BOSTON — DURING his campaign for office, President Bill Clinton said creation of a national-service program would be one of his foremost initiatives. Since the November election, Clinton transition officials have been busily working on the idea and expect to complete their national-service plan in the coming weeks.
"We are in the process of deciding right now," says Al From, assistant transition director for domestic policy. "[Clinton] has made it clear that national service is one of his priorities and that at the moment he is considering a number of options and no decisions have been made."
National service, or the idea of young people spending a year or two working for their communities in exchange for government grants or college tuition, is not a new concept.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps, which lasted from 1933 to 1942, is considered one of the most successful large-scale national-service programs ever tried in the United States. John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps and Lyndon Johnson's VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) are two other national-service programs initiated by presidents.
During the campaign, Clinton said he hoped to eliminate the current government student-loan program and create a National Service Trust Fund. Under his proposed loan-repayment system, young people could pay off government loans either through a percentage of their income after graduation or through performing community-service work in jobs such as police officers, teachers, or family service workers. Clinton has said he will model his national-service program partly after the City Year program in Boston.
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The national-service plan now under consideration would accommodate about 150,000 individuals at a cost of $2 billion, Mr. From says. It would be centralized at the federal level but operated and managed through state, local, or nonprofit organizations. Because of its size, however, Clinton's program will be somewhat different from Boston's City Year program: "There will be probably more variety and flexibility in the federal program than in City Year," From says.
Frank Slobig, director of policy and programs at Youth Service America in Washington, D.C., is disappointed that the Clinton plan may be scaled down to accommodate only 150,000 participants. During the campaign, he says, Clinton officials talked of a larger effort. "This now makes it a very finite, limited program in scale and scope and raises a lot of questions on how you divide the pie up, but a realistic look at the budget probably predicates that," he says.
CLINTON advisers say they especially like the diversity of the City Year program, which includes both college-bound and noncollege-bound students. Charles Moskos, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who has advised the Clinton administration on its national-service plan, says Clinton's program will likely include both college-bound and noncollege-bound students, with an emphasis on young people performing community service prior to college. That way, the program will in clude more youngsters from diverse backgrounds, he says.
"By definition, you're not going to get that social mix if we talk about college graduates," says Mr. Moskos, author of the 1988 book "A Call to Civic Duty."
Michael Brown, co-director of Boston's City Year program, says the government could create a market for outstanding national-service programs around the country. This would be accomplished through legislation that would provide matching funds for programs that have successfully raised money and marketed themselves.
A good national-service program should include a diversity of participants with different racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds, advocates say. A plan should also provide employment opportunities for young people that are more than just make-work type jobs, says Moskos.
"The question of real work versus make work is really a serious question," he adds. "My standard for real work is, if the server disappears would we miss him or her?"