In a voice vote on December 13, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Carol Spahn to serve as the 21st director of the agency. And in a January 11 ceremony, Spahn took the oath office administered by RPCV Rep. John Garamendi.
By Steven Boyd Saum
It’s official: Carol Spahn has been sworn in as Director of the Peace Corps. In a voice vote on December 13, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Spahn to serve as the 21st director of the agency. And in a January 11 ceremony, Spahn took the oath office administered by RPCV Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA).
Spahn has led the agency since January 2021, first as acting director and then CEO. Under her tenure, in spring 2021, the agency deployed Volunteers domestically for the second time in its history, to help fight COVID-19. Volunteers began returning to service overseas in March 2022.
Taking the oath: On January 11, Carol Spahn, center, is sworn in as Peace Corps Director by RPCV Rep. John Garamendi, at the podium. Photo Courtesy Peace Corps
President Biden announced his intention to nominate Spahn as director in April 2022. The 251 days that elapsed before the Senate confirmed her was frustrating. But with efforts coordinated by NPCA’s advocacy team, hundreds of members of the Peace Corps community reached out to their senators over the past year to voice their support for Spahn’s confirmation.
Spahn appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 30. Ranking Member James Risch (R-ID) asked for a focus on safety and security of Volunteers. Indeed, during the hearing, Spahn spoke about the importance of safety and security protocols in place to protect the hundreds of Volunteers currently serving. She also spoke of the agency’s priority to ensure Peace Corps service is an option considered by broader and more diverse U.S. communities. Spahn’s opening statement expressed deep gratitude for her “Peace Corps family — including the staff, Volunteers, host families, and counterparts, for the heart and soul with which they carry out our mission every day.”
Volunteers have been invited back to 56 countries, Spahn noted, with some 900 Volunteers serving in the field. “We’re building up gradually and intentionally as we test our safety and security protocols,” she said.
In the U.S., COVID-19 has evolved from pandemic to endemic. But the situation on the ground differs in various countries, with a range of healthcare systems and abilities to respond. When Spahn appeared for her hearing, she had just returned from visiting staff in the Philippines, where outdoor mask mandates had just been lifted. “Our teams there have been supporting COVID vaccination efforts and moves toward normalcy,” she said.
Addressing questions from committee chair Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Spahn underscored that “there is tremendous value in Peace Corps’ presence overseas,” and that this extends “well beyond Volunteers’ work,” including the symbolic value of their presence. The agency has letters of invitation from ten new countries, she said, including several countries in the Pacific. Spahn acknowledged the very real non-COVID threats that will keep Volunteers from returning to several countries in the immediate future. In Ukraine and Moldova, there remains danger from Russian attacks; fighting and instability in Ethiopia poses a danger.
A week after the hearing, Foreign Relations voted unanimously to send Spahn’s nomination to the full Senate for a vote.
“What we stand for.”
In introducing Carol Spahn in her confirmation hearing, Sen. Chris Van Hollen said: “The president has picked somebody with vast experience, impeccable character, and sharp intellect…There’s no doubt in my mind that Ms. Spahn has the background and wisdom to excel in this role.”
“The president has picked somebody with vast experience, impeccable character, and sharp intellect…There’s no doubt in my mind that Ms. Spahn has the background and wisdom to excel in this role.”
—Senator Chris Van Hollen
Senator Van Hollen also shared a Peace Corps story of a very personal sort. “The Peace Corps is more than an opportunity for service,” he said. “It’s an important part of our identity as a nation and central to what we stand for. I’ve witnessed that truth firsthand. As many of you know, I grew up in a foreign service family and spent many early years overseas. One memory of that stands out with respect to the Peace Corps.”
As a teenager, he said, “I was traveling with my parents to a remote village in Sri Lanka…There inside a hut hung a portrait of John F. Kennedy. And the reason that portrait was there — even ten years after President Kennedy had been assassinated, and half a world away from the United States of America — was that the Peace Corps had been in that village…helping dig wells, helping with sanitation projects. And that left an imprint and memory on all the villagers about what America stood for: the fact that we could be a force of good and for justice and hope around the world....
“We must continue to live up to that standard. And I am absolutely confident that Carol Spahn can help us do exactly that.”
This story appears in the Winter 2023 edition of WorldView magazine.