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A Big Day for Public Service

By Ed O'Keefe

President Obama's push to encourage public service takes a big step forward today when he signs the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act at the SEED School of Washington, D.C.. The bill grants an additional $1.1 billion to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), providing enough funding to expand the number of positions with AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 in the next eight years. It also establishes a new volunteer corps to work on conservation, education, health care and veterans issues.

“I think there’s something going on out there and we’re just trying to keep up with that," CNCS vice chairman Stephen Goldsmith said on a call earlier today with reporters.

Corporation president Alan Solomont agreed: “We know that people want to serve, as witnessed by the Obama effect, of people answering the president’s call to service." Americorps received three times more applications than last year, thanks partly to the president's push, he said.

Perhaps most critically, officials see this as a way to encourage young people to seek public sector careers and to keep senior citizens involved in the community by putting their professional skills to good use once they retire.

Goldsmith, a former mayor of Indianapolis, also said the bill provides "critical infrastructure" to cities and nonprofits groups that require additional resources to provide their critical services, especially amid the economic downturn.

The bipartisan legislation moved through Congress at a lightning-fast pace, clearing the House and Senate and their various committees in just 22 days.

“We think that that happened because there are so many people ... [who] believe in the impact of national service and the fact that service can be a solution to some of the tough problems facing our country," Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said on the call.

Obama will be joined at the bill-signing ceremony today by Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Rosalyn Carter and other lawmakers. It comes one day after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to boost volunteerism in the Big Apple that include the appointment of the city's first chief service officer and new requirements that public school principals create plans to promote volunteering among schoolchildren.

The White House also announced today that Obama plans to nominate Nike vice president Maria Eitel as the next CEO of CNCS. Eitel is also president of the company's Nike Foundation, which focuses on adolescent girls in the developing world. Before joining the sneaker company, she worked at Microsoft's European headquarters, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, MCI and with the first Bush administration as deputy director of media relations. If confirmed, she will oversee 600 employees that operate AmeriCorps, VISTA, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve and report to Solomont, Goldsmith and members of the corporation's bipartisan board of directors.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 21, 2009; 12:05 PM ET
Categories:  Public Service  
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'Whatever you give should come from what you would otherwise spend, not from what you would otherwise pay. To spend little and give much is the highest glory a man can aspire to.'-Edmund Burke

Posted by: edtroyhampton | April 21, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

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