008, $380,000,000 for fiscal year 2009, $450,000,000 for fiscal year 2010, and $618,000,000 for fiscal year 2011.