Wednesday, November 14, 2001
Hearings for Nominee for Peace Corps Director
by Barbara Ferris (Morocco 198082)
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I thank you for the opportunity to be here today to congratulate Jody Olsen as the Deputy Director and to testify in opposition of Gaddi Vasquez as the nominee for Peace Corps director on behalf of nearly 15,000 people who have joined me on The Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps.
I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Morocco; I served as the Women in Development Coordinator for the Peace Corps for five years and I chaired the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Peace Corps where our nation recognized the contributions of 162,000 Volunteers, who gave 300,000 years of service in 130 nations, speaking 330 languages. As a result of my Peace Corps experience, I established the International Womens Democracy Center (www.iwdc.org), an international non-governmental organization which trains women leaders outside the United States how to run for elected office, how to lobby their legislators, and how to advocate for issues central to their communities. For the past 20 years, I have worked on a wide range of public and international policy and economic development programs to empower women in over 100 countries.
President Bush has surrounded himself with a skilled, experienced foreign policy team in Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell, NSA Rice, Secretary Rumsfeld, Administrator Natsios and many others. We are deeply disappointed and saddened that The Peace Corps, which is our nations best and most respected goodwill ambassador for forty years, was not given this same skilled and experienced consideration for leadership. In a time when the United States is challenged as never before, the Peace Corps needs a leader of stature with a significant record of achievement, a demonstrated track record in financial management and an unblemished record of public service. This nominee possesses none of those qualities.
The Peace Corps will be on the vanguard of reconstruction and rebuilding in Afghanistan once the country stabilizes. As we know, the Peace Corps has the capacity to place a Volunteer on the ground within six months of a request from country. Of the more than 1,800 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Afghanistan, only one who directs the Afghan American Center in Omaha has been called upon by our government during this time of international crisis. More importantly, the Friends of Afghanistan, a group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served that country and their friends, have supported a wide range of small scale projects for the past 10 years in the country they called home for two years.
Unlike any other federal agency of the government, the Peace Corps has enjoyed 40 consecutive years of bi-partisan support from Congress. No other federal agency can claim a family as diverse, as opinionated nor as committed to the 3 goals of the Peace Corps helping people help themselves; having people from other cultures get to know Americans; and bringing the world back home. The Peace Corps has 7,200 Volunteers in 71 nations with 450 staff and an annual budget of $265 million the agency must have skilled leadership to navigate its journey in our changed world.
In six weeks, nearly 15,000 of us mobilized across the country and around the world through faxes, emails and phone calls to raise our voices in opposition its not personal its just that the world as we knew it has changed since September 11 and Peace Corps needs an experienced leader with the depth of knowledge of our intricate relationships with 71 other nations and the demonstrated financial management skills to make split-second decisions which will impact many lives not one who has to spend a year doing on the job training. In this hearing room are not high paid lobbyists, but a diverse group of Americans including those recently evacuated from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan whose experiences around the world have transformed us, but more importantly, have made us acutely aware of what it takes to truly lead the Peace Corps.
The opposition to Gaddi Vasquez is based on his lack of demonstrated financial management skills and his lack of significant international experience combined with the January 24, 1994 Securities and Exchange Commission Report of the Investigation into the Matter of the County of Orange, California as it relates to the conduct of the Members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which states,
Public entities that issue securities are primarily liable for the content of their disclosure documents and are subject to the proscriptions under the federal securities laws against false and misleading information in their disclosure documents. In addition to the governmental entity issuing municipal securities, public officials of the issuer who have ultimate authority to approve the issuance of securities and related disclosure document have responsibilities under the federal securities laws as well. In authorizing the issuance of securities and related disclosure documents, a public official may not authorize disclosure that the official knows to be false; nor may a public official authorize disclosure while recklessly disregarding facts that indicate that there is a risk that he disclosure may be misleading. When, for example, a public official has knowledge of facts bringing into question the issuers ability to repay the securities, it is reckless for that official to approve disclosure to investors without taking steps appropriate under the circumstances to prevent the dissemination of materially false or misleading information regarding those facts. In this matter, such steps could have included becoming familiar with the disclosure documents and questioning the issuers officials, employees or other agents about the disclosure of those facts.
The Supervisors approved official statements that failed to disclose certain material information about Orange Countys financial condition that brought into question the Countys ability to repay its securities absent significant interest income from 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 Supervisory failed to take appropriate steps to assure disclosure of these facts. In light of these circumstances, the board members did not fulfill their obligation under the anti-fraud 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 Orange County filed for bankruptcy costing taxpayers $1.7 billion dollars and a recall effort was initiated which led to the indictment of two of Vasquezs colleagues.
In addition, in 1989 during his tenure, Gaddi Vasquez voted with the majority of a bitterly divided Board against a measure that would have barred discrimination against people with AIDS in employment, education and housing. In January 1992, a broader measure was brought before the Board that would bar discrimination business, employment, education and housing against those infected with HIV and AIDS sufferers or those perceived to be infected. Explaining his unchanged position, Vasquez was quoted in the LA Times as saying, There are already laws on the federal books and nothings changed as far as Im concerned. As you know, thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers going to Africa are now trained in HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
Our nation is built on Rule of Law and it is the essence of a functioning democracy. Our government puts millions of dollars into programs in emerging democracies around the world to help people build their civil society and each and every one of us in this room know that the concept of Rule of Law is the foundation of a flourishing democracy. In my work around the world with IWDC, as I help women leaders build their own democracies, the concept of Rule of Law presents an enormous challenge to building civil society as many people are used to solving problems with violence. In our unprecedented request to testify here today in opposition of Gaddi Vasquez for director of the Peace Corps, we have exercised the basic freedoms that ensure we continue to flourish as a democracy that many around the world strive for. Vasquez failed to do his job as required by the law and he failed to disclose information as required by federal antitrust law. I believe that we must give serious consideration to the Rule of Law and the example we would give to leaders of emerging democracies with a leader who has failed to abide by the law.
Finally, this past Sunday, one of our baseball heroes, Mark McGuire announced that he would not sign the $30 million dollar contract because he does not have the skills necessary to support his organization or his fans. This move has been hailed as one of extraordinary leadership. It is our hope that Gaddi Vasquez will demonstrate similar leadership and step aside as nominee for director of the Peace Corps.
On behalf of The Committee for the Future of the Peace Corps, I want to thank the committee for the opportunity to have our voices heard today.