WASHINGTON -- The members of the former Soviet Union have a pressing need for technicians and engineers.
And U.S. soldiers are facing joblessness because the Defense Department is cutting its personnel by 25 percent due to the vanishing communist threat.
Maryland Rep. Beverly B. Byron wants to help solve both problems by sending 1,000 ex-GIs to work in Eastern Europe, the Baltic nations and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Mrs. Byron, D-6th, chairs the House military personnel and compensation subcommittee. She has introduced the Volunteers Investing for Peace and Security Act.
The legislation would create a modified "Peace Corps" of troops who lose their jobs due to retirement or downsizing. Volunteers would go overseas in the next three years to help the former communist-bloc nations plan and rebuild their infrastructures and medical care systems.
Volunteers would be skilled in areas such as civil and electrical engineering, logistics, communications and health care. Each would work overseas for a two-year period.
Despite their official designation as volunteers, participants would earn the same benefits as members of the foreign service but lower salaries. Each participant would receive living expenses and $25,000 annually, education expenses for any dependents, transportation, medical care and a housing allowance.
Similar ideas have been proposed by both President Bush and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, a Democratic presidential hopeful, says a congressional staff member.
The Byron bill, which has a handful of co-sponsors, "dovetails nicely with their proposals," the staff member said.
Opposition to the proposed measure is expected in Congress and the White House because of the program's cost. "It's not all that expensive," said the staff member, who could not provide an estimate, "but [congressional] leaders are not overly excited about taking a chunk out of the budget."
Mrs. Byron lost in the March primary and will leave Congress after this year. That may mean she has less clout on Capitol Hill and that could affect the bill's chances, according to the staff member.