- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

The chairman of the nation's federal volunteer programs says its renewed funding will include "reforms" to give it more local efficiency, a concern of its conservative critics.
"Conservatives are critical of AmeriCorps," said Stephen Goldsmith, chairman of its parent, the Corporation for National and Community Service. "And they are right."
But in a recent talk to the Council for Excellence in Government here, he said it was also right for President Bush to request reauthorization of the Corporation, which claims to serve 1.5 million Americans every year.
"The reauthorization sets out some principles to reform the Corporation," said Mr. Goldsmith, a former two-term Republican mayor of Indianapolis.
He said the reforms "devolve" more control of the funding and volunteer activity to local settings, where civic leaders and nonprofit groups can make the program work more efficiently.
Though a longtime advocate of such neighborhood solutions to social problems, Mr. Goldsmith said there is still an essential role for a federal agency such as his, which oversees AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
"One way to nurture citizenship is for government to provide the infrastructure for volunteership," he said.
That federal role was expanded in January by President Bush after the September 11 terrorists attacks and as his faith-based initiative to fund religious charities faced legislative obstacles.
In response, Mr. Bush formed a larger umbrella agency called USA Freedom Corps. Its mandate is to invigorate all volunteer recruitment nationwide, including a new Citizen Corps. focused on homeland security, and the longstanding Peace Corps.
In speeches last month to local volunteer groups in Florida and Georgia, Mr. Bush promised to boost AmeriCorps volunteer ranks by 25,000 and Senior Corps by 100,000.
There are currently 50,000 people serving in AmeriCorps, which recruits mostly college students. Mr. Bush wants to lower the age of recruits.
At an annual cost of about $14,000 for each volunteer, the program provides living expenses and a $4,725 award toward college costs. Students have worked mentoring impoverished youth, according to studies.
One AmeriCorps project, Teach America, recruits college graduates to teach in needy public schools.
In his talk, Mr. Goldsmith said the administration hopes to convert the popular work-study program for financially needy college students into more community service activities, or a "service-study."
The occasion of Mr. Goldsmith's talk was the release of his second book on local solutions to social problems, "Putting Faith in Neighborhoods."
During the 1990s in Indianapolis, he successfully applied the free-market principles of lowering taxes and "privatizing" city services through competitive bids.
In the process, Mr. Goldsmith said, he learned about the role of urban religious groups to raise up local leaders and keep neighborhoods on track.
"In the neighborhood where we were successful, there was a nurturing of neighborhood leadership," not just a city officer who dispensed a program fund, he said.
"The most present resource was the church," said Mr. Goldsmith, who attends a synagogue.
He strongly advocates a suburban-urban partnership between houses of worship to help the needy.
Mr. Goldsmith was tapped as candidate Bush's campaign adviser on domestic policy, especially the so-called "faith-based initiative" that was part of the Texas governor's compassionate conservatism.
In his first book, "The Twenty-first Century City," Mr. Goldsmith outlined successes in urban privatization. In the new work, published by the Hudson Institute, he looks at case studies of faith-based groups.
He said the national debate in Washington sometimes overlooks the most effective way to solve local problems. "We ought to contract with government dollars for results," he said, arguing that faith-based groups are competitive.


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