On July 19, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to approve the bipartisan Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2022. The bill, which reauthorizes the Peace Corps for the first time in over 20 years, offers a number of reforms to the Peace Corps, including extending whistleblower protections to Peace Corps Volunteers.
The bill extends the whistleblower and anti-retaliatory protections which currently apply to Peace Corps contractors to Peace Corps Volunteers. The bill would create explicit anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination protections for Peace Corps Volunteers who come forward to report waste, fraud, abuse of authority, and other violations of law. It would also allow Peace Corps Volunteers to testify before Congress.
According to the bill text, a Peace Corps Volunteer “may report a complaint or allegation of reprisal or retaliation” to the agency’s Inspector General or “through other channels provided by the Peace Corps, including through the process for confidential reporting…” The Director of the Peace Corps “may order any relief for an affirmative finding of a proposed or final resolution of a complaint or allegation of reprisal or retaliation in accordance with policies, rules, and procedures of the Peace Corps.” Additionally, the Director “shall ensure that such relief is promptly provided to the volunteer.”
A big proponent of the bill’s whistleblower provisions has been Peace Corps whistleblower Sara Thompson. Thompson served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso and experienced medical complications from taking mefloquine, a controversial anti-malaria medicine that the Corps administered. Thompson filed a whistleblower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel but her complaint was rejected because Peace Corps Volunteers are not considered federal employees and are not afforded the same whistleblower rights. Since then, Thompson has advocated for expanded rights for Peace Corps Volunteers. On July 13, Thompson appeared on WNN’s Whistleblower of the Week podcast and discussed the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act.
Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jim Risch (R-ID), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee, as well as Ben Cardin (D-MD), Todd Young (R-IN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act on June 23, 2022.
“Today’s Committee approval of our bipartisan Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2022 is a momentous victory for those of us who appreciate the crucial role that the Peace Corps plays in U.S. public diplomacy,” Senator Menendez said.
“Today’s committee passage of the 2022 Peace Corps Reauthorization Act brings us one step closer to enacting long-overdue reforms that will improve the safety and security of our Peace Corps volunteers,” said Senator Risch. “This legislation will reauthorize the Sexual Assault Advisory Council, mandate security briefings, improve whistleblower protections, and add a new authority to suspend Peace Corps volunteers without pay in the event of misbehavior. I look forward to the full Senate taking up this legislation soon.”
The bill will next proceed to a full Senate vote. A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) on March 1, 2021. At National Whistleblower Day 2021, Garamendi advocated for the whistleblower provisions in the bill. “I know that Congress needs whistleblowers,” Garamendi said in his address. “We can’t do our job unless there’s whistleblowers.”