The acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) was called before a House subcommittee today to explain why AmeriCorps volunteers in New York City and Tacoma, Wash., potentially were engaging in advocacy in their work for Planned Parenthood. Political advocacy by AmeriCorps members is not permitted.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), head of the subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, asked Robert Velasco II, the acting head of CNCS, why the agency itself hadn’t detected the “illegal activity” and why it took a third-party to report the activities.
Velasco reviewed steps the agency has taken in recent weeks to ensure that all volunteers are engaged in permitted activities including a new action plan that will require AmeriCorps grantees to ensure annually that they are complying with regulations on prohibited activities.
Some Democratic members of the committee questioned the need of calling Velasco to the Hill to answer question from Republicans who are intent on killing the service agency.
“I don’t know what we’re doing here (this morning),” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) ranking Democrat on the Education and the Workforce committee.
Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) wanted to praise the work of AmeriCorps members in responding quickly to disasters – particularly their swift arrival and role in helping residents of Joplin, Mo., deal with the deadly tornado there.
Another subcommittee member, Rep. David Roe (R-Tenn.) used the hearing to suggest that the $29 million that supports the 1,000-member National Civilian Community Corps – which works with local and state groups and responds to disasters – might be too expensive and suggested its members should be more integrated into other AmeriCorps projects.
Mostly the hearing dealt with the two Planned Parenthood incidents. In New York, AmeriCorps participants trained and organized individuals to be advocates on behalf of the Planned Parenthood organization. In Washington, Tacoma Community College put a participant at another Planned Parenthood center to serve as an “escort” for the organization.
“We were concerned when we received information that led us to suspect that two AmeriCorps members in New York were engaging in illegal activities,” Velasco told the committee. He said that once the agency learned of a potential problem, it moved quickly to have the grantee remove the AmeriCorps members from those activities and notified its inspector general, board of directors and the subcommittee.
CNCS also plans to enhance its training and technical assistance and strengthen tools provided to grantees and members on prohibited activities.
CNCS plans to follow up with the subcommittee over the next 90 days to report on the progress and effectiveness of the changes being implemented.