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Providing Tools to Wage Peace
"America needs citizens to extend the compassion of our country to every part of the world. So we will renew the promise of the Peace Corps, double its volunteers over the next five years, and ask it to join a new effort to encourage development and education and opportunity in the Islamic world."
The Peace Corps was a centerpiece of President John F. Kennedy's response to the Cold War—the first volunteers landed in Ghana in August 1961, just two weeks after the Berlin Wall was built. More than 40 years later, another international crisis is prompting another president to call for a sizable increase in the number of Americans willing to lend their skills, for two years, to the cause of aiding developing countries.
But where will these new volunteers come from? How can their skills be matched with nations that can put them to the best possible use? What can be done to ensure their security while on their assignments—or to get them safely home if conditions in the host country deteriorate?
Enhanced computer technology managed through a strong enterprise architecture (EA) will make it easier for the Peace Corps to meet these goals. And to build that EA—a strategic information base that provides a roadmap for identifying and implementing the technology an agency needs to carry out its mission, now and in the future—the Peace Corps has turned to MITRE for help.
Last October, a team from MITRE's Center for Enterprise Modernization (CEM) began developing an EA for the Peace Corps. With an EA, the Peace Corps will be able to assess its needs and develop plans to meet them within a framework designed to make the organization work seamlessly.
"The Peace Corps volunteers are carefully selected, so if the Corps wants to put more people out on assignment, it has to have the infrastructure to support them," says Rina Levy, the leader of the CEM team working with the Peace Corps. "It currently has several systems to support its needs, but more modern systems are needed and more integration among the existing systems is required. Our job as enterprise architects is to look at the whole, understand the Peace Corps' organization and operations, and produce an enterprise architecture that can enable the organization to work more efficiently."
If the Peace Corps can meet Bush's challenge, it will boast a cadre of approximately 14,000 volunteers by 2007. That would bring the agency close to the peak it reached in the mid-1960s. More volunteers, representing a more diverse cross-section of Americans, will make it possible to expand the agency's efforts in the developing world, including Arab and Islamic countries.
"The U.S. government sees education as part of the battle against terrorism," says David Hubley, special programs manager at CEM. "It's hard to have hatred for a group of people if one of them has lived amongst you in your village."
A Village of Needs, A World of Experience
Peace Corps volunteers are living in a lot of villages these days. The organization has over 6,600 volunteers serving in 70 countries—from Armenia to Tanzania. These volunteers bring a broad array of skills and experiences to their posts, and the nature of their work is equally diverse. Many teach English, math or the sciences, while others assist with programs designed to promote public health, protect the environment, overcome disease or natural disasters, or enhance economic development.
And now, there are thousands more Americans who want to join their ranks. Since Bush's 2002 State of the Union speech, total hits on the Peace Corps' Web site increased 120 percent over the previous 12-month period. During the same time span, 9,957 people submitted online applications, a 16 percent increase, and 125,705 people submitted online inquiries, a 30 percent uptick.
"The president's announcement has fueled a growth injection into the mission, and we're going to continue doing what we're doing," says Claude Christensen, director of the Peace Corps's Office of IT Architecture, Standards and Practices. "But we have to do it twice as fast and twice as big." It was this imperative that, in the spring of 2002, led the Peace Corps to MITRE. The Peace Corps had already interviewed several agencies and vendors to see what they were doing to develop their EAs. Among the agencies the Peace Corps contacted was the U.S. Customs Service, for whom MITRE is developing an EA.
"I had, in fact, worked with MITRE at a point or two in my career, so I knew of MITRE's expertise," says Christensen. "We saw some of the work MITRE has done for Customs and some other agencies. MITRE's reputation was there, and we knew you had the kind of experience we were looking for. We're confident that it's going to be a good relationship."
MITRE's first step in this project was to assess the Peace Corps' needs and the systems and tools it has to meet them. MITRE will advise the agency on the selection of EA tools on the basis of its prior work for Customs, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Air Force, and the Internal Revenue Service. The MITRE team will also use "The Federal CIO Council's Practical Guide to Federal Enterprise Architecture," a document to which MITRE employees made key contributions.
MITRE's long-term experience and continuity (or institutional memory) will be valuable to the Peace Corps, which is different from other agencies CEM has worked with because of the agency's employee turnover policy. The Peace Corps staff is effectively term-limited. They can serve no more than two straight 30-month tours of duty under a civil service "term appointment," and the average tour of duty for professionals is three and a half years. This results in about a one-third turnover annually, presenting its own special challenges.
Bringing in MITRE is part of a Peace Corps strategy of establishing an institutional memory supporting long-term relationships with partner organizations. "MITRE's role in this is very important in terms of business continuity," Levy says. We want to make sure we lay the foundation so nobody can undo the work we did." The Peace Corps' plans are ambitious: meet Bush's challenge by recruiting more volunteers and improve the technology that links these volunteers to the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters. The EA offers the promise of helping the Peace Corps in several key areas:
When all the pieces come together, the Peace Corps will be able to attract more volunteers and, by integrating systems designed to process their applications, get them to their posts more quickly. It will also be better able to bring together countries with needs and volunteers with skills that will help address them. And should an evacuation in a host country be necessary, the agency will be able to easily access data determining volunteers' exact whereabouts. This prospect makes both MITRE and the Peace Corps determined to meet the challenges ahead.
"They're very ambitious about it, and we join them in their ambition," says Levy.
—by W. Russell Woolard
Page last updated: March 3, 2004 | Top of page
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