Testimony of Jack Hook Vaughn
former Director, The Peace Corps
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia (Retired)
before the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate
November 14, 2001
The confirmation hearings of the nominee for Director of the Peace Corps
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen of this distinguished Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today representing the Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps. We are grateful to the Committees positive response to our unprecedented request to have our voices heard the voices of the Peace Corps Family. The Committee is made up of thousands of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, former staff, concerned citizens, friends and their families from across the country and around the world who have come together to form this distinguished Committee to oppose the nomination of Gaddi Vasquez as director of the Peace Corps because he does not posses the qualifications, leadership tools or the demonstrated financial management skills to head a large federal agency. We are a non-partisan group representing the Peace Corps family.
With me today are John Coyne, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Ethiopia I, 6264, and editor of PeaceCorpsWriters.org; Barbara Ferris, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Morocco 8082, who served as the Women in Development Coordinator for the Peace Corps and most recently, as chair of the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Peace Corps; and Hugh Pickens, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Peru 7273 and publisher of PeaceCorpsOnline.org. And behind us are just a small percentage of the thousands of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, former staff, recently evacuated Volunteers from Uzbekistan and Tajikstan and others who are part of the Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps and who share my disappointment and sadness in President Bushs decision to nominate a clearly unqualified individual to be Director of the Peace Corps.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has had, through the centuries, the responsibility of deciding weighty questions related to Americas place in the world and its relationship to its neighbors, friends and adversaries around the globe.
Todays discussion is no different. Whether to confirm a Presidents nominee as Director of the Peace Corps is among the most important decisions this Committee can make.
As a former Director of the Peace Corps and retired Ambassador to Colombia under President Nixon, and as someone who was fortunate enough to be at the creation of what many people believe to be one of the finest example of Americas foreign policies, I want to voice my grave concern to you about President Bushs nominee to be the new Director of the Peace Corps, Gaddi Vasquez.
Today, the mission of the Peace Corps is more urgent than ever, and more difficult. The new Peace Corps Director must possess a depth of knowledge about the democratic and economic transitions in the countries where Volunteers serve. The director is the key person, not only repositioning the Peace Corps to play new roles in the transitions underway in country after country, but in inspiring Volunteers and staff to the maximum effort. It is in this context that the President and this Committee need to work together in identifying and confirming the best possible leadership for the Peace Corps. This nomination is incompatible with a forward vision of the Peace Corps.
These are the qualities along with the stature to inspire confidence inside the U.S. and around the world that President Bush must insist on in the person who will direct the Peace Corps in the age of terrorism. The President has chosen wisely an experienced team of leaders in the Vice President, Secretary Powell, Advisor Rice, to meet the current foreign policy challenges of our nation. Why not a demonstrated leader of equal caliber, experience, skill and intelligence for the critical role of Peace Corps Director?
Volunteers dedicated to peaceful change are vital in any effort to improve both the appearance and substance of U.S. involvement overseas. All they need is an experienced and knowledgeable Director, someone with both the skills and experience combined with the commitment they bring to each country to promoting peace in the world.
Peace Corps Volunteers should be on the vanguard of the rebuilding and reconstruction of Afghanistan once stability comes. More than 1,800 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Afghanistan and who continue to live and work the third goal of Peace Corps to bring the world back home. Every Peace Corps Volunteer and staff member who served there knows we were popular there. Let me share with you an excerpt from an article in the October 4th edition of The New Jersey Record:
Peace Corps, aid can defuse terrorism, ex-envoy say
To truly win a war against terrorism, the Bush administration should beef up the Peace Corps and launch a new version of Americas post-World War II policy that rebuilt shattered Europe and Japan.
Thats the advice a retired Pakistani diplomat offered at a Caldwell College forum two weeks ago as he explained how stressed Third World societies can produce murderous hatred . . . . Along the same lines, he said, America is widely admired in the Third World for the work of the Peace Corps Volunteers. That agencys assistance to people at the village and neighborhood level should be greatly expanded, he recommended.
This statement, it should be noted, is from a former Pakistani diplomat. And he is not alone. Walter Cronkite, in response to David Lettermans question of What can we do? just after the September 11 attacks, answered, Join the Peace Corps!
I believe the Peace Corps needs a Director of stature with a demonstrated record of sound personnel and fiscal management combined with competent leadership. There are over 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers living and working in 71 countries with a budget of over $265 million dollars. The Director must bring to the agency the fiscal management experience necessary to run a large organization along with an acute understanding of global affairs.
Unfortunately, Mr. Vasquez is not that person.
- He has no international experience. He has not had the opportunity to gain any significant international experience of noted accomplishments in either the public or the private sector. The totality of his international experience was as an election observer in Armenia. Observer is not a management or decision making role.
- He has not demonstrated financial management capabilitieshe oversaw the largest bankruptcy this country has ever seen costing taxpayers of Orange County $1.7 billion. As Supervisor of Orange County, CA, he was responsible for the financial ruin of one of our countrys most affluent communities. His financial improprieties disqualify him even for consideration as a Peace Corps Volunteerhow in the world then can such a person be put in charge of this complex organization?
In this case, the Supervisors approved Official Statements that, among other things, failed to disclose certain materials information about Orange Countys financial condition that brought into question the Countys ability to repay its securities absent significant interest income form the County Pools. The Supervisors were aware of material information concerning Orange Countys financial condition; this information called into question the Countys ability to repay its securities. Nevertheless, the Supervisors failed to take appropriate steps to assure disclosure of these facts. In light of these circumstance, the Board members did not fulfill their obligation under the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws in authorizing the issuance of the municipal securities and related disclosure documents.
Mr. Vasquez resigned from the Orange County Board of Supervisors after a recall effort was initiated in 1995 and after Orange County filed for bankruptcy costing local taxpayers $1.7 billion dollars and leading to the indictment of two of his colleagues.
In addition, during his tenure on the Board of Supervisors, Mr. Vasquez voted against allowing individuals with HIV/AIDS to gain access to public housing. As Peace Corps Director, Mr. Vasquez would be in charge of one of the worlds largest international AIDS education programs.
Mr. Chairman, we are aware that several groups have declared their support for Mr. Vasquez nomination, but we hold such support suspect in light of Mr. Vasquez record. We wonder if these backers would be so exceedingly generous with their support if Mr. Vasquez were being considered to head their organizations. We also doubt if any of these organizations or each congressional office has a budget of $265 million a year to manage?
We recognize President Bushs right to nominate a candidate of his choosing to head the Peace Corps and we applaud him for recognizing the need to include Hispanic Americans among his appointees. But we ask that an alternative to Mr. Vasquez be nominated for Peace Corps director and we ask that the nominee have the same stature and credentials as the Presidents foreign policy team now in place.
One week ago, President Bush called upon all Americans to come to the service of our nation. I can assure you, Senators, based on my years in international service, that all Americans are willing to serve their country. Many are eager to join the Peace Corps and serve overseas in the Peace Corps.
Give the Peace Corps a leader with the vision of a Sargent Shriver, give them a leader with the compassion of a Loret Miller Ruppe, give them a leader with the fiscal background of a Paul Coverdell, and they will receive the direction and support to continue the good work with the same skills and talents and dedication of the over 162,000 Volunteers who have already served our country without pay, without fanfare, and without regret in over 135 countries of the world.
Again, who has done more than Peace Corps Volunteers to promote global peace by fighting poverty, ignorance and disease? As Loret Miller Ruppe often said, Peace isnt the absence of war it is the absence of the conditions that cause war poverty, hunger and disease.
As a Republican who has served his Party and his County equally, it pains me to no end to sit here before you today in opposition to a fellow Republican nominated by a Republican President.
This is neither the place nor the time for on-the-job training in exchange for a $100,000 political party contribution. This is the time for a director of the Peace Corps to bring significant international and fiscal management experience and who can rally the good will and desire of a new generation of young people, and others, including, men and women like myself who are willing to do something for their country.
In the aftermath of September 11, everything in American life has changed. What has not altered is the basic mission of the Peace Corps, but the Peace Corps will have a forward vision. For 40 years, 162,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have given 300,000 years of service and used their skills and training in over 135 countries speaking 330 languages to promote development and seek understanding in the world. Then they bring the world back hometo teach Americans what it means to cross cultures in the name of peace.
From deep personal experience as the second director of the Peace Corps, I can promise you, the Senate, and the president that if he were to say to this so-called Nine-Eleven Generation, America needs 20,000 young people to join the Peace Corps today, with 500 going to Afghanistan after rigorous selection and training, that the White House Mail Room could not handle the volume of mail it would receive.
It must be hard being young today. The Peace Corps, and, more importantly, Peace Corps Volunteers proudly serving our country overseas, deserve a director worthy of a their commitment to Toughest Job you Will ever Love!
FINALLY, again, I urge you to vote against Mr. Vasquez for director of the Peace Corps based on his lack of demonstrated financial management ability, his lack of foreign policy involvement, and his lack of large-agency management experience.
We, The Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps, again thank you for the unprecedented opportunity to testify here today. We want to assure you that we will continue to mobilize thousands of people in the Peace Corps family who are concerned about the future of this agency. We will work cooperatively and in the volunteer spirit with whoever is finally confirmed as agency director. But Peace Corps Volunteers and America as a whole deserve a skilled and experienced director of equal caliber to the Presidents foreign policy team than Gaddi Vasquez in this time of international crisis, economic challenge, and global opportunity. Thank you.