Apr 102002

One of the most notable aspects of the State of the Union address was President Bush’s call for volunteerism. He endorsed the need for public service after the terrorist attacks and announced the creation of an entity to help in that endeavor: the USA Freedom Corps, a volunteer program under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Thousands of Americans, including this one, signed up right away, willing to learn disaster relief and other techniques that might prove useful in protecting the country. Months later, we’re still waiting for something to do.

This week, Bush has taken his volunteer message to the bully pulpit again, calling for $50 million for volunteer programs and promoting the

Freedom Corps in speeches in Tennessee (incidentally, the Volunteer State) and Connecticut.

That’s all well and good, but something Bush has neglected to do is acknowledge that the Freedom Corps isn’t his idea.

Rather, it is the brainchild of two prominent U.S. senators – Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, and John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

McCain and Bayh introduced the Call to Service Act, S.1762, in November, a mere two months after the terrorist attacks.

The bill would create a new role for AmeriCorps, a well-known Clinton program, in homeland defense duties. It also creates new programs such as Volunteers In Public Service, under the Department of Justice, which will train civilians to perform regular police duties.

The legislation currently rests in a Senate committee, where it was sent Dec. 10, 2001.

Press releases and letters from the offices of Bayh and McCain urged the White House to endorse the program and embrace its ideas.

This the president willingly did, but the cost was no mention of the two senators.

A press release from Bayh dated Jan. 30 hailed the president for lauding the new program in the State of the Union. But when he did, Bush didn’t once mention the Indiana senator or his Republican counterpart.

Even today, Bush talks about the program as if it were his progeny. I suppose it shouldn’t be shocking when a politician takes credit for someone else’s idea, but that makes it no less offensive.

And in the tradition of snail-paced bureaucracy, even though the Bush administration has embraced the program, still nothing has been done.

I received an e-mail the other day from one of the programs, called the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), updating me on the lack of progress.

“We appreciate your patience as we build capacity to instruct hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens,” the e-mail read.

What if, God forbid, something happened tomorrow? I signed up for this wonderful program and would be willing to help, but I haven’t had any training. Neither have thousands of other Americans. We would be pretty useless in the event of another emergency.

Maybe they don’t need volunteers that badly.

Maybe Congress should pass the legislation so the programs can receive the funding they need.

Or maybe the president should stop talking and actually do something about the program he has so lovingly adopted.

Becky is a senior or a junior majoring in history and journalism.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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