WASHINGTON, D.C. | June 23, 2011 -
America has always been known as a place where volunteerism exists in every community. Whether serving at a local food bank, assisting those who spend their nights at a nearby shelter, or simply lending a helping hand to a neighbor in need, those who volunteer their time and resources on behalf of their community help meet the many needs of our diverse society.
In recent decades, Washington has tried to pursue policies that will encourage more citizens to step up and help those in need. Those efforts were perhaps most visible in 1973 with the passage of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act. In later years, Congress attempted to streamline community service programs through the creation of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Today, the corporation oversees the community service activities of roughly nine distinct programs, including AmeriCorps, the Senior Volunteer Corps, and the Social Innovation Fund, and manages an annual budget in excess of $1 billion. The corporation and members of Congress have a responsibility to make certain those tax dollars are being well spent.
During the last reauthorization of these programs, I was proud to lead an effort on behalf of my Republican colleagues to strengthen protections over the use of these taxpayer funds. As a direct result, what was once merely spelled out in regulation and subject to the changing whims of each administration is now a matter of federal law. We acted to stop the use of taxpayer funds for advocacy, lobbying, protesting, union organizing, partisan political activity, and providing or referring individuals to places to receive abortion services. We also expanded the organizations and entities prohibited from receiving funds to include political parties, labor organizations, and lobbying firms. We did this to help ensure federal resources are not dedicated to activities taxpayers find politically divisive or morally objectionable.
However, as with any law, Congress’s best efforts to protect taxpayers can only go so far. It is the responsibility of the administration of the programs to fully enforce the laws passed by Congress. With a bureaucracy as vast and complicated as the one we face today, we recognize this is often a difficult task. Despite whatever challenges the administration may face, it is their public duty nonetheless.
That is why recent reports of improper activity in New York City and Tacoma, Washington are so deeply troubling. In both situations, program participants apparently engaged in illegal activity. At a New York City Planned Parenthood facility, two AmeriCorps participants trained and organized individuals to be advocates on behalf of Planned Parenthood. Had it not been for a Planned Parenthood employee inadvertently reporting this activity, it could still be going on to this day. In Washington, the Tacoma Community College placed a participant at another Planned Parenthood facility to serve as an “escort” for the organization. How this could possibly abide by the spirit of volunteerism is beyond me.
I appreciate that once notified of these situations, the corporation acted swiftly to stop the prohibited activities and informed Congress. However, our goal should be to prevent these kinds of activities before they take place. Today, we will take a close look at the corporation’s efforts to both detect and prevent illegal activities, examine the steps they have taken in recent weeks to improve their enforcement practices, and discuss whether additional changes are needed to better protect taxpayers.
We all understand the very serious fiscal challenges facing our nation. Years of runaway federal spending and debt have brought this country to the breaking point. Now more than ever, we must do everything in our power to guarantee each taxpayer dollar is spent on behalf of the public good.