Gainesville native Ashley Bell has been named the associate director for external affairs of the Peace Corps.
The appointment was made by the White House, according to a Thursday announcement from the Peace Corps. Bell has been working in the State Department since February as a special assistant to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Bell, a former lawyer, made his way to Foggy Bottom after working on then-President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team. Before then he worked for the Republican National Committee as a senior strategist for communications.
Bell was sworn into office on Tuesday, making him the first political appointee to lead the Peace Corps by the administration since President Donald Trump was sworn into office almost seven months ago.
“This is a very similar role to what I had at State,” Bell said. “It’s just a more senior role. I enjoyed my time at State — I definitely enjoyed my time working for Secretary Tillerson.”
As the head of external affairs for the Peace Corps, Bell will manage the organization’s public and congressional relations, as well as donations, grants management, strategic partnerships and intergovernmental affairs, according to the announcement.
“My goal right now is to put together the best team possible to help make all of my departments maximize the talents of the people there,” Bell told The Times on Thursday. “There’s great career people here at Peace Corps who understand the organization well.”
In the announcement, Bell lauded the work of Peace Corps volunteers and staff.
“Peace Corps volunteers represent the best the United States has to offer and I am grateful for the opportunity to support an agency founded in the American ideal of serving others,” Bell said. “As head of external affairs, my hope is to highlight to the public the vital role Peace Corps plays in irrevocably changing the lives of both volunteers and the communities they help.”
Bell is a former member of the Hall County Board of Commissioners and founded the Atlanta-based law firm Bell & Washington LLP.
The Peace Corps has a $410 million annual budget and was created by President John F. Kennedy. More than 225,000 volunteers within the organization have worked in 141 of the world’s 195 countries since the Peace Corps was created in 1961.
Trump’s administration has been criticized for not staffing large numbers of senior positions within the federal government, while the administration argues it’s been blocked from confirming appointments by Democrats in Congress.
The State Department in particular has been the source of controversy lately, as Tillerson, the former head of Exxon Mobil Corp., said earlier this year that the department wouldn’t be fully staffed until next year.
Bell said that both the State Department and the Peace Corps have been served well by their career employees despite critics.
“The State Department is fortunate, just like Peace Corps is fortunate, to have great career employees that know exactly what they’re doing,” Bell told The Times. “They’re doing everything they can to support the direction of the new administration, so I think a lot of that takes away from the focus of the good work that people are doing in both the State Department and Peace Corps.”