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Should National Service Be Part of Obama's Economic Plan?

By Ed O'Keefe

While President-elect Obama has yet to provide the specifics of his economic proposals, some have suggested he could partially meet the need to create new jobs by fulfilling a campaign promise to expand national service programs.

In a Dec. 5, 2007 address in Iowa, Obama outlined several proposals to expand the nation’s service-based programs, including Americorps, Peace Corps and VISTA and programs that promote volunteerism and service among America’s younger citizens. Separately, he'd also like to see an expansion of the nation's Job Corps programs for disadvantaged youth.

Obama proposed in that December 2007 speech expanding Americorps from 75,000 slots to 250,000 and creating specialized corps to address education, health, energy, veteran and homeland security-related needs and concerns. Among other things, he also proposed doubling the size of the Peace Corps by 2011, finding new ways to connect seniors with volunteer opportunities and offering $4,000 tax credits to college students who perform at least 100 hours of community service.

What Would You Do

“The way I’d sell it right now is to make it part of the economic stimulus package,” said Paul Light, a NYU professor and Brookings Institution senior fellow specializing in the federal bureaucracy. “Anything that creates employment opportunities, even if it’s in the realm of public service, is a logical candidate for that package.”

“I just don’t think Congress is going to turn to a vast expansion of the program as part of a separate agenda. It costs money, and if you’ve got a freight train pulling out of the station and you want to add some additional freight, that’s where you put Americorps perhaps,” he added.

“I think it’s safe to say that our non-profit infrastructure -- especially the part that helps social services -- is going to be badly hurt by the economic crisis, just as physical infrastructure was damaged by Hurricane Katrina,” said David Eisner, the recently-retired CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs Americorps. And there are plenty of applicants to fill the new slots if they win approval, Eisner said, noting that Americorps receives three times as many applications than available slots.

Another "corps" potentially up for expansion is the Job Corps. That's because Obama's service proposals also call for expanding the nation's "green" workforce, or people trained to weatherize buildings and make them more energy efficient, or to build up the nation's renewable energy infrastructure.

While it's not a volunteer program like Americorps or Peace Corps, Job Corps helps lower-income or at-risk 16- to 24-year-olds earn a high school diploma or GED or learn a trade that could help them get a job. Currently five new Job Corps centers are under construction in Florida, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Iowa and Wyoming.

Obama has proposed creating "an energy-focused youth jobs program" that would provide disadvantaged youth with volunteer opportunities to weatherize buildings and learn skills for "green" jobs through Job Corps.

"I have tasked my managers here to develop green curriculums so we can train our people for green jobs," says Job Corps administrator Esther Johnson. "We don't have a green curriculum in Job Corps training per se, but we're starting to work on that so we can train our Job Corps people to get some of these green jobs."

While the nation's employment needs would obviously help fill any new positions, its shifting demographics could also make Obama's proposals popular.

“We’re seeing more service than ever in our nation’s high schools,” Eisner said. A 2006 UCLA study found that 86 percent of incoming college freshmen -- most of whom are now presumably college juniors thinking about post-college employment – volunteered at least occasionally during high school and 70 percent did so at least once a week. It also found an increased interest in civic responsibility and engagement, partially influenced by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina -- events that occurred during Millennials’ high school years. In other words, there’s a natural desire to serve.

“I thought this myself, that one of the reason millennials do it – is to boost their resume,” Eisner said. “When we’re doing our recruiting we learned that the folks that we’re going after don’t like those as reasons. What they care about are two things: the opportunity to change the world and the opportunity to have an adventure.”

“That’s us boomers putting our values onto a generation that has different values,” he said.

So What Would You Do? Make Obama's proposals to expand service opportunities part of his economic plans? Or focus on a different type of job creation? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 25, 2008; 11:10 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, What Would You Do?  
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One issue that remains unstated in the premise of expanding national service opportunities, particularly through CNCS, is the organization's inability throughout its history to effectively and efficiently manage the service members it already has. Much of this difficulty has been due to Congress consistently undermining efforts by CNCS leadership to bolster its infrastructure. I have seen nothing to have me believe Congress would allow the CNCS bureaucracy to expand to meet expanded needs.

Posted by: citizenbill | November 25, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I think this is a good idea, so long as competitive bids are done for the basic infrastructure needed to house, feed and perform all the other tasks that would be mandated for the workers. Let no one person be responsible for the awarding of contracts!

There would need to be a stiff screening and selection process in place to keep illegal alien's out of the program.

I don't know that the current job or peace corps programs ought to be continued. One doesn't hear or see much good about them. They perhaps ought to be absorbed into any new program.

The new service program must be focused on domestic needs, not overseas, unless some foreign country is willing to pay ALL costs associated with hosting some projects in their country. We taxpayers can not afford freebies.

People enlisting in this effort must be paid and have basic medical and health benefits. Do not restrict the program to young people. There are a lot of older citizens that could use the job and the other benefits that go with it.

Posted by: surfer-joe | November 25, 2008 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, right. anything like this reminds me of the Jobs Bank that the Big Three automobile makers have set up in Detroit. A real black hole. Read about it below. It's a clear illustration why they shouldn't be bailed out, and why Obama and his slugs shouldn't be spending our tax dollars like drunken sailor. No offense meant towards sailors.

Posted by: LarryG62 | November 25, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

How about student loan forgiveness for federal employees?

Posted by: AngryLiberal | November 25, 2008 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I think it's a wonderful idea and cannot believe the thinly disguised racism and the short-sighted comments posted previously. I hope that these programs are expanded. The current social programs already mentioned in the article may not get a lot of attention by the media, but that doesn't mean that they are without merit. There is inefficiency and opportunity for improvement everywhere (every company, every government office, and in every individual life), but that doesn't mean ignoring opportunities for improvement just because 100% of previous opportunities weren't utilized.

Posted by: cgriesba | November 25, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to see Paul Light head up OPM.

Posted by: kmcnyasha | November 25, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Not so sure that this national service corps concept is really going to work. Here's why:

Posted by: saturdaymorningpost | November 25, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Looks like the trough isn'tnearly big enough. Forgive student loans? Hey greedy one, You have a contract. If you can't repay the loan, you shouldn't have borrowed the money. Don't you have a sub prime nortgage too?
Salary and health benefits? Why not just go around yur neighborhood knocking on doors and demanding money. That's literally what you are doing with these goofy ideas.

Posted by: LarryG62 | November 25, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

How about enforcing our existing immigration laws (which would save American citizens at least $300 Billion annually); securing our ports and borders during this post-911 era (isn't that what all the extra 'security' everywhere else is all about - or is it??).

What is needed and We the citizens of the United States of America MUST HAVE from the leaders We elected to represent us, is to be made accountable to honor their OATH of OFFICE as they swore before God and citizens, by quickly doing their job of securing our nation's borders and end the invasion of our country by illegal aliens. We MUST HAVE on the President's first day in office is the release of Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean and fire U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton - this is justice. Immediately, upon assuming office, begin leading the charge to dismantle the privately owned Federal Reserve and expunge the IRS, and return America to sound money principles. Get the U.S. out of the UN. STOP spending trillions of dollars for foreign aid. PROSECUTE the Wall Street bankers who defrauded the American people out of billions of dollars and hold elected officials accountable to the law. REPEAL NAFTA, CAFTA, GATT, the WTO, and stop the NAFTA superhighway - the American Peoople have DEMANDED it! Say a resounding "NO" to the New World Order! STOP using our brave men and women in uniform as global cops for the United Nations - bring them home to protect and secure our borders from invaders and drug lords - PROTECT and keep our country safe for our citizens! KEEP AMERICA SOVEREIGN! STOP this govenments global adventurism and interventionism. Steadfastly support and defend the Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms as our Constitution and Declaration of Independence decrees and demands it - this is prevention for our citizens, a safety from a tyrannical government if needed. We MUST HAVE a President, an American by birth and conviction, that when called by election by the citizens of the United States to serve, will view it a high honor and duty to and by immediate action:

Preserve, Protect, and Defend the Constitution of the United States.

Posted by: AJAX2 | November 25, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

This would be an opportune time for Congress to authorize the US Public Service Academy, which enjoys strong bi-partisan support in both House and Senate. Modelled on the military-service academies, the USPSA would provide a rigorous undergraduate education to future leaders of the public and non-profit sectors in return for a multiyear service commitment. The USPSA would be a beacon for young people called to a career in service to the nation outside of the armed forces. Its graduates would serve domestically and bring proven expertise and practices to bear on our national agenda. See

Posted by: pcstorandt | November 25, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

News Flash: You're not a volunteer if you're getting paid to do it.

Posted by: wapo9 | November 25, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I agree with pcstorandt's comment -- this is the time to pursue the Public Service Academy. National service is important, but public service -- government work -- is essential, and we need to make long-term investments in developing our future public servants. A federal service academy for civilians not only would be an important symbolic institution, it also would be a long-term economic investment -- our "infrastructure" does not just include roads and bridges, it also includes people.

Posted by: myerschris1973 | November 25, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Elementary economic analysis shows that government taking away taxpayer money to 'create' jobs results in fewer jobs overall.

Posted by: roberth | November 25, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Can you imagine young men and women as volunteers to go to Afghanistan, build schools, teach, and live with the people in the community. Given adequate funds and using local labor to build would have a greater affect on our relationships with the Tribal leaders, and the people there, than a dozen platoons of soldiers.

Posted by: PlanoCowboy | November 26, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

This is utter fascism/statism/collectivism with pretty nonthreatening euphemisms like "service" and "patriotism" and "serve". The socialist tyrants of the 20th Century knew that "service" to the State is key to controlling people..make their lives not their own but the States... this bipartisan offal does not even warrant consideration in a "free" society that we are supposed to haveGUARANTEED by the Constitution the "leaders" take an oath to honor and obey. But...... this will soon be a nightmare reality for Americans.....get ready to forgo that job...forgo that family vacation...forgo that bike trip to Iowa..and get ready to march in unison..jumping jacks at 0500hrs...and dig ditches in Ohio, change bedpans in Virginia..and monitor for the DHS peaceful protests against the fascism by American Citizens....

Read some history on "National Service" might wake up.

Posted by: ChrisBieber | November 26, 2008 11:04 AM | Report abuse

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Start finding the perfect construction job today or if you’re a contractor or project owner contact Grus today to fulfill your Skilled Labor Staffing needs.

Posted by: constructionjobs | November 26, 2008 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Well let the immigrants stay in their
country or send them to social service
positions. This is still the USA and
supposed to be the home of the free.
WAKE UP AMERICA, you are beginning to
have your freedoms stripped from you,
if you voted for a president, just see
what you got.

Posted by: jeryjoan | November 26, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Service is not true service when it is forced upon someone--instead it tends to breed resentment. However, if Obama does not mandate service hours, then I would say, it's a sweet thought for him to have and shows that he's a caring person. Nevertheless, the role of the government does not include legislating morality, whether that be in regards to marriage, or serving ones community. As individuals, we should remain skeptical over the government implementing service requirements.

Posted by: emily04 | November 26, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

AmeriCorps is the most effective public policy I've ever seen. For an average of $12,000 in federal dollars per person, organizations can bring on inspired and inspiring people of all ages to do amazing things. The work AmeriCorps members have done in the Gulf Coast region is phenomenal. AmeriCorps (and the Peace Corps) works as a leadership incubator, teaching people how to make a difference. Doubters should look at Habitat for Humanity. A few AmeriCorps members can recruit and manage hundreds of volunteers. Small investment, major impact.

Posted by: colamahon | November 26, 2008 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I would want No contractors involved in the National Service or National civil defense. There is a different constitutional mandate for public employees vs. contractors. Public employees can be put in jail for no working for the public good and committing fraud and other crimes. Corporate contractors, non-profit or for profit work for profit or the corporate employers good and it is very hard to get those contractors who commit fraud and other crimes in jail. In fact, they are rewarded with fines. Then the company rarely pays the fines.
We must separate government from the private sector who have been subverting , undermining our Republic.

I would like to see the Washington Post do an indepth story on Pres. Eisenhowers "Civil defense". My father was a factory worker who belonged to this 'civil defense' to protect our community against terrorists, nuclear war, biological warfare and etc and helped set up a disaster plan for our community. Check with your granparents kids and see if your grandparents did the same.
Save the republic-keep government public.

Posted by: teddi_ohio | November 26, 2008 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Service should definitely be part of the stimulus package -- it will help with the economy and with a sense of engagement that's so important right now. Getting through these times requires more folks engaged and providing those opportunities. Americans are looking to be united and feel a part of something right now.

There is a petition campaign to show the widespread support for a new era of service:

Posted by: zsm3 | November 26, 2008 7:19 PM | Report abuse

National service programs are some of the most cost-effective federal programs that make a big difference tackling out big social challenges.

The maximum federal cost of a full-time AmeriCorps member is $12,600 plus a $4,725 scholarship – a substantial sacrifice for Americans willing to work full-time to reduce education inequity, fight climate change, respond to natural disasters, or provide services in rural and urban health clinics. Plus national service programs leverage private sector matching funds.

Encourage President-Elect Obama to make a bold call to service in his Inaugural Address:

Posted by: aaron4Service | November 26, 2008 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like the Hitler Youth.

Posted by: cfd007 | November 26, 2008 11:57 PM | Report abuse

National or community service is a valuable tool to improve our country and community. If it were required of all high school graduates, we would have a large labor pool (military or not) learning valuable work skills for the rest of their life. I wonder if the illegals people seemed so concerned about would give 2 years to live here? I think they would come in droves. Wouldn't our teens think 2 years of partly paid work would be worth it to be citizens of this wonderful and great country? Why should those refuse-nics get to live here free of any obligation to contribute to the commonweal?

Posted by: yasdnil4 | November 30, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

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