Good ol’ AmeriCorps just can’t get as many salutes as it deserves. This is the first time I have seen the phrase “bogus idealism” in a headline.
INVESTORS BUSINESS DAILY
Rife With Bogus Idealism, Waste, AmeriCorps Doesn’t Need To Exist
By JAMES BOVARD
President Obama signed legislation Tuesday to triple the number of AmeriCorps members from 75,000 to 250,000.
Obama declared that the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act is about “connecting deeds to needs.” Ironically, the signing ceremony and a $5 billion multiyear outlay for AmeriCorps came one day after Obama called on his cabinet members to trim $100 million in wasteful government spending.
Paying people on false pretenses to do unnecessary things is the soul of AmeriCorps. Since President Clinton created this program in 1993, politicians have endlessly touted its recruits as volunteers toiling selflessly for the common good.
But the average AmeriCorps members receives more than $15,000 on an annual basis in pay and other benefits. And most AmeriCorps members go on to work for government agencies or nonprofit groups. Their AmeriCorps gig is more of a career stepping stone than an act of financial hari-kari.
AmeriCorps’ prestige has perennially been at war with its boondoggles.
During the Clinton administration, AmeriCorps members helped run a program in Buffalo that gave children $5 for each toy gun they brought in — as well as a certificate praising their decision not to play with toy guns.
In San Diego, AmeriCorps members busied themselves collecting used bras and panties for a homeless shelter.
In Los Angeles, AmeriCorps members busied themselves foisting unreliable ultra-low-flush toilets on poor people.
In New Jersey, AmeriCorps members enticed middle-class families to accept subsidized federal health insurance for their children.
Nowadays, many AmeriCorps programs are hailed in the media for projects that produce little more than sanctimony among participants:
• In Florida, AmeriCorps members in the “Women in Distress” program organized a poetry reading on the evils of domestic violence.
• In San Francisco, AmeriCorps members busy themselves mediating elementary-school playground disputes.
• In Montana, AmeriCorps members carried out a drive encouraging people to donate books to ship to Cameroon.
• In Oswego, N.Y., AmeriCorps members set up a donation bin to gather used cell phones for victims of domestic violence. AmeriCorps is beloved by politicians because it provides ample photo opportunities of them doing good deeds.
AmeriCorps headquarters encourages local programs to organize “AmeriCorps-for-a-Day events with elected officials” to help get them on board as supporters. A politician can show up, hammer three nails at a house-building project, and be assured of laudatory coverage in the local media.
AmeriCorps advocates claim that AmeriCorps members spur 1.7 million other Americans to volunteer each year. At best, this is the Tom Sawyer Model of Virtue: some people getting paid to sway other people to work for free.
In reality, AmeriCorps members have no such suasive gift. AmeriCorps routinely counts anyone who works in a project that AmeriCorps members “manage” as a new volunteer.
Thus, if 20 people are already working at a house building project where an AmeriCorps member temporarily supervises, all 20 can be counted as AmeriCorps-generated volunteers.
At the signing ceremony, Obama declared that “we will measure our progress not just in number of hours served or volunteers mobilized.”
But in reality, AmeriCorps has always relied on Soviet Bloc-style accounting to justify itself.
For instance, program defenders often assert that “540,000 AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 705 million hours of service” since 1994.
Many individual programs evaluate themselves with raw numbers that mean little. AmeriCorps members are leading a donation drive for items to ship to the Pennsylvania National Guard in Iraq.
AmeriCorps’ Rachel Ralph-Doyle declared: “Our goal is to collect 200 pounds of donations.” AmeriCorps has never performed a credible analysis of the value of the service that its members produce.
Instead, meaningless aggregates are “close enough for government work” to prove that AmeriCorps is a cornucopia.
But for politicians, the issue is not what AmeriCorps members produce but how it makes people feel about the federal government. AmeriCorps puts a smiley face on Uncle Sam.
America has enough real volunteers: It does not need mass production of government-issue bogus volunteers. The glorification of AmeriCorps should awaken Americans to the bogus idealism permeating Washington.
• Bovard is the author of “Attention Deficit Democracy” and eight other books.