144. "Refugee Resettlement: The Infighting in Washington," The
Public Interest, No. 65 (Fall 1981), pp. 15-29, Part I. "The Refugees
Controversy: Federal 'Involvement' of Voluntary Agencies." The Public
Interest, No. 68 (Summer 1982), pp. 92-92. Part II.
In early 1979 the Carter administration found itself facing
a refugee crisis as mounting political tensions throughout
Southeast Asia increased the number of people seeking asylum in
America. Refugees began arriving in the spring of 1975 after the
collapse of noncommunist regimes in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
The flow subsided somewhat until 1978, when renewed fighting
generated a new wave of refugees. Thousands of ethnic Chinese
fled Vietnam after the war erupted between Vietnam and China in
1979, and Vietnamese expansion also created a new flow of
refugees from Laos and Cambodia into Thailand.
By early 1979 Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia were
beginning to refuse more refugees, and even threatened to repel
them by force. These countries still had thousands of refugees
remaining from the initial exodus of 1975; by June 1979 there
were approximately 370,000 refugees in camps throughout Southeast
Asia. At a special United Nations meeting convened in July 1979
to address this problem, the developed nations, including the
U.S., pledged to accept more refugees. In June 1979 President
Carter had committed the U.S. to doubling its admissions ceiling
for Indochinese refugees from 7,000 to 14,000 per month, or
168,000 per year.
In addition to this influx front Southeast Asia, refugees
from Eastern Europe, most of them Soviet Jews, began coming to
the U.S. in larger numbers after the Soviet Union relaxed its
emigration restrictions in August 1978. As many as 4,000 Soviet
refugees arrived each month, compared to the previous level of
1,700 to 1,800 a month.
Faced with increasing numbers of refugees, the U.S. tried to
organize its refugee services more effectively. The office of
U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs was created, and former
Senator Dick Clark was appointed Coordinator in February, 1979.
He was to coordinate various activities of federal agencies such
as AID, HUD, the Department of Justice, and ACTION. In addition,
he was to act as liaison between the federal government and state
and local governments and voluntary agencies. With limited
authority, funds, and staff, he did not coordinate very much in
the short time before he resigned in October 1979.
In March 1979 the Refugee Act was introduced into Congress
in an effort to harmonize existing disjointed refugee
legislation. Versions of the act passed both House and Senate in
1979, and a final version became law in 1980. This law increased
the admissions ceiling for refugees to 50,000 a year, a jump from
the previous level of 17,400. (In fact, as many as 200,000
refugees a year have been admitted using the Attorney General's
special "parole" authority, with the consent of the President and
Congress, to temporarily raise the legal admissions ceiling.)
But these measures, designed chiefly to make refugee entry
into the country easier, did not really address the issue of
their resettlement. Until the Indochinese influx, private sector
voluntary agencies (commonly referred to as "volags") had handled
the resettlement of refugees with little government help or
interference. Among the better known agencies were Church World
Service, the International Rescue Committee, the United States
Catholic Conference, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
John McCarthy, of the U.S. Catholic Conference, estimated
that such private agencies had resettled nearly two million
refugees since World War II. (The volags did not operate
completely on their own, however; they received partial funding
for their efforts from the federal government, mainly through the
Departments of State and HEW.) This traditional process of
refugee resettlement was beginning to show signs of strain by the
fall of 1979, both because of the rapid increase in the number of
refugees entering the country and because these refugees were
generally less educated and less easily assimilated than those in
the first waves fleeing southeast Asia after the fall of Saigon.
Two tragedies involving refugees helped publicize the growing strain. In Iowa,
one family of Hmong refugees (from a Laotian tribe) attempted suicide
when they grew frustrated trying to communicate with others in the
town and to adjust to life in the U.S. In Seadrift, Texas, tensions
flared between Texan and Vietnamese fisherman during an argument.
Incidents of violence were also reported in Wisconsin, Colorado,
and North Carolina.
The White House becomes involved
These tragedies did not go unnoticed by the White House
staff. On November 2, 1979, in a memorandum to Stuart Eizenstat
(Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs and Policy),
Ellen Goldstein (Assistant Director of the Domestic Policy Staff)
warned of "a serious crisis--the inability of current resources,
public and voluntary, to meet the needs of the Indochinese
refugees, a crisis which, both in human terms and politically
needs stronger attention and attack."
As a "Senior Advisor" brought to the White House to bring
the insights of the social sciences to public policy, I
immediately became involved in the resettlement issue. Dick
Clark had just resigned his post and the refugees simply were not
a high priority topic. Stuart Eizenstat, covering all domestic
matters, set up an interagency task force to review the domestic
resettlement process and make recommendations for its
improvement. In a memorandum to the senior White House staff
dated November 19, 1979, he expressed his concern:
about the inability of our domestic resettlement
machinery to handle adequately the increase in the
flow of refugees. I recently asked Matt Nimetz,
the Acting Coordinator for Refuge Affairs, and
Nathan Stark Under Secretary of HEW, with special
responsibility for the refugee program, to put
together a Task Force which could, on a short-term
basis, assess and make recommendations for
upgrading our service effort and capability.
Eizenstat asked the White House staff for volunteers to
assist on this project, and instructed interested persons to
report to Ellen Goldstein and Frank White (Associate Director for
Civil Rights and Justice, Domestic Policy Staff). The refugee
issue seemed another opportunity for a social science "input."
As there was not exactly a flood of Senior staff eager to work on
the issue, I simply dropped by the suite of offices shared by
Frank White and Ellen Goldstein and was handed a stack of draft
reports that four panels of the interagency task force were
preparing on how to deal with the question.
The draft reports struck me as having a leitmotif which,
while never explicitly stated or confronted, ran through all four
subreports on orientation, employment, community relations, and
housing. All in effect leaned toward "federalization" of the
problem. The orientation work group, for example, concluded
the fomalization of post-arrival orientation . . .
must be accomplished through the development of
local coordinating mechanisms which will
effectively relate the many resettlement
resources, private and public, which are found it
the local level.
The report made it clear that such local mechanisms were in fact
to be branches of the federal government:
A number of possibilities exist to improve local
coordination, including the fact that the principal
public service agencies involved in resettlement (HEW,
DOL, HUD) and resettlement agencies have local offices
or representatives in many areas with numerous
The housing work group urged similar federal involvement:
Immediately, HUD, HEW, or the Coordinator's Office
should continue the job begun by the housing work group
to effectively identify the communities critically
in need of assistance, and the type of assistance
required by these highly impacted communities.
HUD should provide housing counseling to refugees
and resettlement offices, particularly in high
impact communities. The Coordinator's Office, the
Department of State and HEW should immediately
begin a study of the feasibility of redirecting
refugees from areas of heavy concentration to
areas with relatively few refugees which have been
determined to have adequate housing and other
Community relations was another area requiring enhanced federal
involvement. The work group recommended:
--That, under the direction of the Coordinator's
Office, the Public Affairs and Community Tensions
Workgroup be constituted as an ongoing public
affairs policy body.
--That the U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs
direct each agency to submit by January 15, 1980,
a public affairs plan in support of the
--That federal agencies . . . be directed to
provide answers to key questions regarding their
role in refugee resettlement by January 11, 1980.
These answers will be used to prepare basic
speeches and publications and to provide questions
and answers to federal and other supportive
speakers. It will also permit the Coordinator's
office to direct attention to problem areas in
which answers are unavailable and
Finally, a background analysis of the refugee situation,
drafted by HEW, recognized the private sector's role in
It would be short-sighted if the consequences of
government actions to cope with the current situation
were to debilitate those private institutions
which, in the past, have taken and, in the future
can take a special interest in refugee
Nevertheless, the report pushed for increasing the federal
At the same time, it was a public decision that
brought the refugees to the U.S. and it will be
public actors, by and large, that will be held
accountable for the effectiveness of the domestic
After reviewing the existing resettlement process, the HEW
background analysis concluded:
If the confusion and fragmentation which exist in
many areas of refugee concentration are to be
ameliorated, the federal government will need to
designate--and fund--lead agencies to carry out
And, more specifically:
The President, in particular, but the Vice
President, Domestic Policy Council, the U.S.
Coordinator's Office, and Secretaries of various
Cabinet Departments as well, need to provide the
leadership that is required to translate this
national commitment to domestic receptivity,
understanding and commitment.
In short, the background analysis and draft task force
recommendations called for increased federal involvement in
studying the problem, in managing it, in guiding private sector
actions, even in orchestrating public relations.
Why not use voluntary groups?
Confronted with a "new" social problem, a sudden increase in
the influx of refugees to the United States, I suggested that the
federal government refuse to buy into it, and instead turn it
over to the private (voluntary) sector. Instead of pursuing the
course of the 1960's, throwing a federal bureaucracy and public
funds at each new problem, the government should approach the
influx of refugees as ideally suited for a dry run of a new
1980's approach. The government, and specifically the White
House, would act as a catalyst and convener, but not as the
responsible party. It would help launch a National Emergency
Coalition for Refugees--composed of voluntary agencies, religious
groups, and private charities--and turn the matter over to them.
They would raise the funds, fashion the program, mobilize
volunteers, and help the refugees to become part of the
After I reviewed the voluntary option background materials,
I write a memorandum to Goldstein and White which explained why I
thought a "hinge" decision on the refugee problem was needed:
The question is: What is the proper federal role? While
there are many options, and possible mixes of
alternatives, all the memos implicitly lean heavily in
one direction--that of federal leadership, guidance,
coordination, and finance, of a multi-facet drive
(employment, housing, etc.), though involving also
public leaders, state and local government, and others.
The main alternative is for the federal government
to serve as a catalyst for voluntary, religious,
community and other private agencies and foundations,
expecting that a coalition of these agencies will lead,
guide, coordinate, and finance the drive. The Feds, in
conjunction with state and local governments, will
serve as the refugees' patron of last resort.
I gave two reasons for favoring this alternative:
In a later memo I explained further:
Regarding the general posture, the public is sick and
tired of the Feds taking on more and more issues, often
not solving them, at increasing costs, etc., etc. It
has been the general orientation of the Carter
Administration not to follow the Great Society--throwing millions of dollars and Feds at each problem--but to rely more on the private and voluntary sector.
Second, refugees are particularly well suited for
the Feds' backseat approach. It is a relatively limited
and transient problem as compared, say, to poverty,
unemployment, inflation--hence, relatively easier to
handle, more suitable for voluntary-private efforts.
The basic concept is of the government acting as a
catalyst, an indirect provider of housing and jobs, and
patron of last resort--but not the lead, the lightning
rod, "visible mailing address" for the whole drive. The
Feds' role here would be similar to its role in blood
banks--not as in welfare.
There followed a sequence of meetings, usually in
Goldstein's office, in which options were discussed. I also
briefed Nathan Stark, Under Secretary of HEW, and his staff.
These discussions uncovered the first objections to the voluntary
option: The first, raised by White, concerned the scope of the
task involved; the second, raised by Goldstein, concerned the
relations between the small volags and the large ones.
White pointed out that while the volags might be able to
handle the "soft" tasks of teaching English, acculturation, and
finding community hosts, they could not be expected to generate
jobs and provide low-income housing. Both of these, White
thought, would require more resources than could be provided by
the voluntary community. He was also sensitive to the fact that
if newly created housing was specifically set aside for refugees,
American minorities would protest. Housing had been a traditional
source of friction between refugees and minorities, who competed
with each other for the limited number of available low-cost
units. This conflict intensified with the concentration of new
refugees in a few cities and states, resulting partly from
resettlement workers' policy of uniting families or persons of
similar backgrounds, and partly from the desire of refugees to
find others of their own backgrounds.
The Indochina Refugee Action Center (established by
foundations to aid in refugee program planning) found that in
cities like New Orleans and Denver, with large refugee
populations, it was not uncommon for twenty-five refugees to
crowd int a one or two bedroom apartment, According to the
Housing Work Group,
nine out of ten refugee-related community tension
incidents responded to by the Justice Department's
Community Relations Service are triggered by housing
Blacks and Chicanos believed local officials were moving
refugees to the top of the waiting list for public housing,
(Waiting periods for such housing already lasted as long as five
years.) The resulting tensions between minorities and the
refugees sometimes erupted in violence. In Denver, a group of
Chicano youths smashed apartment windows and vandalized the
property of refugees to protest the "special treatment" refugees
were receiving in public assistance and housing.
Tensions were also generated over employment, another issue
the volags seemed unable to handle adequately. A California
bitter feelings among Hispanics in the state over what
they perceive as competition of jobs and social
services because of the refugee influx. The Rev.
Warner Brown of the Methodist Church cited Hispanics'
fears that refugees are being hired for farm work.
The situation was so hostile that the convening speaker of a
regional conference of resettlement workers warned participants
that they were working with "social dynamite."
Reworking the voluntary option
In response to White's points, the voluntary option was
modified. Refugees, I suggested, should immediately have help
from a labor exchange in finding jobs, and they should be
eligible for unemployment benefits. The administration should
also apply to Congress to provide funds for low-income housing.
To avoid tensions with minorities, this additional housing should
not be earmarked for refugees, but instead should restore the
low-income housing market to the level that existed before the
refugee influx. After this modification, White supported the
voluntary option in presentations to Stuart Eizenstat and Victor
Palmieri, newly appointed by President Carter as U.S. Coordinator
for Refugee Affairs.
The second issue, to which Goldstein was particularly
sensitive, was the danger that pulling in the big voluntary
agencies (such as the Red Cross, the YMCA, and the United Way)
would offend the smaller volags that traditionally had handled
refugee resettlement. Goldstein had noted earlier that these
volags resented outside interference on what was customarily
their "turf"--they "have the attitude that, because they've been
doing this kind of work for years, they do not need any guidance
from the government." She feared they would also resent
infringement by other volags.
Indeed, this issue kept coming up when I met later with the
heads of big voluntary agencies, such as Bill Aramony of the
United Way and George Elsey of the Red Cross. While I discussed
this with Goldstein and Palmieri, we found a solution. The volag
turf could be divided the way the European powers divided Africa
into designated turfs during the Conference of Berlin in 1884, at
which each power kept to its allotted space. In the same vein,
we concluded that the smaller volags could handle the overseas
treatment of the refugees and keep "first landing rights." They
would continue to find America "sponsors" (without which refugees
could not enter) and help the refugees on their way to their
sponsors. The big volags would deal with domestic resettlement,
the problems which arose when refugees left their sponsors and
aggregated in few localities or otherwise overwhelmed the first
line of settlement. Once this wrinkle was added, Goldstein was
more comfortable with the voluntary option.
The two raised by White and Goldstein and the subsequent
modifications of the voluntary option illustrate the process
policy ideas typically go through in the White House. The
modifications introduced in response to their concerns did not
change the essence of the voluntary option, but they did make it
more practical, smaller in scale, and politically acceptable.
After these first objections to the voluntary option had
been worked out, Victor Palmieri raised a second set, harder to
resolve than White's and Goldstein's. Palmieri doubted that the
big voluntary agencies would take on the mission. At my
suggestion the agencies feelings on the subject were informally
explored. Their responses varied from cautious endorsement to
considerable enthusiasm. The cautious endorsement came from Bill
Aramony of the United Way. The United Way is an uneasy
coalition, and constantly, faces demands from member groups for a
larger share of its resources; to take on a major additional
mission would further strain the coalition. At the same time,
Aramony was challenged by the task and the voluntary approach. He
suggested that the United Way executives could play a key role in
bringing it about. In addition, he invited me to a seminar the
United Way held for seventeen major voluntary groups, including
the National Urban League, Catholic Charities of America, and the
Salvation Army. I discussed the voluntary idea briefly with many
present, and nobody thought it was infeasible.
The head of the Red Cross, George Elsey, was outright
enthusiastic about taking on a new mission, once assured that he
would not be invading other voluntary turf. In informal, not-for-attribution comments, so were the heads of the YMCA, the
National Council of Churches, and representatives from the
American Jewish Congress.
Landrum Bolling, Chairman of the Council on Foundations,
offered to take the voluntary idea to Mrs. Carter. In a later
interview, he commented: "I personally was very much taken with
the idea and still am." He added,
It's very important to integrate the refugees into the
communities, and voluntary agencies can do this more
effectively than the government.
Hamp Coley, Senior Vice President of United Way, seconded this
Because there is no longer a "typical" American
community nor a "typical" refugee, federal programs
cannot hope to completely replace the flexibility,
commitment and reflection of local attitudes that
voluntary agencies provide and successful assimilation
In all but two of the discussions I had before I reported
back to the White House, the question of federal funds was
raised. The volags were used to getting federal funds to support
their work (both in bringing refugees to the U.S. and in other
areas, such as social services), but these were small amounts. I
insisted, though, that they would have to raise their own funds,
pointing out that $200,000--twice the anticipated amount--had
been raised by the Theater Committee for Cambodian Refugee Relief
in a few nightly collections on Broadway. I agreed that this was
possible only for an emergency period (say two years); once the
issue's mobilizing effect declined, it might well be more
difficult to raise funds. But for now, with housing and jobs
excluded, the voluntary agencies were to raise the funds;
otherwise it would not be a "voluntary" effort.
A chilly reception
I reported my findings in a memorandum to Palmieri:
Following our lunch and your suggestion, I explored
informally if major voluntary agencies and foundations
would be willing to share the burden of helping to
absorb into the community large numbers of refugees.
The answer is clearly in the affirmative.
It was assumed, in these explorations that:
1. They would raise all or most of the funds
needed for their part of the mission and/or
2. It was assumed that they will not seek to
compete with, duplicate, or otherwise interfere
with the specialized voluntary agencies now
involved; that they would focus on refugees after
arrival in the country and after initial service;
absorption into the community would be the focus.
3. It was assumed that the focus will be "soft"
services: not building low-income houses or
4. It was assumed that if funds and volunteers
would be provided by the volunteer sector, this
would be in the context of a full partnership with
the government, not as a step-cousin.
Having ascertained that the big voluntary agencies seemed
willing to take on the task of domestic resettlement, I suggested
as a next step an informal meeting between Palmieri and the heads
of these agencies. He refused. In a memo to me dated March 18,
1980, he explained:
While I think your suggestion is a good one, attempting
to organize this right now would complicate some of my
Palmieri's motives were quite evident. If a national emergency
coalition were to take over, what would his job be? His idea was
to create a new federal agency, or at least federal "network,"
coordinated by him.
Palmieri had a strong management orientation that, more than
any other factor, may account for his approach to the refugee
problem. Before being named Coordinator he had been chairman of
his own management company, where he gained a reputation as an
expert corporate crisis-manager. In various meetings Palmieri
put the emphasis on data collection, analysis, improving internal
management systems, accountability, and establishing evaluation
mechanisms, all of which were presented as part of "good
management." There is no question that work by the volags was
not "efficient," as voluntary work often is not. Palmieri
favored rendering their effort more efficient, without worrying
that in the process he would "federalize" them. I would have
preferred living with less efficiency, and less of a federal
role. I did not think we were discharging those duties the
Carter administration had already undertaken.
Others who knew Palmieri believe his reluctance to support
the voluntary option reflected more the intense pressure he was
under than his views of the private voluntary agencies. Among
them is Robert Stein, former director of the Indochina Refugee
Action Center. Stein talked with Palmieri early in 1980 about
increasing private sector involvement. He comments,
Trying to introduce a new type of coordinating
mechanism during the crisis was more than the system
could handle. It was not that Palmieri didn't believe
in the private sector or that he favored a heavy
federal role; rather, it may be that he was just unable
to seriously consider a new approach when be had so few
resources and time.
White and Goldstein made several attempts to prod Palmieri
to consider the voluntary option but he continued his opposition.
On March 18 Palmieri wrote to White:
Carol Hecklinger informed me that at a recent meeting
you expressed a strong interest in acting on Dr.
Etzioni's "voluntary option."
I think Dr. Etzioni's idea is useful because one
of our major problems in the resettlement area is the
incapacity of the traditional organizations to maintain
contact with the refugees and to follow up with support
after the initial reception activity. Right now,
however, given the other priorities in the picture, I
do not intend to try to follow up in a major way.
White and Goldstein maintained their stance:
We continue to believe the proposal should be carefully
considered and that, if it has any value, we should
know now while we are planning new and/or expanded
To the uninitiated, it might seem that the White House could
simply order Palmieri to follow a particular policy line. This
was not the case. First, the White House was as a rule reluctant
to order agencies around; it preferred to convince or cajole, and
Palmieri was not moved by these approaches. Second, Palmieri did
not outright refuse; he just dragged his feet. And third,
middle-level White House staff were dealing with the issue, and
they did not find it wise to confront him. It would have taken
at least a presidential directive to move Palmieri, and the
president was busy with more weighty matters.
Success in failure
What happened next? The predictable unpredictable.
Suddenly, out of the blue, the whole Indochinese refugee issue
was swept aside by a massive influx of Cuban refugees. Beginning
in late April, 1980, the flood of Cuban refugees swamped the flow
from Southeast Asia. By fall, over 125,000 Cubans had entered
the U.S., and over 12,000 Haitians as well.
This helped Palmieri, since it seemed obvious that the
federal government had to be involved in refugee resettlement.
As security and health checks were not conducted in preparatory
camps overseas, these tasks had to be carried out in the U.S.
These refugees came without sponsors to receive them and help
integrate them into American communities. It seemed the federal
government had to handle the matter.
For a while, Palmieri seemed to have won. Congress granted
him funds and a staff; the Office received approximately $750,000
during this period and had an authorized position complement of
fifteen people. He was on his way to setting up yet one more
bureaucracy. The federal government sought to play a central
role not only in the inevitable first screening of Cuban and
Haitian refugees, but also in their settlement.
As the weeks and months passed, it turned out that despite
the huge increase in the number of refugees and federal
involvement the small volags and individual volunteers actually
did most of the resettlement work on their own. Significantly,
voluntary agencies took the responsibility for finding sponsors
for the Cubans and Haitians in the federal camps, a crucial step
in the resettlement process. The U.S. Catholic Conference alone
volunteered to resettle 65 percent of the incoming Cubans.
Approximately 100,000 Cuban refugees were resettled over the
summer, mostly with families, friends, or private employers.
Indeed, many refugees simply "disappeared" once they landed and
were absorbed into the community. In addition, Cuban-American
associations raised large donations and provided free medical
services for the refugees in the government's camps. By
September about 20,000 Cubans remained in federal camps, most of
them "difficult" cases--2,000 were convicted felons, and another
10,000 to 15,000 were physically handicapped, unskilled, or
juveniles without parents in this country. By November 1980 only
6,900 Cubans and 600 Haitians remained to be resettled.
Ironically, the failures of the voluntary resettlement
process, rather than its successes, made the headlines. For
instance, a New York Times headline, dated December 18, 1980,
read: "Many Cubans Remain Hard to Place in U.S." The story
reported that about 8,000 of the 125,000 Cuban refugees were
still in camps and in prison. It also noted that many of the
"resettled" refugees had problems with their initial sponsors.
But the reporter's assertion that many were "at loose ends on the
street" was not substantiated. Indeed, most who had "first
sponsorship" problems were subsequently resettled elsewhere,
either through second sponsors, or by making, it on their own.
Other newspapers showed the same kind of misplaced emphasis.
A Washington Post headline, dated February 10, 1981, read:
"Resettling of Cuban Refugees Is Proceeding at a Slow Pace." The
story concerned one Luis Valladares who was "finally" on his way
to a sponsoring family, "joining the 120,000 Cubans who have been
resettled in the last several months." Another 4,750 therefore
remained unsettled. Slow? Well, maybe--but what is the right
pace for settling 125,000 refugees, especially when the ones
remaining in camps were especially hard to place because of
criminal backgrounds, handicaps, and the like?
Many other news reports had the same tone. The press is
often charged with stressing problems rather than "good" news.
Reporters counter that they report events as they find them. In
the case at hand, the press emphasized the situation of the few
Cubans remaining in the camps rather than the vast majority who
were resettled, making it seem as though most were not taken care
of for long periods of time.
To be sure, the resettlement work was not problem-free.
Some of the Cubans who had been resettled over the summer
experienced sponsorship problems and had to be resettled yet
again. The Cuban-Haitian Task Force, a federal agency, estimated
that "the sponsorship breakdown rate among the 116,000 Cubans who
had initial sponsors was from 3 to 5 percent"; other sources
placed it higher. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of the
refugees were resettled successfully.
The future of voluntary action
As I see it, the bureaucrats won all the battles but lost
the "war." Most refugees, including the Cuban-Haitian tidal wave
and those who arrived without sponsors, were resettled the
What remains unsettled, though, is the question I brought up
months earlier: What is the proper federal role? This question
is being asked by others as well, and the search for alternative
methods of resettlement continues. Hamp Coley, Senior Vice
President of United Way, favors a government-private sector
A true partnership of the public and voluntary sectors--with an appropriate mix of funds, with a mechanism for
continuing support of Voluntary efforts, and with a
planning and management process that allows for action
instead of reaction--is the way to optimize America's
response to these people in need.
Robert Stein suggests another possibility, one that he
advocated at the same time that the voluntary option was being
discussed. Specifically, he recommended:
a mechanism at the national level to stimulate new
private sector involvement at the local level, perhaps
initially in 10 to 15 communities heavily impacted by
the refugee flow. Organizations such as the United
Way, Red Cross, foundations, corporations, unions, and
the national voluntary resettlement agencies could work
with their local affiliates to develop a scenario,
strategy, budget, and time line to increase coordinated
private sector involvement aimed at integrating
refugees into the communities. If this experiment
worked, there would be a basis for encouraging new and
dynamic private sector involvement in refugee work
throughout the rest of the country.
Stein notes that it is time to explore ways of increasing
private sector involvement in refugee resettlement. Now that the
frantic edge is off, and the new administration is reducing the
federal government's involvement in many areas, the volag
affiliates at the local level are more ready than ever to expand
private sector involvement and assistance.
What remains a barrier to discussion of these options,
though, is something Landrum Bolling brought up in discussing the
"voluntary option": government's mistrust of the voluntary
sector. He comments,
One of the problems we face is that the "voluntary
option" runs counter to a well-entrenched tradition in
government; if the federal government puts money up,
then a government agency must guide it along. There's
a fear by some in government that if they hand control
of the refugee resettlement process over to the
voluntary agencies, they would waste money. There's a
whole complex of negative thinking in the way many
government people look upon voluntary agencies.
Bollino, terms this a "failure of imagination." As I see it, this barrier could
be removed by letting the voluntary agencies raise the funds rather
than using taxpayers' money. This would leave the government as
employer of last resort, as a source of tax incentives for those
who train and employ refugees and other unemployed, and as a source
of low-income housing. Voluntary agencies and communities would
take responsibility for all the other aspects of refugee resettlement,
and the government would not need to worry about guiding, controlling,
or managing their efforts. Indeed, as the volags often undertake
these tasks anyhow, the government "concern" seems as much
an excuse for intervention, where it is not truly needed in the
first place, as a valid reason for avoiding the voluntary option.