For a while yesterday, it sounded like a press conference from the "Great Society."
ACTION Director Sam Brown spoke of putting his agency on the "cutting edge of social and economic change" in America, John Lewis, ACTION'S domestic affairs director, enthusiastically described "the creation of the beloved community." Mary King, another deputy director, pointed out that "the magic of voluntarism is that it is a gift of time."
All of this was to announce that ACTION, the federal volunteer agency, is reorganizing itself to do what it was originally supposed to do - serve basic human needs, at home and abroad, through volunteer programs.
The agency was created by President Nixon in 1971 to consolidate the activities of the Peace Corps, Volunteers in Service to America and other social programs born during the Kennedy and Johnson years.
But ACTION never really acted, because of the political machinations of the Nixon administration and the intrusion of the Vietnam war, Brown said yesterday. Now, he said, the agency can carry out its mandate because "there is a new spirit" in America.
There is also a new administration, he noted, and ACTION is "the first of the federal agencies to respond to President Carter's mandate to involve the public in a nationwide review of its programs," Brown said.
Such a review was conducted by more than 150 citizens and 25 certified public accountants between March and June, Brown said, adding that the "verdict" resulting from that review "was harsh." He said the review found that:
ACTION, a $200-million-a-year agency, had "no central and unifying mission."
The agency's organization and staffing patterns work against "effective implementation of . . . programs."
The number of minority people who participate in ACTION-supported programs" is so low as to suggest institutional bias."
ACTION programs "are not visible in the communities where they are located."
An "internal employee review," conducted from July 1 to Aug. 15, showed that the "commitment and spirit" of ACTION employees have been "widely abused in the last eight years," Brown said.
To correct those abuses and to help the agency "redirect federal volunteer programs back to meeting volunteer programs back to meeting basic human needs." ACTION plans to set up a "Commission on Workplace Democracy" to "explore ideas for creating a work environment in which all employees can take an active role in running the agency," Brown said.
The coincides with ACTION'S plans to reorganize its 1,700 employees.
In a memorandum Monday to the agency's employees, Brown conceded that "'reorganization' at ACTION has become a dirty word . . . [because] in the past, reorganizations have often served political purposes - to punish and to reward political friends and enemies."
"My saying that it isn't so this time may not convince those employees who were penalized in the past. What will make it convincing is the process, the reasoning and the outcome."
In reorganizing ACTION plans to give its seven volunteer programs individual budget-making powers from the agency's headquarters to state and local units, Brown said. Also, ACTION plans to "add several new offices and abolish or replace several others," he said.
Brown offered no specifics on what offices might be abolished. But one he wants to create, through legislation, is an Office of Voluntary Citizen Participation to administer the minigrants and federal money offered on a statewide basis and to work with the private volunteer sector in the United States and abroad.
Brown said in his memo he recognizes "that in making these changes I am taking a risk." But, he said yesterday, with regard to worker participation. "I blieve that most people would like to work in a place that encourages risk-taking and innovation and where every decision is not made anonymously be someone at the top."