Is the Civilian Reserve just another throwaway applause line in Bush's State of the Union speech?
President Bush's call last week for a Civilian Reserve Corps to help troubled countries is either a solid idea whose time has come or yet another throwaway applause line in a State of the Union speech and it's up to Mr. Bush to decide how it turns out. Five years ago, Bush called for doubling the size of the Peace Corps. That didn't happen.
The burden is on Mr. Bush to prove he is serious. Carlos Pascual, who worked on the idea when he was director of the State Department's Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization, says the lack of specifics "is indicative of the lack of leadership around it, the lack of commitment." One test will be whether the White House funds it in next week's 2008 budget proposal.
Mr. Bush's proposal last week found a mixed audience among bloggers, with some saying the idea is overdue, but others saying the details will matter. One blogger said he "was reminded of Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol," a comedy about bumbling police officers assigned to train a civilian force to fight crime.
Mr. Pascual said the initial setup costs would be in the neighborhood of $150 million over a few years, and have a recurring cost of $50 million to $70 million. During a deployment, costs would go up, he said.
The White House did request $25 million in the 2007 budget to get the program started, but Congress did not appropriate the funds. The concept has congressional supporters, including top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. The Senate last year passed by unanimous consent a bill that would have authorized the program, but it did not receive a vote in the House.