Inspector General Blasts Five-Year Rule
By Jonathan Pearson on Wednesday, June 27th, 2012
The so-called “Five Year Rule” of employment at the Peace Corps has long been a subject of debate, discussion and review. The latest addition? A just released evaluation – begun in February 2011 – by the Peace Corps Office of Inspector General (OIG).
On page 7 of its report on the impacts of Peace Corps’ five-year employment rule (FYR), the OIG notes some of the positive comments from agency managers and employees “who asserted that the FYR has been an important feature of the agency’s personnel system.”
On page 8, the OIG also adds “Because of the diversity of viewpoints concerning the effects of the FYR, this report has based its findings, to the extent possible, on analyses of available personnel and other records, relying on respondent viewpoints for additional support.”
From there, the Inspector General’s findings slam the FYR over the next 30 pages of the report, citing an array of problems with the rule, some of which they say have direct negative impacts on programming and volunteer operations.
While original proposals in the mid 1960′s suggested that the Peace Corps employment limit should be eight or perhaps ten years, the Five Year Rule was amended into the Peace Corps Act in 1965. According to the OIG report, “In passing the FYR, Congress intended to ‘permit a constant inflow of new blood and ideas,’ to give the agency ‘administrative flexibility which is not possible under the restrictions of the civil service system,’ and to make sure that the agency’s staff ‘not be organized on a career basis.’ ”
However, the report states the FYR has “contributed to an abbreviated average tenure of (direct hire) employees throughout the agency, well short of five years.” For example, the average length of service for direct hire employees between 2000 and 2010 has been less than three years. In its findings, The OIG says high turnover rates and shortened length of employment have:
- harmed overseas posts
- affected staff development and training
- contributed to an insufficient institutional memory
- weakened Peace Corps’ ability to attract and retain qualified personnel to perform core management functions
- made succession planning more urgent and harder to accomplish
- eroded Peace Corps’ capacity for innovation
- contributed to inadequate performance management
The OIG estimates that the high turnover rate costs not only in performance, but also in terms of dollars. For the five year period of 2005 through 2009, the OIG estimates the Five Year Rule contributed between $12.6 million and $15.5 million in additional turnover management costs.
Citing a Peace Corps Fiscal Year 2010 Human Capital Management Report, the report also notes that less than 30% of Peace Corps staff are subjected to the Five Year Rule. Nearly 2 out of every 3 of the more than 3,000 staff employed by the Peace Corps in FY 10 was a personal service contractor, while another 7% were overseas foreign service nationals. Neither category is covered by the five-year rule. As for direct hire personnel, the report notes that exemptions to the five-year rule have been granted to more than 20 individuals involved with volunteer safety and security, as well as the Inspector General and staff.
As for high-level positions, the report found that during the 2000′s, 75% of the 95 direct hires in senior staff positions at Peace Corps were held by individuals who were not Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). ”While there are no clear criteria for judging if 25 percent of RPCVs in senior staff positions meets the original intent behind the in-up-out policy conceived in the 1960′s, the percentage is much lower than the percentage of RPCVs employed in overseas leadership positions during the ten-year timeframe we examined.”
Along with comments about the five-year rule, the report notes that staff expressed concerns during interviews about Peace Corps’ political appointment structure. “The commonly expressed reasoning respondents articulated was that these two features of the agency’s personnel structure – high turnover created by the FYR and the high number of political appointments managing the agency had combined to create a vicious cycle that harmed the strategic direction of the agency, as well as the ability of staff to function effectively in carrying out whatever strategy was in place at the time.”
In its list of recommendations, the OIG calls upon the Director of the Peace Corps to “carry out the necessary reforms to the Five Year Rule, including seeking legislative remedies if required, to reduce the rate of employee turnover and increase the average length of employment of the agency’s direct hire employees.”
Other recommendations include identifying those functions that should be subject to periodic turnover to meet the needs of the agency; implement a process for acquiring and retaining qualified personnel to perform core business functions; improving the agency approach to performance management; and better gathering and analysis of data on the causes of unwanted, early employee resignations.
Agency Recommendations Expected in August
In its response, Peace Corps says it concurs with the findings of the Inspector General. In its response, Peace Corps notes two consultants with extensive experience in the programs and operations of foreign affairs agencies (including the Peace Corps) have been retained to review the Inspector General’s report and other past findings concerning the Five Year Rule.
The consultants are expected to issue a report with a list of suggested recommendations to Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams by this August.
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