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Public Statements

Health, Safety, and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers Act of 2004

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


HEALTH, SAFETY, AND SECURITY OF PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS ACT OF 2004 -- (House of Representatives - June 01, 2004)

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 4060) to amend the Peace Corps Act to establish an Ombudsman and an Office of Safety and Security of the Peace Corps, and for other purposes.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of the Health, Safety, and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers Act of 2004.

The members of the Committee on International Relations received testimony in March at an important oversight hearing on the Peace Corps. We heard about some of the past problems and current problems the Peace Corps faces as it expands the number of volunteers around the world while at the same time taking into account the changed circumstances for American citizens living abroad during the post-September 11 period.

I am a very strong, long-time supporter of the Peace Corps. My colleagues and I who are strong supporters of the Peace Corps admire the sacrifice and important work that these volunteers do. We want to ensure through this legislation that the Peace Corps has the necessary procedures in place to protect our Nation's sons and daughters, or parents and grandparents, who dedicate 2 years of their lives to improving the circumstances of the peoples of the developing world.

Mr. Speaker, at the March hearing we inquired into the adequacy of safety and security practices that govern volunteer assignments in more dangerous places around the world. We found that in Bolivia in 2001 the Peace Corps did not have in place the necessary management procedures to monitor or to account for a missing volunteer named Walter Poirier. We learned that the Poirier family of Lowell, Massachusetts, had to notify the Peace Corps that their son was missing. We understand from the General Accounting Office that the Peace Corps has taken important steps to remedy some of these problems, but still there is room for improvement.

H.R. 4060 is intended to prepare the Peace Corps for expansion in a more dangerous world. The bill makes a number of important changes to the Peace Corps Act.

The legislation creates the position of ombudsman to receive and inquire into complaints, questions or concerns raised by current or former volunteers or employees regarding services or support provided by the Peace Corps. The legislation statutorily creates an Office of Safety and Security within the Peace Corps to be headed by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who shall be responsible for all safety and security activities of the Peace Corps.

This bill requires a report on the medical screening procedures and guidelines used by the Peace Corps to determine whether an applicant is medically and psychologically qualified to serve in the Peace Corps as a volunteer. The legislation also requires a report by the Comptroller General on the "5-year rule" which was cited by the GAO in previous reports as one of the reasons for an unacceptably high degree of staff turnover and loss of institutional memory, especially on safety and security matters.

The legislation also creates a more independent Inspector General of the Peace Corps, exempting that individual and the staff of the I.G. from the 5-year rule, and creating more accountable oversight by this committee through increased access to information from the I.G. on all matters relating to the management of the Peace Corps.

Mr. Speaker, this legislation responds to the concerns addressed by our witnesses last week and also responds to the concerns raised by current and former volunteers who have contacted the committee to discuss their experience with the Peace Corps. I ask support for this legislation.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lee) for managing the bill for the Democrats and the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) for his work in crafting this legislation. I especially want to thank the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Hyde) for authoring this very important piece of legislation to make sure to the greatest extent possible that U.S. professionals-of all ages-who are deployed abroad as part of the Peace Corps, one of the finest U.S. initiatives ever created, get the best possible protection and security. We need to provide them protection, that is second to none, so that they can be safe and secure.

Obviously, when people are deployed to dangerous areas, there are risks that are associated with that commitment. Still, it is up to this Congress, the State Department, and the administration, to ensure that no stone is left unturned in trying to make sure that Peace Corps volunteers are safe and secure in that environment

No bill comes to this floor without a tremendous amount of work by very competent staff, and Peter Smith has helped to draft this legislation. I want to thank him especially for his fine work and his skill and expertise in drafting this bill, as well as Paul Oostburg for his work on it as well.

Mr. Speaker, I urge Members to support H.R. 4060.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of our time.

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Murphy). The question is on the motion offered by the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) that the House suspend the rules and pass the bill, H.R. 4060.

The question was taken; and (two-thirds having voted in favor thereof) the rules were suspended and the bill was passed.

A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.

END

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