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Bennett, Nunn To Co-Chair Panel on Improving Civic Life

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Washington

Saying they hope to do for citizenship what the landmark report A Nation at Risk did for education, retiring Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett last week kicked off a bipartisan effort to improve civic life in America.

Mr. Nunn and Mr. Bennett will co-chair the National Commission on Civic Renewal, which will issue recommendations for strengthening Americans' engagement in civic activities and function as a clearinghouse on organizations and projects already under way.

Supported with roughly $1 million from the Pew Charitable Trusts of Philadelphia, the commission will be housed at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland. William Galston, a professor of public affairs and the director of the institute, will serve as the executive director of the commission. Mr. Galston is a former domestic-policy aide to President Clinton and had been seeking support for the commission for about a year.

The need for such an initiative is obvious, the organizers say, citing the low voter turnout in this month's presidential election--the lowest proportion since 1924--a "moral decline" throughout the nation, and public opinion polls showing that Americans are dissatisfied with the country's values and distrustful of government and of each other.

"We want to explore what went wrong and what can be done to fix it," Mr. Bennett said at the news conference, adding that in recent decades, there has been an explosion of crime, illegal drug use, and out-of-wedlock births.

Mr. Nunn and Mr. Bennett, who is currently a co-director of the conservative group Empower America, said they would seek diverse opinions from a cross section of Americans, including representatives from the sports and entertainment industries. An Internet site has been set up to encourage dialogue.

Addressing Problems

While the two chairmen have not yet settled on specific topics for the commission to address, Mr. Nunn said "family deterioration" is at the heart of America's problems.

"Anything that strengthens the American family is the direction that we ought to be moving in," he said last week.

Mr. Galston, Mr. Nunn, Mr. Bennett, and Pew chose the commission members after a six-month selection process. They include business and religious leaders, politicians, educators, and philanthropists. See a list of members for the National Commission on Civic Renewal.

The group will meet three times over the next year, first on Jan 24-25 in Washington, and will publish a report at the end of next year. After that, it will work to implement its recommendations.

The commission can be reached on the World Wide Web at http://www.puaf.umd.edu./civicrenewal.

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