- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2000

President Clinton's pursuit of a Kennedy-esque legacy was never more pronounced than with his 1994 creation of the AmeriCorps. Yet as with so many other aspects of his administration, AmeriCorps has also disappointed, transforming from a heady idealistic village into a turgid bureaucratic swamp.

In "AmeriCorps: Six Years of Waste and Fraud," James Bovard of the Capitol Research Center points out that in return for 1,700 hours of work each year (roughly 10 months of 40-hour weeks), each AmeriCorps recruit receives over $23,000 annually, including a stipend, free child-care, emergency dental care, health insurance and an educational award. To receive this equivalent of a $12 per hour wage, members are supposed to engage in community-building activities such as hauling water and mopping floors. However, many also engage in advocacy for federal handouts.

Millions of dollars of AmeriCorps money has gone to organizations working for housing subsidies and rent control. AmeriCorps members have gone on food stamp recruiting drives in Mississippi, Wisconsin, Vermont and Washington, D.C. In Washington state, AmeriCorps members were paid to organize the Hispanic community to monitor abuses by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Succeeding as advocates, AmeriCorps recruits have failed as educators. According to the White House, AmeriCorps members have helped nearly 2 million students. Yet Mr. Bovard notes that much of the AmeriCorps training budget is used to prepare members for their General Equivalency Degree (GED) exam the exam given for high school equivalency. Robert Sweet, former director of the National Institute of Education, told Mr. Bovard that "Americorps is not working Clinton's program is still the fraud that it was in the beginning."

Not that anyone would know. Most AmeriCorps programs are "self-evaluated" the bureaucratic equivalent of the fox watching the hen house. A General Accounting Office (GAO) report noted that AmeriCorps reports characterize program activities and hours put in by recruits, rather than by actual outcomes. In one extraordinary example cited by Mr. Bovard, an AmeriCorps program to distribute "ultra-low-flush" toilets in Southern California "… claimed to have benefited a whopping 30 million people almost the entire population of California!"

The waste and abuse of the AmeriCorps has not stopped its recent promotional drive, which includes ads on cereal boxes and support from basketball superstar Grant Hill. President Clinton recently proposed increasing the AmeriCorps budget by $106 million, for a total expenditure of $533 million.

Despite Mr. Clinton's claim that "AmeriCorps members … are our best builders, building that bridge to the 21st century," the true builders are the vast numbers of Americans quietly going about their business, not to mention the 93 million Americans who annually work as unpaid volunteers. Indeed, AmeriCorps members could better serve their communities by finding real jobs in the private sector.

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