- - Thursday, September 11, 2014


Charity begins at home, sure enough, but some people think it can flower only from Washington. President Obama will be joined by Bill Clinton at the White House on Friday to celebrate AmeriCorps, the embodiment of volunteerism that isn’t really voluntary.

Mr. Clinton came up with a scheme 20 years ago to pay young people between $5,000 and $10,000 to devote a year to “community service.” He’ll be on hand to swear in the program’s newest inductees. George W. Bush, another AmeriCorps fan, will participate via video message.

Volunteerism is certainly worth celebrating, but not the way AmeriCorps practices it. On his 19th-century tour through America, the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the willingness of neighbors to pitch in and help one another when a neighbor needed it.

For more than two centuries, charities, churches, neighborhood groups and civic organizations have fed the hungry, housed the homeless, and helped those they barely knew to find jobs, clothes, friendships and fresh starts. The only reward expected was a smile, a hearty thanks and the reassurance that they wouldn’t be alone when they found themselves in need.

AmeriCorps tries to change all that by having government, not individuals, decide who should help whom. “Volunteers” are paid to work on causes that often smell of politics, such as attending campaign events, distributing literature, joining environmental protests, encouraging people to sign up for food stamps and handing out condoms. In one famous incident a dozen years ago, National Review caught AmeriCorps running a “gun buyback” in which kids pocketed $5 for each cap pistol and squirt gun they turned in.

Three years ago, AmeriCorps leaders were forced to admit that two AmeriCorps members were engaging in political advocacy for Planned Parenthood of New York City. Another member was assigned to escort women to an abortion mill in the state of Washington.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs AmeriCorps, could use a few volunteers in its accounting department. The corporation doesn’t pay sufficient attention to its billion-dollar annual budget. Its inspector general found the bureaucracy so poorly managed that it was often impossible to “reliably project and quantify the amount and has offered no plan for recovering improperly paid funds.”

A nonprofit organization in Houston enrolled 17 employees into AmeriCorps, and kept more than $234,000 in federal funds earmarked as salary for them. An illegal alien in Minnesota scammed $6,513 from taxpayers by enrolling as an AmeriCorps volunteer.

Five years ago, Gerald Walpin, the inspector general at the time, revealed that Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Calif., an Obama administration crony and once an all-star basketballer in the NBA, used AmeriCorps “volunteers” to wash his car and politick for him. The inspector general exposed an $80 million boondoggle funding a fellowship at the City University of New York. Without further investigation, Mr. Obama sacked him.

That’s the legacy of this program, so better a going-away party than an anniversary bash. Young people should be encouraged to participate in community service, but it should be in their own neighborhoods, and not managed by empire-building bureaucrats in Washington. There’s no shortage of food kitchens, animal shelters and other worthy projects available, many run by their neighborhood churches. They deserve help.

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