Around Government

Looking for Peace Corps alumni, social media on the hunt and multilingual services

Peace Corps alumni are on a quest to find their own.

By Caitlin Fairchild

T he National Peace Corps Association, a nonprofit organization that supports the community of current and former Peace Corps members, has launched a campaign to track down every volunteer who has served since the agency was founded in 1961.

A complete list of the roughly 200,000 returned volunteers is unavailable due to privacy restrictions that prevent government agencies from sharing contact information with outside organizations, and some of the early records reportedly have been lost.

Since the search launched last year after the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary celebrations, NPCA’s 146 member groups have helped the organization add almost 4,000 former volunteers to its listings. NPCA hopes to identify 10,000 more former volunteers by Sept. 22 and have all Peace Corps alumni identified by 2016.

“As part of the 50th anniversary, it’s really important to remind people that the Peace Corps is still out there,” NPCA President Kevin Quigley says. “We see it as an essential initiative, and it’s a natural extension—not just looking back, but primarily about looking forward to strengthen the Peace Corps.”

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Walking t he Talk

About one in five foreign-speaking residents in the United States is more comfortable speaking his or her native language than English, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. As the U.S. population continues to grow, federal agencies will have to serve more citizens speaking foreign languages.

The Housing and Urban Development Department, for example, launched a pilot hot line in December 2011, featuring translation services for providing housing information to anyone who needs it—whether they speak Spanish or Mandarin.

“In today’s environment, it is not an option to have a language policy, it is a requirement,” says Louis Provenzano, president of Language Line Services, who speaks 11 languages. The company, which provides translation services to nearly 50 agencies, recently launched an electronic portal just for government—the Foreign Language Center of Excellence. The portal features phone and written interpretation services, training programs, data analysis and demand projection tools for agencies as they implement executive orders to make services more accessible to non-English speakers.

Caitlin Fairchild

TAG is it

A new State Department contest asks participants to use social media to help track down globetrotting ‘thieves.’

On March 31, the State Department will enlist the entire world on a mission to help track down five elusive jewel thieves.

The criminals, a dastardly band of masterminds known as the Panther Five, will spend the day wandering through crowded areas of five cities: Washington, New York, London, Stockholm and Bratislava, Slovakia. The first person to submit photos of all the troublemakers will receive a $5,000 reward.

It should probably be noted that the thieves are fictional, and the mission a game, designed to test participants’ use of social media to collaborate on a global scale. The contest is called the TAG Challenge, and the hope is the State Department can leverage its findings into new social media transatlantic security efforts.

J.R. deLara, a former World Bank consultant, came up with the idea for the TAG Challenge while he was in graduate school at The George Washington University and submitted a grant proposal to the State Department in March 2011. He calls the project “Twitter meets The Amazing Race” and cites a nationwide balloon-hunt contest sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2009 as his inspiration. DeLara believes, however, that creating moving targets rather than stationary balloons for the search will allow for problem-solving in more realistic conditions.

Whether the winning team comprises seasoned hunters or college students, deLara is looking forward to the results, and what they have the potential to prove or disprove.

“The common understanding seems to be that technology and social media bring us closer together virtually, but reinforce isolation in daily life, especially in public spaces,” deLara says. “If a group succeeds in finding all five suspects, it may tip the argument toward the former and rebuff the latter.”

Andrew Lapin

Net Zero

NASA’s new Propellants North Administrative and Maintenance Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., which opened in 2011, is the agency’s first carbon neutral and net-zero facility designed to release no greenhouse gas emissions. The facility, a test bed for further green NASA projects, relies on solar panels and rainwater, and also features a parking lot with a plug-in canopy for electric and hybrid vehicles.

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