January 30, 2002 - White House Press Conference: Press Conference with the Head of the US Freedom Corps

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Special Reports: President Bush proposes US Freedom Corps [1/30/02]: January 30, 2002 - White House Press Conference: Press Conference with the Head of the US Freedom Corps

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Press Conference with the Head of the US Freedom Corps

Read and comment on the Whtie House Press Conference in which John Bridgeland, head of the US Freedom Corps, answers questions about the Freedom Corps at:

Press Conference with the Head of the US Freedom Corps*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Press Conference with the Head of the US Freedom Corps

All right, let me introduce you to John Bridgeland. Thank you.

MR. BRIDGELAND: Thank you, Ari. Good afternoon. Last night, the President called, building on a long tradition of volunteerism and working in our local communities around America, for the public good, the President called on every American to serve their country for two years over their lifetimes -- 4,000 hours.

The power of the call to serve, itself, we know is extremely important. When Americans are asked to serve, data shows that 63 percent of them do. And where people are not called upon to serve, only 25 percent do. We have 76 million Americans over the next decade who are baby boomers, who will be entering retirement, and 44 million senior Americans in the Social Security system today. We have a rising generation of young Americans who have an opportunity to be the next great generation.

It was Robert Putnam who said, from Harvard, once or twice a century there is an occasion to enlist Americans to serve their country in greater service. The call to service is not a federal mandate, but an individual -- a powerful individual commitment, and one that calls upon Americans to do great service to their nation and to their communities.

Service could be military or civilian; serve great national purposes or local community needs; be domestic or international. It's also clear that two years of service is within reach. Currently, 44 percent of Americans serve, on average, about 187 hours per year. So that service -- maybe a young person coming out of high school or college could go into an activity and serve their country for one or two years. Or a senior entering retirement could go and serve their country for one or two years.

Or perhaps an individual could accumulate service over a lifetime.

Last night the President announced the USA Freedom Corps. The USA Freedom Corps is going to be a coordinating council chaired by the President in the White House with the support from an office. It will have three principal components.

First, it will begin to attempt to answer the question of, what is the citizen's role in helping to protect the homeland, and to help galvanize and organize communities all across America, like the community with whom we just met: police chiefs, firefighters, emergency response personnel, mayors, school officials, faith leaders, people who are working actively in the community to make a difference.

You know, a first responder told me that in New York City, after that horrific act, what happened within the first few hours that made the difference between life and death for Americans there was the result of the local infrastructure that was in place and the local response that was undertaken.

And so the President is committed to working with FEMA, to working with communities like we saw today, around America, to mobilize Americans through the Citizen Corps, which will strengthen our homeland security efforts.

Currently in this country, we have a vast crime prevention network, and a natural disaster preparedness network, and a public health network. Building on that infrastructure, we're hoping to design and strengthen a new homeland security effort: $230 million in fiscal year 2003 will be provided to help the formation of Citizen Corps councils, and six new initiatives initially to support these efforts.

We know in places like Henderson County, North Carolina, that volunteers, especially senior citizens, are working with local police departments on non-sworn functions so they can free up police to perform their front-line duties. We know in places like Anne Arundel, Maryland, similar efforts are working successfully, so that cops can be out on the beat doing their front-line work.

We also know that, for the first time, we want to mobilize retired nurses and doctors and health care professionals through a medical reserve corps, with support from the Department of Health and Human Services, to provide vitally needed support to our local hospitals and community centers, and other institutions that would be called upon to respond to natural disasters or potentially and act of terrorism.

Ten million dollars will be provided initially in fiscal year 2003 for that effort. For the volunteer in police service program, we will provide $6 million initially for emergency training and capacity-building.

We also are working with local communities to triple the capacity of community emergency response teams. Currently, there are 200,000 individuals in 28 states around America, who are working to support first responders in the event of an emergency. We're going to triple that capacity with $61 million over the next two years to support these important efforts in local communities.

There are people all across this country, 15 million transportation workers, truckers. The President visited up in Portland, Maine last week lobster fishermen and others who were working together in a collective effort, they have daily routines. And they can be the eyes and ears of law enforcement. They can detect suspicious activity.

We're going to create an Operation TIPS, a Terrorism Information and Prevention System, to engage our truckers and our postal workers and our train conductors and our ship captains, and our utility employees and our airline stewardesses, who have already done so much to make a difference to see how they can be a gauge through Highway Watch and the Global Maritime School and a comprehensive network to engage them in this effort through a pilot program initially in 10 cities, and the support of $2 million for a hotline so they can report suspicious activity to their local law enforcement authorities, and $6 million additional dollars to support these pilot programs.

And, finally, Americans have been asking again and again and again: What can we do in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, places of worship, on airlines, public places, to be prepared? And we have a citizens preparedness guide book that's been developed to give them the latest guidance that we have.

All in all, this effort will help strengthen crime prevention in this country, strengthen public health infrastructure, and strengthen natural disaster preparedness.

Tomorrow -- and I just want to mention two other elements of the USA Freedom Corps -- the President is spawning the creation of new service opportunities. Twenty-five thousand additional AmeriCorps participants, leveraging at least 75,000 additional volunteers, 100,000 new Senior Corps participants, and finally, the third component, to double the number of Peace Corps volunteers over the next five years, from 7,000 today to near its historic high back in June of 1966, of 15,000.

We're also going to undertake, through the Crisis Corps, working with sophisticated volunteers who know the culture, tradition and language to go back into Afghanistan as part of the reconstruction effort, and to work to send volunteers consistent with safety and security throughout the Islamic world.

I'd be happy to take any questions that you have about the USA Freedom Corps.

MR. MCCLELLAN: This is off-camera, but it is ON THE RECORD, so just so everybody's clear on that, like we said earlier.


Q I'm confused about the split. Like if you take AmeriCorps as an example, you say you're going to have 25,000, but they're going to leverage and get 75,000 more. In the end, what's the difference? Are the 25,000 -- they get a stipend from the government?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Yes. The way it works currently, actually the leverage ratios that people use today are actually 12 to one, but conservative estimates show that AmeriCorps is basically a program that supports Habitat for Humanity, or Teach for America, or The Boys and Girls Club. And if you've ever worked in a Habitat home, the AmeriCorps participant who gets a small stipend, or perhaps just an education award that they can use to go on to help pay for college.

That person ends up training additional volunteers that work in that habitat construction. So you have -- people who get stipends also are leveraging other volunteers, and one thing that we want to require as part of assessing whether or not Habitat and these other organizations are having an important effect and that the taxpayer dollar is being used wisely is to see how they actually are mobilizing additional volunteers to perform these important tasks.

Q Is everybody in AmeriCorps and the Senior Corps and in the new Citizen Corps, will they all get stipends?

MR. BRIDGELAND: No. The Senior Corps actually works differently. They typically get a very small allowance to cover gas and mileage and some of their incidental expenses. So it's a very cost-efficient program.

The new Citizen Corps is an effort to work with local communities, with states and governors, to mobilize Citizen Corps councils so you have sectors from the community represented.

We're going to provide support through FEMA to support those councils, and underneath the councils specific programs that have been proven to be effective in addressing crime prevention or responding to natural disasters, or strengthening the public health infrastructure.

Q But they will be true volunteers, not people --

MR. BRIDGELAND: They will be volunteers. Some of them will go on to get trained as part of a community emergency response team. Many of them will be volunteers for the local police or firefighters. Some may be part of the Medical Reserve Corps. But you're right, they will be volunteers.

Q No stipends at all? Not like -- so it is different?

MR. BRIDGELAND: No, it is different. It is different. They will not get stipends. That's correct.

Q I still just don't get it. If I call this 800 number, say I'm interested in helping out, somebody will call me back and ask me to do what kinds of things? Will I be asked to walk the neighborhood beat Crime Watch? Can you give us some tangible idea, not bureaucratic-speak about what these people are going to do?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Sure. Yes. With respect to the Citizen Corps, if an individual calls up the 1-800 number today, and let's say you're a retired doctor and you live in a community and you want to volunteer to help support your local hospital or community center and be part of a medical reserve corps in your community, that information will go today through the website or by that 1-800 number into FEMA, they will take your name and address, and as soon as a medical reserve corps is mobilized in your local community, you will get information about how you can participate.

Q Okay. And this is all meant to be a response to terrorism, as well?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Yes, it is. But one of the ancillary benefits, as the President mentioned, is that it will strengthen public health in that area and natural disaster preparedness.

Q How much of any of this happening depends on Congress coming up with some money?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Actually, there are communities today, just like the one we met with, that are starting to get organized. But they're constantly asking the questions in communities around America: What ought we be doing, and how do we best interact with the local structure and with the states and with the federal government. And what we're trying to do is create an integrated system so that Americans, when they're volunteering, are a part of this local effort, it has an impact on addressing the risks and threats.

One thing that they'll do is come up with a plan. What are the vulnerabilities in our community? What are the potential threats? What are our resources? What are our gaps in resources. This will better inform us as to what's required in the way of funding support and other support at the state and federal level.

Q To follow on that a little bit, can you give us some sort of breakdown or estimate of how much of this you see directly related to helping prevent against future terrorist attacks, either by training people

to look for suspicious boats in harbors, or trucks moving on highways, that kind of thing.

MR. BRIDGELAND: Right. What we know, from crime prevention, Highway Watch on Highway 81, for example, and in rest stops, has had, actually, a dramatic impact on reducing crime. Again and again and again, the number of homicides in Virginia along the rest stops, they put in place a system to actually have those areas patrolled as part of the routine mission of police officers and truckers.

Tremendous success in shutting down crime. We think that same principle can be applied all across America, and our borders, internally on our highways.

Q You're using that as a model and applying it to training -- here are the 10 ways a terrorist might be in your part of your world, here's what you should look for?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Yes. Right. Yes. And we're taking both -- we're taking Neighborhood Watch, which some of you may participate in your community, and bringing it up to capacity, so again, if a neighbor or someone sees something suspicious in a community, that can be reported instantly. And people who have routines -- your truckers, your ship captains, your train conductors -- again, those working day-in and day-out, are uniquely positioned to report suspicious activity.

Q Can I ask you about the funding? You say here that there's $560 million you need from Congress for Freedom Corps, and then a couple pages later, you need $230 million for AmeriCorps. I mean, what is the total here?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Yes, the breakdown, the total is $560 million in Fiscal Year '03, $230 million of which is for the Homeland Security Citizen Corps effort, $230 million of which is for support for AmeriCorps. There is an additional $10 million for challenge grants that support programs like Teach for America; $100 million for Senior Corps, and then the $200 million for Peace Corps is actually a five-year number, and in Fiscal Year '03, it's $42 million would be the number for '03 --

Q So it's $560 million or billion?

MR. BRIDGELAND: It's $560 million in Fiscal Year '03, total.

Q Total?

MR. BRIDGELAND: That's correct.

Q To implement this.

MR. BRIDGELAND: That's correct.

Q So the President can't do anything of this unilaterally, he needs Congress to come up with the money? Which is, I guess, the question I was asking before.

MR. BRIDGELAND: Well, we can start, and we are beginning to organize,

through FEMA -- we have the authority to do it -- to organize these citizen councils locally, and to help put in place -- there are existing programs, like Neighborhood Watch, which is supported. We're going to develop Operation TIPS. Again, with existing resources, we're going to attempt to do everything we can with respect to Citizen Corps.

With respect to the expansion, the enhancements to AmeriCorps, we're going to work with Senator McCain and Senator Bayh in conjunction with their Citizen Service Act, to get this legislation to the Congress so we both authorize and then fund these programs.

Q Do you have a five-year number in terms of the cost?

MR. BRIDGELAND: No, the budget's -- it's a one-year number.

Q So establishing the USA Freedom Corps was just an executive order, it happened?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Yes. The President signed yesterday an executive order creating the USA Freedom Corps Council.

Q But there's no money yet, as we were saying, until Congress passes --

MR. BRIDGELAND: Yes. The '03 request -- that's correct -- is $560 million. But we're going to go forward with existing resources and implement those programs that are currently in operation.

Q So these programs exist then, without a lot of the money?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Some of the programs exist --

Q I meant like Citizen Corps now exists?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Citizen Corps does not exist. But, for example, Neighborhood Watch is supported by the Department of Justice.

Q When will Citizen Corps exist?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Citizen Corps, today, has via website, people are able to volunteer and work in tandem with their local communities to start to organize these local efforts.

A lot of this is an organizational challenge; it's not all about funding. And we want to help communities like Winston-Salem get organized at the local community and help funnel volunteers into these local efforts to support these homeland security efforts.

Q How many new positions at the White House will there be to oversee this?

MR. BRIDGELAND: I'm directing the office. We'll have a number of staff within the office. And then, the coordinating council consists of those individuals who are outlined in your book.

Q New positions?

MR. BRIDGELAND: New positions should be around eight.

MR. MCCLELLAN: And I want to encourage you all to go ahead and -- I mean, log onto the website, call into the 800 number, or the 877 number, see how it works. That's already up and running.

END 4:20 P.M. EST

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