Managing volunteers' safety

Web tracking app keeps Peace Corps' IG office abreast of cases around the globe

Under assault: T.J. Barcelona, Peace Corps Crisis Corps Volunteer in Uganda, assists a local man. Currently, special agents in the Peace Corps' IG office are handling more than 100 violent crime cases involving attacks against volunteers and some 50 general criminal cases.

Courtesy of the Peace Corps

The Peace Corps' inspector general's office is investing in an enterprise case management system intended to help the agency better protect and assist its volunteers around the world.

The system is designed to give the corps round-the-clock capability to input, track and report cases of fraud and abuse, and other crimes.

The corps has hired MicroPact of Herndon, Va., to implement its entelliTrak system. The one-year, $100,000 contract has a two-year option.

Two other agencies, the Railroad Retirement Board and the Treasury Department, use entelliTrak specifically for IG case management.

With the Web-based data tracking system, Peace Corps special agents would be able to input, access and share information.

Currently, Peace Corps special agents catalogue information using laptops to produce Excel spreadsheets. Incompatible formats, discrepancies of time and incongruent data make it difficult to prepare reports and exchange information, officials said.

Special agents in the field do not have access to the IG database; they hand in paper documents, and the IG office enters the information into the database.

On the road

This creates a tracking problem because the Peace Corps serves in 70 developing countries, and its agents travel 65 days out of the year, said David Kotz, Peace Corps inspector general.

Part of a special agent's job while overseas, Kotz said, is to 'coordinate responses to violent crimes against Peace Corps volunteers, make sure the volunteer is taken care of, evidence is preserved, and to assist local law enforcement as they follow up on prosecution.'

That job is made difficult when agents do not have access to information on the system at the IG office.

'We had a case where the prosecution wasn't going to go forward in a rape case until they got information immediately. If we have computer access, we are able to react immediately,' Kotz said.

The new system also will give the corps the ability to check the status of an investigation and provide more information to the agents than a spreadsheet could, officials said.

Currently, there are more than 100 violent crime cases and more than 50 general criminal cases open.

To ensure the IG's office is not being taken advantage of, the corps will also use the system to investigate Federal Employee Compensation Act claims.

'If a Peace Corps volunteer gets injured'and our workers are often young'compensation can continue for 40 plus years,' Kotz said. 'We need to be proactive and find areas of abuse, and save the agency money.'

The old system was no longer adequate, and the agency realized its need for a case management system to handle the volume of claims, officials said.

Kotz said there are currently more than 1,000 potential FECA claims.

The Railroad Retirement Board has been using the system since April 1 to
investigate and track fraud under its retirement, disability, sickness and unemployment programs, said William Tebbe, RRB's assistant IG for investigation.

'It gives us flexibility in accessing data, and we can use the data more effectively,' Tebbe said. 'We can track investigations, extract information for managing cases and work loads, and pull out information and give it to Congress.'

RRB likes the structure of the new system. Tebbe said it is 'cleaner and easier to use' than their old, internally designed system. EntelliTrak lets them conduct queries of any kind, whereas the old system only allowed canned queries.

RRB employees also can upload into the system documents they prepare or receive, which gives them a better understanding and more detail of each case than just looking at raw data, officials said.

Treasury has used the system for more than a year to log correspondence from the general public and other agencies. Employees can assign the message to the appropriate office within the department, said Patricia Brown, executive support specialist for Treasury.

The agency found one bug in the system. Dates of correspondence from this year were being marked as 2005, but the issue was quickly corrected, Brown said.

Peace Corps officials plan to implement the system at the start of next year. All current information will be entered into the system, a process they expect to take a couple of months.

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