- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

In his effort to expand and promote volunteer programs, President Bush is reaching out to House Republicans by proposing reforms to the Clinton-era AmeriCorps program.
As Mr. Bush travels the country this week touting his plan to boost and enhance volunteerism, a top critic of AmeriCorps yesterday has voiced tentative support for the president's efforts to reform it.
"I've talked in general terms with the president about the idea of reforming it and certainly the general gist is along the lines that I would consider good reforms," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, adding that he has yet to see the specifics.
The law governing these programs is up for congressional reauthorization this year.
Mr. Armey said if it were up to him, he would "just repeal the package," but he does not have the votes to do that.
"So, if the president of the United States wants to lead in reform, I can gain ground on it by working with the president or I can go back and stand on principle and get nowhere," Mr. Armey said.
Mr. Bush announced yesterday some basic principles for reforming AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America programs that fall under Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
The administration's principles include increasing accountability by requiring performance goals, corrective plans if goals are not met and withholding part or all of the programs' federal support if corrections are not made, said Leslie Lenkowsky, chief executive officer of CNCS, AmeriCorps' parent group.
Mr. Lenkowsky testified yesterday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which oversees AmeriCorps and related programs.
Mr. Lenkowsky said the administration also wants to decentralize AmeriCorps and related programs giving states more authority and flexibility in selecting programs and allocating funds while increasing assistance to secular and religious community organizations.
"By improving and enhancing its programs, this committee will enable the corporation to respond more effectively to a public that wants to serve," Mr. Lenkowsky told the panel.
Many House Republicans opposed the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993, and had supported efforts to repeal it.
"The program currently lacks accountability and does not have enough state and local control," a House Republican aide said. "It also largely shuts out faith-based organizations, which are a key force in combating poverty around the country."
But the aide said the program "appears to be here to stay," so the logical course for Republicans is to reform it.
"This is what the administration appears ready to do," the aide said.
Mr. Armey stressed, however, that when it comes to funding increases for these volunteer programs, he will ask the administration how it plans to pay for them. He said AmeriCorps must be put on the "reaffirmed budgetary discipline basis that I would put everything else on now."
"September 11 has passed; it's time to get back to that language," he said.
During his State of the Union address, Mr. Bush announced the formation of USA Freedom Corps, a White House office to coordinate government volunteer programs, including Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and the newly created Citizen Corps.
The White House is asking for $564 million for AmeriCorps in fiscal 2003 a $240 million increase over 2002 levels to enable 25,000 more AmeriCorps members. The administration wants $267 million for Senior Corps a $50 million increase over 2002 levels.
On Monday, the White House announced that it also would like another $50 million for Citizen Corps beyond the $230 million requested in the 2003 budget proposal.
AmeriCorps sends its members to more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations a year, including Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses for the poor, and others that tutor and mentor youths, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, run after-school programs and help communities respond to disasters.
Mr. Lenkowsky will testify tomorrow before the House Education and the Workforce Committee's select education subcommittee.
Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican and the panel's chairman, said the problems with AmeriCorps, including accusations of financial mismanagement and volunteers working in fast-food restaurants or on political campaigns, have been addressed in the past two years.
Mr. Ware said he thinks the administration's reform proposals, "will help broaden the coalition on both sides so we can get this done in a bipartisan fashion."

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