- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

Most volunteers don't share the bureaucratic mentality not only do they have the wildly unbureaucratic habit of getting things done, but they usually do so in such a way that it doesn't actually cost anyone anything. That's the whole idea.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey has his doubts about President Bush's plan to build a costly new bureaucratic army called the USA Freedom Corps, and for good reason. Freedom Corps' estimated price tag in fiscal 2003 is $560 million. Under Mr. Bush's plan, the ranks of the Peace Corps will double in number over the next five years and Senior Corps and AmeriCorps will recruit 200,000 more "volunteers."

Those volunteers will do minimum wage work such as basic construction and mopping floors. If past AmeriCorps activities are any indication, volunteers will also enjoy occasional extracurricular activities, such as distributing "ultra-low-flush" toilets, going on food-stamp recruiting drives and teaching students to fail high school tests the same way they did (a sizable chunk of the AmeriCorps budget is spent on preparing members to pass high school equivalency exams).

In return for their empty-handed grabbing er, their open-hearted giving, AmeriCorps members receive taxpayer subsidized goodies including a stipend of more than $23,000 annually, health benefits, free child care and an educational award. Pizza delivery drivers probably wish that they had it so good.

Let's face it. Paid volunteerism isn't volunteerism at all, and making it compulsory certainly won't help. (What happens if the Freedom Corps misses its recruiting targets? Will it start drafting volunteers? Perhaps it could initiate a draft lottery. Conscientious objectors could then burn their volunteer draft cards at the steps of the Capitol while chanting, "No way, we won't stay!")

Mr. Armey pointed out that from the start, AmeriCorps was an "ill-conceived, big-government-directed program that didn't meet the needs of the nation." Rather, those needs are met through the open-handed gifts and open-hearted actions of millions of Americans who quietly give billions each year without asking for anything in return.

Mr. Bush's call to for an army of volunteers would have sounded better if he didn't already have one.


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