On March 18, the House of Representatives voted 321-105 to pass the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, and the Senate is expected quickly to follow suit. The GIVE Act more than triples the number of slots for AmeriCorps members from 75,000 to 250,000. And it takes a giant step toward expanding Washington’s power to make “service” compulsory for all young Americans.
President Obama praises AmeriCorps for embodying “the best of our nation’s history, diversity and commitment to service.” In reality, AmeriCorps’s essence is paying people on false pretenses to do unnecessary things.
Newsweek editor Jonathan Alter, one of the program’s biggest proponents, praises AmeriCorps for its “15 years of scandal-free” history. Not exactly.
The program was tainted from the get-go. In its early years, members were routinely used as backdrops for photo opportunities when President Clinton arrived on tarmacs around the nation. And AmeriCorps “volunteers” were repeatedly involved in political advocacy and petitioning. The program gave over $1 million to ACORN.
The Mississippi Action for Community Education AmeriCorps program was purportedly recruiting food-stamp recipients. In reality, it was stacking the payroll with ghost employees. MACE’s director was convicted on 15 felony counts and sent to prison in 2002. And last year, Sacramento’s St. HOPE Academy, a showcase AmeriCorps program, was disbarred after an inspector-general investigation found that AmeriCorps members were detailed to serve as personal assistants to the academy’s founder, to perform menial work for the academy, and “to engage in political campaigning to the benefit of St. HOPE’s charter school.”
But AmeriCorps remains popular on Capitol Hill, at least in part because it allows members of Congress to flaunt their goodness. The program’s headquarters encourages local branches to organize “AmeriCorps-for-a-Day events with elected officials” to help get them on board. After some pols showed up one day five years ago to hammer a few nails at a D.C. house-building project, AmeriCorps issued a press release naming and praising the eight members of Congress. Photos from appearances at AmeriCorps Habitat for Humanity projects can embellish constituent newsletters and aid in re-election campaigns.
Politicians exploit AmeriCorps in other ways. Early in his first term, President George W. Bush hyped the expansion of AmeriCorps as a counterpunch against Osama bin Laden. Shortly after 9/11, AmeriCorps chief Leslie Lenkowsky told members, “the daily duties that you perform will also be helping to thwart terrorism itself.” He assured AmeriCorps recruits that their efforts were “as important to our nation’s security and well-being” as the actions of American troops at that moment fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. By 2003, Lenkowsky changed his tune, describing AmeriCorps as just “another cumbersome, unpredictable government bureaucracy.”
AmeriCorps claims that its members “mobilize” 1.7 million other Americans to volunteer each year. At best, this is the Tom Sawyer model of virtue—some people getting paid to sway other people to work for free. AmeriCorps’s actual achievements are a statistical charade. The organization routinely counts anyone who works in a project that AmeriCorps members “manage” as a new volunteer. Thus, if 20 people are already working at a house-building project where an AmeriCorps member temporarily supervises, they are all counted as AmeriCorps-generated volunteers.
AmeriCorps trumpets the assertion that, since its creation, “540,000 AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 705 million hours of service.” Shirley Sagawa, a Clinton White House official, observed that presidents have always “set the measure of AmeriCorps [as] the number of bodies in it.” But AmeriCorps has never performed a credible analysis of the value of the service its members produce. Instead, it relies on Soviet bloc-style accounting—merely counting labor inputs and pretending the raw numbers prove grandiose achievements.
In 2003, the Office of Management and Budget concluded that “AmeriCorps has not been able to demonstrate results. Its current focus is on the amount of time a person serves, as opposed to the impact on the community or participants.” The General Accounting Office criticized the organization for failing to make any effort to measure the actual effect of its members’ actions.
But Congress continues to fill AmeriCorps ranks because it puts a smiley face on big government. Whether or not they produce anything, as long as AmeriCorps’s gray shirts are out there getting PR for helping people, Leviathan can be portrayed as a giant engine of compassion. “National service” is really just any subsidized activity that burnishes the image of the federal government.
There is more, it's all good and it's all fodder for why you and I need to stand against big government and that which fuels big government.
I tease you with a tad more in the hopes that you'll read it all and pass it on:
This is in character with Obama’s liberalism. Shortly after his election victory last November, the change.gov website announced the new president’s call for “developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.” The wording was later changed to “setting a goal” for service. (Some states have already imposed such requirements on students as a condition for graduation.)
This is part of a long series of Democratic Party efforts to create pretexts to commandeer more of people’s lives. A dozen years ago, in a stunning conflation of compassion and compulsion, President Clinton announced that America needs “citizen servants.” He declared, “The will to serve has never been stronger.” That may or may not have been true, but the will to power is certainly at a high-water mark.
A New York Times editorial on March 24 hailed the GIVE Act for providing “a chance to constructively harness the idealism of thousands of Americans eager to contribute time and energy to solving the nation’s problems.” But the GIVE Act is idealistic only if one believes that citizens should take their values—and their “moral opportunities”—from their rulers.
It is a sad day when people line up to have their virtue certified by the most exploitative, dishonest class in the nation.