- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 12, 2008

‘08 ISSUES:

When it comes to national service and volunteerism, President Bush will be a tough act to follow.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mr. Bush launched the most ambitious agenda of government-sponsored service initiatives since the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. He created the USA Freedom Corps and Volunteers for Prosperity. He resurrected the Citizen Corps. He started a church-state partnership with the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He expanded the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.

The Bush administration also began counting the number of Americans active in volunteer efforts, starting in the months after Sept. 11. In the first year after the terrorist attacks, 59.8 million Americans volunteered. By 2005, despite predictions that volunteerism would wane as memories of the tragic day became more distant, that number had grown to 65.4 million.

It´s likely that Mr. Bush´s legacy of service will continue under a McCain or Obama administration, albeit with a few twists.

“What´s encouraging is that both Senator McCain and Senator Obama have indicated they will continue the USA Freedom Corps and the faith-based initiative,” said John Bridgeland, chief executive officer of Civic Enterprises, who served as the Bush administration’s first director of the USA Freedom Corps. “It’s one of the few things they both agree on.”

John McCain’s national service proposal calls for “renewing America’s civic purpose” with a Service for America initiative, which would bolster “the teaching and understanding of American history, culture and core ideas.”

The initiative would boost volunteerism by increasing service opportunities, convening summits aimed at helping people foster ideas, focusing on “urgent situations” such as the high school dropout rate, and boosting opportunities for service overseas.

A Vietnam veteran, Mr. McCain also has called for more service opportunities for veterans and seniors. Returning veterans would be reintegrated into society through civilian service opportunities. Retirees would find more volunteer opportunities as a result of expansions to SeniorCorps.

Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, also wants to launch a grant program aimed at making competitive grants available to states and private partnerships working with at-risk high school students. The Corporation for National and Community Service would recognize up to 20 schools each year as “Campuses of Service.”

In addition, existing programs such as Volunteers for Prosperity and Peace Corps would be expanded under a McCain presidency.

Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, also has called for expanding federal service programs. Under his proposal, AmeriCorps would grow from 75,000 slots to 250,000, with a focus on classrooms, health care, clean energy, hospitalized veterans and emergency preparedness.

Mr. Obama, who announced his “Call to Serve” in December in a speech at Cornell College in Iowa, also would double the size of the Peace Corps from 7,800 to 16,000 by 2011. Under Mr. Bush, the Peace Corps grew from 6,000 to 8,100 slots, said Mr. Bridgeland, the biggest increase in 37 years.

Mr. Obama would link education to service with an “American Opportunity” tax credit, which would cover the first $4,000 of a college education in exchange for 100 hours of public service a year.

He also would create a Green Job Corps for disadvantaged youths and expand YouthBuild from 8,000 to 50,000 slots over the next eight years.

Middle school and high school students would be encouraged to contribute at least 50 hours per week to community service with the help of national guidelines and resources for schools.

A former community organizer in Chicago, Mr. Obama also wants to establish a Social Investment Fund Network to provide capital for innovation in nonprofits. He also would create a Social Entrepreneurship Agency to help nonprofits collaborate with government.

Both Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama have said they want to continue the faith-based initiative, which provides government funding for religious organizations. At the Democratic National Convention, the Obama campaign convened several panels on faith-government partnerships.

“I am exceedingly encouraged by what Senator Obama has proposed with his faith-based and community partnerships,” said John DiIulio, who headed the first White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under Mr. Bush. “It’s an opportunity to be faith-based yet fact-based.”

Mr. Bridgeland, another former Bush adviser, even agreed to back Mr. Obama’s service plan. “The campaign asked me to endorse his plan, and even though I’m a Republican, I did,” he said.

At the same time, he bristles over Mr. Obama’s contention that the Bush administration did nothing to foster national service after the Sept. 11 attacks and instead asked Americans to go shopping.

“It makes my blood boil,” Mr. Bridgeland said.

Nonetheless, he’s hopeful that historians will view Mr. Bush’s tradition of service more generously than the Obama campaign does. That both presidential candidates plan to retain the USA Freedom Corps and other Bush initiatives is a good sign, he said.

“Will they call it by a different name? They might. But it sounds like the legacy will continue,” Mr. Bridgeland said.