President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated Aaron Williams, a longtime leader and designer of assistance programs around the world, to serve as director of the Peace Corps.
Williams, a former Peace Corps volunteer himself, is currently Vice President for International Business Development with RTI International.
He has previously served as executive vice president of the International Youth Foundation and as senior manager at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). He won the USAID Distinguished Careers Service Award and the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service twice.
President Obama lauded Williams in a statement Tuesday as one who embodies the “very best” of the American ideal that “the best progress comes from ordinary citizens working to bring about the change they believe in.”
Williams first served in the Peace Corps from 1967 to 1970 in the Dominican Republic. He followed up that assignment with a stint as a Peace Corps coordinator of minority recruitment and project evaluation officer in Chicago.
Peace Corps, operated by the federal government since 1961, has a $330.8 million budget for fiscal 2009. The organization currently sends volunteers to 76 countries. The volunteers, many of whom are recent college grads, work on a variety of projects in the fields of education, youth, health, business and the environment.
May 18: Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske has been confirmed by the Senate to be the new drug czar at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
May 13: Chuck Hurley, who is still the CEO of Irving, Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), appeared to be on a path toward Washington to run the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But his candidacy for the job was derailed by criticism from environmentalists about his stance on fuel economy standards.
Hurley demonstrated “hostility to fuel economy standards,” said Dan Becker, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Safe Climate Campaign. “That is half of what NHTSA does.”
In the early 1990s, before he became a prominent advocate on safety matters, Hurley lobbied against existing fuel standards as vice president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. According to comments he made to the press at the time, Hurley was concerned about fuel standards leading to a downsizing of cars, which he believed would increase the likelihood of accidents.
Hurley’s nomination never became official. The search for another candidate is already underway.
April 14: The president has tapped Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Chuck Hurley to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation. Hurley joined MADD in 2005 after serving as vice president of the National Safety Council, where he oversaw the council’s air bag and seat belt safety campaign.
He was awarded the 2004 J. Stannard Baker Award for Highway Safety from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Hurley was on the MADD board of directors from 1993 to 1998, and played a large role in pushing the National 21 Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 through Congress.
March 25: There was a lot of talk early about two candidates for the top job at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which was filled for almost the entirety of George W. Bush’s presidency by John Walters. One candidate was former Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), who is now a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics working on “the policy and politics of addiction.” Another was Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend, former Lt. Governor of Maryland.
In the end, Obama tapped a man with far less political stature and far more on-the-ground experience with drugs: Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske. In terms of appeasing both sides of the drug policy debate, it would be hard to imagine someone with better credentials.
For those who do not wish to see an abandonment of supply-side tactics, a face from law enforcement is a plus. After serving as a military police officer in the 1970s, Kerlikowske was as an undercover narcotics officer in Florida. Kerlikowske also spent two years with President Bill Clinton as deputy director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing.
But the nomination appears to sit well with treatment-minded advocates as well, some of whom felt that Ramstad and Kennedy-Townsend were not in line with Obama’s campaign promise to move the drug discourse away from crime and towards public health. Kerlikowske has been a strong proponent of drug courts and community policing in Seattle, as was reported in an excellent profile of Kerlikowske by The Washington Post.
He has quietly opposed decriminalization of marijuana, but also has de-emphasized as a priority arrests for possession of the substance in King County. Seattle was also one of the first American cities to implement a syringe exchange program.
At ONDCP, Kerlikoswke will inherit a staff of about 100 and a budget of approximately $440 million. Two of its larger operations, as of 2009 appropriations, are the Drug-Free Communities program ($90 million) and its oft-debated media campaign ($70 million).
March 4: Jeffrey Crowley is Obama’s pick to direct the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. He is a senior research scholar at Georgetown University, and before that served as deputy executive director for programs at the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA). Crowley helped coordinate the Ryan White National Youth Conference while he was with NAPWA.
Crowley will also serve on the Domestic Policy Council, where he will help with policy regarding treatment of individuals with disabilities.
Jan. 29: For the first time since the agency was created, it seems, the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service may not be the highest face on the service totem pole.
President Obama intends to establish the White House Office on Social Innovation and Civic Engagement, an idea proposed by a group called America Forward, a coalition of public service-oriented nonprofits that was launched by perpetual presidential adviser and political pundit David Gergen. [Actually, a White House Office of Social Innovation is already listed as an existing office on the White House website].
That would not be completely out of line with the Bush administration, which created the Freedom Corps office and put a top adviser, John Bridgeland, in charge of it at first. But Freedom Corps hardly became the authoritative voice on service that Bush may have hoped for; CNCS was still the center of that universe.
Obama’s new office, we hear, could be run by Sonal Shah, director of global development for Web behemoth Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google. Shah is one of the many former fellows from the Center for American Progress who joined their boss, John D. Podesta, on the president’s transition team. Before that, Shah filled various roles at the Treasury Department and National Security Council for President Clinton.
Shah’s affiliation with Obama (which officially began when she joined his transition team) has stirred controversy in the Indian community. Vijay Prashad, a professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., reported on a website called Counterpunch.org that Shah was a leader with Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), a national organization that promotes Hinduism to second generation Indians in America. VHP in India, which has no connection to VHPA, has been linked to a violent 2002 riot in Gujarat, in which the majority of the dead were Muslims.
Shah has issued a statement since Prashad’s article in which she condemns VHP and VHPA’s role in the violence.
“Had I been able to foresee the role of the VHP in India in these heinous events, or anticipate that the VHP of America could possibly stand by silently in the face of its Indian counterpart’s complicity in the events of Gujarat in 2002 – thereby undermining the American group’s cultural and humanitarian efforts with which I was involved – I would not have associated with the VHP of America,” Shah said in the statement.
Prashad says he has documentation that Shah was active in VHPA only through 2001, but says she has had several opportunities to speak out at keynote addresses she has given at other organizations related to the Hindu nationalist movement.
“After 2002 event, it was impossible not to know” about VHP’s involvement, Prashad told Youth Today. “And yet, she keynoted at their events. Look, if you’re really a courageous person, you would go [to those events] and condemn what happened. But she didn’t do that.”