Bush asks volunteers to join fight on terrorism
President Bush said today that he would create a national volunteer agency called Citizen Corps to engage Americans in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks and helping out in future catastrophes.
Citizen Corps would recruit and train retired doctors and health care workers for emergencies and enlist truckers, letter carriers, ship captains and others in reporting suspicious activity to the authorities. Citizen Corps would also double the number of Neighborhood Watch programs in the United States and increase training in local communities for disaster preparedness.
”At home, you fight evil with acts of goodness,” Mr. Bush said here at the start of a two-day trip designed to spread Tuesday night’s State of the Union message that domestic security was his first priority. ”You overcome the evil in society by doing something to help somebody.”
Mr. Bush then noted his father’s presidency and its celebration of charitable work as a ”thousand points of light” to define voluntarism as ”the momentum of a million acts of kindness.” But Mr. Bush would greatly expand his father’s work, and incorporate voluntarism into a large government program run from the White House.
Citizen Corps would be the domestic security arm of a new USA Freedom Corps, an umbrella organization that Mr. Bush created by executive order on Tuesday. The USA Freedom Corps is also to include expansions of three existing volunteer programs — the Peace Corps, Senior Corps and AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps places volunteers in poor communities, often as teachers in inner city schools. It was developed early in the Clinton administration and at the time was derided by most Republicans in Congress.
Today, Bush administration officials said they would seek $560 million from Congress in next year’s budget to finance USA Corps and to expand the existing programs.
Mr. Bush himself sounded like a recruitment officer as he repeated his call from his State of the Union address for two years or 4,000 hours of lifetime volunteer service from every American.
”If you listened to the speech last night, you know, people were saying, ‘Well, gosh, that’s nice, he called me to action, where do I look?’ ” Mr. Bush told a loudly cheering crowd at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. ”Well, here’s where: at usafreedomcorps.gov.” Mr. Bush then added: ”Or you can call this number — it sounds like I’m making a pitch, and I am. This is the right thing to do for America. 1-877-USACORPS.”
Mr. Bush said John Bridgeland, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, would be the executive director of the USA Freedom Corps, which will be part of the executive office of the president.
”By taking him off the Domestic Policy Council and putting him in charge of USA Freedom, I am obviously making a strong commitment to the future of this organization,” Mr. Bush said. ”He’ll be held accountable. When we say we’re going to get more people involved, I’ll be asking him on a regular basis, ‘How are we doing?’ ”
Mr. Bridgeland said in a news briefing here that the administration was seeking to increase the number of Peace Corps volunteers, from 7,000 to about 15,000, the all-time high reached by the program in 1966. Mr. Bridgeland also said that the Peace Corps would return to Afghanistan as soon as it was safe to help in reconstruction efforts.
He added that the administration was seeking 25,000 more AmeriCorps participants and 100,000 new members of the Senior Corps, a volunteer program for retirees. Mr. Bush is proposing to lower the age for Senior Corps participation to 55 from 60. He is also offering such incentives as earned scholarships that may be transferred to grandchildren or others.
Throughout his appearances today, Mr. Bush reprised his themes about fighting terrorism and recession. He said that ”thousands and thousands of killers” had been trained in terrorist camps in Afghanistan and were still ”around the world,” and that discoveries by the United States military in the caves of Afghanistan showed that the terrorists had ”designs on our homeland still.”
Mr. Bush was referring to the diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities that he said had been found in Al Qaeda hideouts.
The president, who won North Carolina handily in the 2000 presidential campaign, referred to himself today as ”a good conservative Republican” who nonetheless had good things to say about Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. Senator Jesse Helms, the state’s retiring Republican, chuckled at that remark.
Mr. Bush got one of his loudest applause lines when he told the crowd that he was still in favor of tax cuts, then alluded to Democrats like Mr. Kennedy who want to delay them.
”For those who want to do away with tax relief,” Mr. Bush said, ”you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Later in the day, Mr. Bush traveled to Daytona Beach, Fla., where he spoke at a rally and sounded hoarse and tired. The president said the enemy had been watching too much American television and did not understand the resolve of the nation. Autor: Elisabeth Bumiller