The need for a bill that would establish an Office for Volunteers and Internships (OVI) was questioned last week after testimony that the proposed office would merely duplicate services already available from private District agencies.
The bill was presented four months ago by Council Member William Spaulding to correct a situation where, as one witness put it, a student intern's "'inside look at government' gets no further than an inside look at the Congress' file cabinets." If passed by the City Council, the bill must be approved by Congress.
The proposed OVI would be headed by an executive director appointed by the mayor. It would provide information, referrals, advocacy, technical assistance and coordination for those seeking volunteer and intern positions in both public and private agencies in the District. The OVI also would be responsible for coordinating program funding through the use of District and federal funds.
The bill calls for the office to publish a directory of services available to the volunteers and interns through the District government. The list would be revised at least once every two years.
The OVI also would prepare a five-year plan for internship and volunteer services and would list educational institutions that have programs that use internships as an integral part of their academic curriculum.
But Sue Whitman, who represented the Volunteer Clearing House of the District of Columbia (VCH), did not support the bill. She said the proposed organization would duplicate the efforts of the VCH.
The VCH is a non-profit organization that serves as a central source of information and referrals for volunteer positions. It recruits, trains and places volunteers in public and private agencies.
"It is in the best interests of the community," said Whitman, "that functions undertaken and supported by the community should remain in the private sector and that government should fund and staff only those activities which are beyond the capacity of the citizens."
Spaulding later said that, though it seems the VCH adequately provides for coordination of volunteer programs, Whitman fails to make a distinction between volunteers and interns, and the VCH does not appear to address itself adequately to intern programs.
An intern, according to the bill, is "a person serving an apprenticeship under supervision on a voluntary basis or for academic credit."
Spaulding stressed the "academic credit" aspect of the definition and said he would recommend to the Committee on Government Operations that the bill be revised to deal only with interns.
Also stressing the academic aspect was ANC 3A Commissioner John Lauro, a student at Georgetown University, who said, "Universities might feel more comfortable giving academic credit when the District government itself is involved in a program rather than a community agency who might not be explicitly connected with the District."
Council Member Hilda Mason expressed the same concern with the academic aspects of the proposed bill. Commenting after Lauro's testimony, she said that "dealing with substantive work instead of routine office work is a critical issue." She added that there should be guarantees that the "university is in close contact" with those working in intern programs and assurances that the student is both gaining valuable experience and giving something valuable to the office in which he or she is serving as an intern.
Spaulding said that it is important to establish an internship office because the government currently has a "position, but no policy" concerning internships and that without an office and a set policy, the success of intern programs will "continue to be catch as catch can'."
Council Member Polly Shackleton disagreed with the proposal to set up an office. She thought that there should be "more specific plans on how they expect to do this (coordinate programs) rather than set up an office and say, 'here boys'."
Shackleton feels that volunteer programs are "apparently handled in an expedient way by the clearing house (VCH)" and that more planning is needed before legislation is proposed.