- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

More local and state control over the use of federal funds. Greater accountability for results. Reductions in bureaucracy. Greater access to funds for faith-based and community-serving organizations. Those of us who brand ourselves as conservative would like to see these "conservative" ideas in practice in more federal programs.

When he appointed me to its board, President Bush asked me to review the Corporation for National and Community Service and its programs to find ways to make its activities ones that support and do not supplant true local volunteerism. Over the past decade, conservatives have appropriately criticized the programs of the corporation AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America. Many of the reforms they suggested are now set out in the Citizen Service Act introduced by Rep. Pete Hoekstra in an effort to bring long-overdue changes to programs that have not been meaningfully reviewed by Congress since the corporation was created in 1993.

Many outstanding reforms have been suggested over the 10 years that the corporation has been in existence, and the Citizen Service Act offers us the best opportunity to bring those ideas into being: to offer states and local governments more control over the dollars they receive; to demand greater accountability for results from grantees; to cut down on senseless bureaucracy; to make it easier for faith-based and community organizations to access federal funds; and to provide some infrastructure to empower millions of unpaid volunteers to participate meaningfully in service activities rather than providing for paid service as an end in itself.

Federal resources should be used to help community organizations support, train and organize those community volunteers who are looking for ways to serve. Providing a senior volunteer or an AmeriCorps member to a local organization to help it fulfill its mission is much less disruptive than forcing the organization to compete for federal dollars configured by federal officials who decide what the mission should be.

There remain legitimate conservative concerns about some AmeriCorps activities, but the Citizen Service Act, which represents a bipartisan compromise, goes a long way toward forcing reforms that will address some of these concerns respecting local and state organizations, while demanding accountability for results. The experience of Republican governors and mayors over the past decade shows that compassionate conservatism is best accomplished by forging public-private partnerships with neighborhood organizations to successfully provide training, mentors and shelter to those prosperity has left behind. AmeriCorps and Senior Corps need to build more relationships like the ones they enjoy with Habitat for Humanity, the Boy Scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Boys and Girls Clubs. This approach is humble enough to understand that the hard work of helping others is best procured through networks of for-profit and non-profit partnerships that can deliver public services in a compassionate manner while at the same time generating the social glue that helps hold our communities together.

The Citizen Service Act passed out of the House Education and the Workforce Committee with the support of many conservatives dedicated to supporting public-private partnerships that produce results. The reforms in the bill are strong and the time for implementing them could not be better. Congress, by passing the Citizen Service Act, can give us the tools of accountability, less bureaucracy and more local control necessary to help our community organizations meet important community needs.


Stephen Goldsmith is chairman of the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and special adviser to the president for faith-based and not-for-profit initiatives.


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