WASHINGTON — The federal government may not be getting its money’s worth out of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, says a new evaluation of the program.
The Inspector General at the Corporation for National and Community Service in a report urged officials to scrutinize the size and scope of the NCCC compared with cheaper national service programs that offer similar services.
“The time is ripe for a reconsideration of the NCCC model and its place in the menu of national service programs,” the report from the internal oversight department said. In NCCC, participants between the ages of 18 and 24 serve full-time for 10 months on projects including disaster relief, infrastructure improvement, environmental stewardship and conservation, energy conservation, and urban and rural development.
The inspector general suggested reallocating resources from NCCC, which is a residential program, to other national service programs, such as Americorps State and National. The latter places volunteers at local nonprofits and perform some of the same duties as NCCC.
“Particularly in a constrained fiscal environment, Corporation leaders should be actively seeking opportunities to maximize the impact and outcome of agency efforts, with existing resources,” the report said.
Service programs tend to enjoy bipartisan support in Washington, but lawmakers have targeted CNCS, the federal agency that administers service programs including AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps, for cuts in the past, including in recent Republican spending proposals.
The inspector general said the program cost taxpayers $29,674 per member in fiscal year 2014, or about four to eight times more than other AmeriCorps programs — and with no better long-term outcomes.
The corporation disputed the report’s findings, arguing that the analysis does not make an apples-to-apples comparison between programs that were deliberately structured differently by Congress. The lack of consideration also means the report fails to take into the account the rapid deployment rate of members to natural disasters, the group said in a statement.
“The value of AmeriCorps NCCC is not limited to disaster response and recovery; countless communities have benefited — and continue to do so — from the energy, dedication, and hard-work of the civic-minded young people who choose to serve their country through AmeriCorps NCCC,” said agency spokeswoman Samantha Jo Warfield.
“Over time, that’s thousands of homes built, trails cleared, wildfires contained and millions of volunteers recruited, students taught, young people mentored, and millions of tax dollars returned to American communities through tax preparation services,” she added.
The inspector general also recommended the corporation examine NCCC’s recruitment, enrollment and attrition rates. NCCC’s attrition rate increased from 17 percent in FY 2012, to 27 percent in FY 2013, then down to 24 percent in FY 2014.
In particular, the agency lacks a sufficient strategy to encourage “disadvantaged youth” to participate and remain in the program for the full 10 months, according to the inspector general.
NCCC officials told auditors that youth from disadvantaged backgrounds have more trouble adapting to the program than their peers, leading to increasing attrition numbers. A 2009 law requires that 50 percent of participants have backgrounds such as being out of school or work, aging out of foster care or experiencing homelessness.
“If program officials are correct about the cause of rising attrition, then in the seven years since the statute was passed, NCCC has not adequately addressed the needs of members who come to the program from disadvantaged circumstances,” the report said.