What Happened to the Peace Corps?

VIDEO: Peace Corps critics Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff slam "rot in the agency."

Two Peace Corps volunteers turned critics claim the agency needs sweeping reforms, but that it is expanding its ranks instead without listening to mounting complaints from its existing volunteers, or addressing a drop-out rate of more than 30 percent.

Chuck Ludlam and his wife Paula Hirshoff say the Peace Corps has lost its way since its founding by JFK 50 years ago.

"We're sad about it but we're also angry about it," Ludlam told ABC News, "because the people in these countries need our help. And the Peace Corps could be a great force for good in the world in terms of development assistance."

Ludlam and Hirschoff were both volunteers in the 1960s and then returned to serve together in Senegal from 2005 to 2007. Ludlam was also an advisor to the Obama/Biden Peace Corps transition team and a board member of the volunteers' alumni group, the National Peace Corps Association.

But in the past few years, as the Peace Corps has been slowly increasing the size of its volunteer force, both have become leading critics of the agency. According to Hirschoff, there would be more public questioning of the Peace Corps if nostalgia didn't make so many returned volunteers hesitate before speaking up.

"I think it's somewhat immune from criticism partly because it is part of the John F. Kennedy legacy, but also because many volunteers from the '60s and '70s are nostalgic about their own experiences," said Hirschoff. "They don't want to criticize the Peace Corps. It might feel like their own experience is being criticized."

"We were like that too before we went back and saw some of the problems up close," said Hirschoff.


After their second stint in the Peace Corps, Ludlam and Hirschoff came to believe the agency was plagued by incompetent country directors, poor management, inadequate training, rapid turnover and a culture that discourages volunteers from bringing problems to the attention of their superiors.

Ludlam said he obtained surveys completed by volunteers in sites around the world from a whistleblower with Peace Corps headquarters in Washington. The results, he said showed that there are vast discrepancies between programs.

Ludlam claims the surveyed volunteers gave "terrible" ratings to country directors in three dozen countries. The Peace Corps currently has about 8,600 volunteers in 77 nations. "It turned out that maybe 15 of the countries were well-managed and the rest of them were poorly managed," said Ludlam.

"There are some wonderful programs," said Ludlam, "there are some wonderful managers, but there is a lot of rot in the agency, and you have to be careful if you join up."

Ludlam argues that the rapid turnover of volunteers stunts the growth of potentially good programs.

"The volunteers go to their sites and they basically start from scratch. There's no book on what's happened at that site before," said Ludlam.

"This is not a serious effort at development," he added.

"We could get things done," he said, referring to himself and his wife Paula, who served their second stint after retiring. "But the younger volunteers, for them, that's basically their first job. They're straight out of school by and large. And when you have poor training, poor sites, poorly designed programs, poor support -- they really get hurt by it. They're disillusioned. And that's why so many of 'em leave early."

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