The nomination of Wendy Spencer, head of Volunteer Florida which serves as the state’s commission for AmeriCorps and a longtime Republican, to be CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service was sent to the Senate today for confirmation. The White House announced the action late today, a day after announcing her selection.
Spencer, who has worked on Capitol Hill, has headed Volunteer Florida since 2003, has served under three Republican governors and was a member of President George W. Bush’s President’s Council of Service and Civic Participation.
Her nomination occurs as Republican members of Congress, especially House members, are working to shut down CNCS and its AmeriCorps program completely.
Spencer would replace acting chief executive officer Robert Velasco, CNCS’ operating officer, who took over in April after Patrick Corvington resigned abruptly after just 15 months in the job. Although the confirmation may not be controversial, almost all nominations have been backed up for months in the Senate. Velasco will return to his old job when Spencer is confirmed.
Although President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama often hail the work of CNCS volunteers – especially members of AmeriCorps – and worked earlier this year to protect the agency’s funding in the face of attempts to kill the program by Republicans – their history with appointments at the agency has been troubled.
The first person slated to be nominated, Nike Vice President Maria Eitel, withdrew from consideration for personal reasons, and her nomination was never even sent to Capitol Hill.
Corvington, who previously had worked as a senior associate of Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, never found widespread acceptance with the CNCS rank and file. His resignation was widely regarded with relief among those in the agency and grantees.
In contrast, Spencer’s selection brought high public praise from some of AmeriCorps’ major players, including Michael Brown, head of the Boston-based City Year; AnnMaura Connolly, a City Year executive who heads the Save Service in America organization that has led the battle to preserve AmeriCorps funding; and Michelle Nunn, head of the Points of Light Institute, the successor organization to the nonprofit spawned by George H.W. Bush’s “points of light.”
Spencer, whose organization approves grants to and oversees AmeriCorps activities in Florida, has worked closely with City Year and its efforts to help improve attendance and reduce the number of dropouts in the Miami schools, work that school head Alberto Carvalho has also praised.
Brown called Spencer a “powerful voice for the millions of Americans who want to serve their communities.” The sentiment was echoed by Connolly, who has been the prime organizer of a nationwide campaign to education senators and representatives about the projects that AmeriCorps volunteers are doing in their own communities.
Connolly noted that under Spencer’s leadership, more than 250,000 volunteers were coordinated by Volunteer Florida during the brutal 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons in the state. At that time, it was the largest mobilization of volunteers in the history of U.S. natural disasters, Connolly said.
Spencer, described as vivacious and supremely dedicated to voluntarism, would take over amid a battle between the U.S. House and Senate battle over the future of AmeriCorps. The House has eliminated the funding for AmeriCorps in its proposed 2012 CNCS budget, providing just enough money to shut down various programs.
Under the bipartisan Serve America Act, AmeriCorps had been slated to expand to as many as 250,000 volunteers, but has grown only to about 85,000.
The Senate version of the CNCS budget basically continues to fund the programs at about the current 2011 level, $1.1 billion.
The situation was similar during the budget negotiations for fiscal 2011, but the budget compromise, with Obama’s backing, made only nominal cuts to the CNCS budget.
Before taking over as head of Volunteer Florida, Spencer was director of the Florida Park Service, and earlier served as the campaign director of the United Way of the Big Bend. She is a graduate of Valdosta (Ga.) State University.