Americorps Boondoggle Grows

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April 28, 2009|By James Bovard

President Barack Obama signed legislation last week to more than triple the number of Ameri-Corps members, from 75,000 to 250,000. Mr. Obama declared that the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act is about "connecting deeds to needs."

Paying people on false pretenses to do unnecessary things is the soul of AmeriCorps. Since President Bill Clinton created this program in 1993, politicians have endlessly touted its recruits as volunteers toiling selflessly for the common good. But most AmeriCorps members go on to work for government agencies or nonprofit groups; their AmeriCorps gig is more of a career steppingstone than an act of financial sacrifice.

AmeriCorps' prestige has perennially been at war with its boondoggles. 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 foisted unreliable, ultra-low-flush toilets on poor people.

AmeriCorps is beloved by politicians because it provides ample photo opportunities of them doing good deeds. But 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.

James Bovard is the author of "Attention Deficit Democracy" and eight other books.

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