Administration, Belatedly, To Name Board on Youth Service
Washington--Weeks past a statutory deadline, Bush Administration officials said last week that nominees have been selected for the board of directors of the Commission on National and Community Service--a step that removes a major obstacle to release of federal funds for youth-service activities.
Movement on the nominations comes after calls for action from several senators of both parties, who have been disturbed by what one Senate aide called Administration "foot-dragging" as well as what some see as overly political questioning of potential nominees.
An official announcement of the nominations could be made within a month, after nominees return financial-disclosure forms, according to Gretchen Pagel, associate director for policy in the White House office of national service. Following Senate confirmation, the 21-member commission could begin operating this summer, she said.
Senate aides said they were pleased the Administration had made progress in appointing the board members, but added that they could not say how much influence the Congressional pressure had had.
Formation of the commission is the first step in implementing the National and Community Service Act of 1990, enacted last November, which authorizes $287 million over the next three years for grants to states to encourage community service by school-age children. The law also provides that 16- to 25-year-olds can receive vouchers of up to $5,000 for each year of full-time service, to be applied to educational costs.
Until the commission has convened and issued its regulations--a process Ms. Pagel said might take only two days--about $62 million in funding appropriated for use in this fiscal4year, including $5 million for the privately organized Points of Light Foundation, will remain in government coffers, Senate aides said.
States, colleges, and volunteer and community groups have been awaiting the opportunity to apply for the money, the aides said, with some Senate offices receiving phone calls about the program every day.
There was some concern on Capitol Hill last week that if the commission is not operating before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, this year's funding allocation could be lost altogether, according to Senate aides.
But Ms. Pagel said her office was not worried. "We think everything will turn out just fine," she said.
Roadblocks to implementation of the National and Community Service Act are not new.
The Administration, arguing that volunteers should not be compensated, had fought with the initiative's Congressional supporters over the original legislation. The bill that passed was a compromise.
Even then, President Bush was not satisfied with the version he signed into law last fall and asked that technical changes be made, including one that would allow him to select all of the commission's members.
Lawmakers, not wanting to bog down implementation of the act, complied. The amendments, passed by the Congress in February and signed into law in mid-March, also gave the commission until May 16--six months after the original law was enacted--to issue final rules necessary to implement the measure.
But the delay involved in seeking additional legislation pushed the nomination process past the May deadline, Ms. Pagel said. She argued that the two months since the amendments became law was not an unusual amount of time to take to assemble a commission. It has been "taking time to get a qualified group of 21 people selected and notified," she said.
Charges of foot-dragging are "absolutely not" true, Ms. Pagel said.
Members of the Congress apparently do not agree.
In an April 9 letter to President Bush, eight senators from both parties--including Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Labor and Human Resources Committee, and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the committee's ranking Republican--called for the President's help in "expediting" the nomination process for the commission.
"It is imperative that the board members be appointed quickly if there is to be any chance of comply4ing with the deadline set in the legislation," wrote the Senators.
Senators Kennedy and Hatch were joined in signing the letter by Democrats Sam Nunn of Georgia, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, and Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, as well as Republicans Dave Durenberger of Minnesota, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and James M. Jeffords of Vermont.
The proposal for community-service legislation originated in the Senate, and that chamber remains a stronghold of support for the law.
On May 15, Senator Mikulski sent a separate letter to Mr. Bush noting the delays, as well as objecting to what she said was the "politicizing" of the nomination process.
"Congressional suggestions for nominees were sent to you by myself and other senators without consideration of political affiliation or campaign participation," she wrote.
"To their shock, and my dismay," she added, "candidates [were] quizzed as to how they participated in your election efforts and then received a form letter telling them there was 'no job opening' for them.''
Ms. Mikulski attached to her letter one such form letter from the White House personnel office that was addressed to Patricia T. Rouse, the wife of James Rouse, the chairman of the Points of Light Foundation.
Speaking on the Senate floor May 22, Senator Harris Wofford, Democrat of Pennsylvania, also questioned the delays.
"How long, Mr. President, how long will it be before the will of Congress is respected and the [act] becomes a reality?" asked Mr. Wofford, who last month assumed the seat vacated by the death of Senator John Heinz.