These interviews were recorded on December 5 and 15, 2019, at Sagawa’s home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.Learn more about Shirley Sagawa
Scarpino: Now we have a live mic. Today is Thursday, December 5, 2019. My name is Philip Scarpino, Professor of History and Director of Oral History for the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence at Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). I have the privilege to be interviewing Shirley Sagawa at her home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. This interview is sponsored and paid for by the National Service Archives Project based at IUPUI Special Collections and Archives. This interview is co-sponsored by the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, also at IUPUI.
Shirley Sagawa earned her AB Magna Cum Laude from Smith College in 1983, a Master’s in Public Policy and Public Administration from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1984, and a JD from Harvard Law School in 1987. Following earning of her JD in 1987, a significant portion of her work history is related to national service.
From 1987 to 1991, she was Chief Counsel for Youth Policy and Education Counsel, for Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, serving as head staff on issues impacting children for Committee Chair, Edward Kennedy. She drafted legislation that became the National Community Service Act of 1990. The National Community Service Act of 1990 resulted in the creation of the Commission on National and Community Service.
1991-1993, she was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to a two-year term as founding member of the Board of Directors of the Commission on National and Community Service.
1993, Special Assistant to the President, Domestic Policy Counsel, advised the President and First Lady, Barbara Bush, on education, children's policies and other issues. She worked with the Office of National Service where she drafted and negotiated the President's national service legislation that created AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
1993-1997, she was Founding Managing Director, Executive Director and Executive Vice President for the Corporation for National and Community Service. This was a Senate-confirmed presidential appointment. The Corporation for National Service was created as an independent federal agency by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993.
1998-2001, she was back at the White House as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff to the First Lady. She advised First Lady Hillary Clinton on policy issues.
2008-2009, she was part of the Obama presidential transition team, selected to head the transition team for the Corporation for National and Community Service.
She has authored or co-authored three books and numerous articles, chapters and reports. Her most recent book, The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers are Transforming America, published in 2010, is directly related to the focus of this interview.
She had won many awards and recognitions, most recently recipient of America's Service Commissions ACS 20 Award for visionary national service leadership in 2018.
Between 1991 and the present, she has held numerous Board positions, including, in relatively recent years, service as a Board Member and Executive Committee Member, National Women's Law Center, 2002 to the present; National Advisory Board for Public Service, Harvard University, 2013 to the present; and Maryland Governor's Commission on Service and Volunteerism, 2013 to 2017.
With that little bit of background on a long and distinguished career, I want to ask your permission to record this interview, to have the interview transcribed and to deposit the recording and transcription in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives and also with the Tobias Center where they will be used by patrons of those organizations and may be posted to the internet.
Sagawa: Okay, sounds good.
Scarpino: As I said when the recorder was off, I just want to start with a little bit of background on you so that you become an interesting person along with all your work on service. When and where were you born?
Sagawa: I was born in Rochester, New York, in 1961.
Scarpino: And who were your parents?
Sagawa: My father was Doctor Hidetaka Sagawa. He passed away some 24 years ago. He's an immigrant from Japan. My mother, Patricia Ford Sagawa, grew up in Rochester, New York, and was a nurse and that's how they met.
Scarpino: When did your father emigrate from Japan?
Sagawa: In the '50s. He came over – he likes to say he came with a trunk and $50 on a cargo ship, the Great American Story.
Scarpino: It is an interesting American story. Do you have brothers and sisters?
Sagawa: I do. I have a brother and two sisters; I'm the oldest.
Scarpino: And where did you attend high school?
Sagawa: Brockport High School.
Sagawa: In Brockport, New York.
Scarpino: What year did you graduate from high school?
Scarpino: I briefly mentioned your education in my introduction and I've already noted that you graduated from Smith College in 1983, located in Northampton, Massachusetts, a liberal arts women's college – why did you decide to go to Smith College?
Sagawa: I was really looking for a college – first, I grew up in a pretty small town, so Northampton, Massachusetts, with 30,000 people seemed like a big city to me...
Scarpino: I've been there, actually.
Sagawa: … and back in those days, you only applied to a few colleges, not like today. My mother didn't go to college. My father had gone to college in Japan, so I did not have a lot of knowledge about where to go, and I had gone on tour at Smith and loved it, and that was my first choice. I applied to two other schools, got into Smith, went there, very happy with the choice.
Scarpino: What was your major?
Sagawa: I was an American Studies major.
Scarpino: Why did you pick American Studies?
Sagawa: I found the singular disciplines to be very constraining in understanding. I had initially wanted to be a writer and part of – one of my professors said, “What you need to do is understand how the world works,” and to understand it from an economics discipline or political science discipline or any of those or history, they seem to be so interrelated to me that American Studies just made sense.
Scarpino: While you were attending Smith College, did you have any experience engaging in service?
Sagawa: That's a great question. I was not somebody who did a ton of volunteer service in college. I did some in high school and growing up. In college, I was editor of the newspaper and I was involved in student government, so those were my main activities.
Scarpino: Did you run for office?
Sagawa: I was class president my sophomore year. I was really struggling to decide whether I wanted to go into government or journalism. I applied for the Truman Scholarship and that's for people who are interested in public service. I had a lot of discussions with my professors about is journalism public service, concluded it was, so I wasn't doing anything inappropriate by choosing to apply even though I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I ultimately decided to do journalism in college and public policy after. Service was something that I don't think I ever really thought of when I was in college. I was not aware of – maybe I had heard about the Peace
Corps in a distant sense. At that time, people were not interested in recruiting – women in the military was not exactly something that people thought about. The kind of service that was more obvious to me as a pathway was public service.
Scarpino: When you were a young woman, in high school or in college at Smith College, were there any individuals who played key roles in shaping the professional adult you became?
Sagawa: Oh, wow, that's a great question. I had some amazing faculty members, especially in college. Professor Donald Robinson in the Government Department, also in American Studies, is one of the people I spent a lot of time talking to about what is public service. I interned in Washington when I was in college and that made a huge impact on my life.
Scarpino: Where in Washington?
Sagawa: Then, I worked in the Senate Labor Committee for Senator Kennedy. It was right after the Reagan presidency had begun and the Senate had flipped from being democrat, which it had been for a very long time, to republican control. So, Senator Kennedy had moved over from the Judiciary Committee to take the ranking position on the Labor Committee and he had downsized significantly the number of staff. It was a huge – people called it the Reagan revolution. The government programs, as we knew them, were being largely, I don't want to say dismantled, but they were being largely rethought along different lines, and so there was a
great deal of need for playing defense on all fronts, but also to be open to kind of new ways of doing things that would be able to be bipartisan. I learned a lot from Senator Kennedy and his team about how do you do that, how do you work across the aisle, especially from a minority position and, as an intern in that office, they needed every person. I got to do a lot of things maybe people don't always get to do when they're interns. I wrote floor statements for the Senator, I covered a lot of hearings, I even got to help draft some of the job-training legislation. I was there for six months.
Scarpino: Pretty heavy duty for an intern.
Sagawa: I know, like pretty good, but I was there for six months and they got to know me and they were super short on staff, and as I later learned and came to understand then, people who work in the Congress as staff people are generally pretty young. A lot of them didn't have a whole lot more experience than I had. So, in a weird way, it's not surprising. Senator Kennedy typically had, and Committee staff typically had, people who were more qualified, but still, it was a great opportunity.
Scarpino: What did you learn from him about working cooperatively from a minority position?
Sagawa: Well, you have to kind of listen and you have to be at the table, and you have to try to see the other side's point of view, and you have to stand for what you stand for, so those things were really important. When I went
back to work in the Senate later, in the majority that time, legislation that passes with just one party doesn't have as much staying power unless you have bipartisan support. So, even if you're in the majority position, trying to work across the aisle is really important. I think that's something that I learned from some of the people in that office. There was a Chief of Staff, Carey Parker, who was just brilliant. The other thing I think was important is just being able to articulate in a compelling way kind of what you're trying to do. There was a lot of attention in the Kennedy Office to communications and I learned a lot from that as well. So, my journalism background became relevant because I could write a clear sentence and hopefully a compelling one.
Scarpino: I asked you about people who would have had an influence on you; when you were a young woman in high school and college, were there any events that took place that had an impact on shaping the adult you became?
Sagawa: Well, yes. One event was the election, the Ford election. I was a young teenager during Watergate. I wasn't super paying attention; my mother made me watch all of that. You know, “Stop, I want to watch ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’” but the Ford election, the Carter/Ford election was the first one that I think I was actually engaged in. I was a die-hard Ford supporter, just really liked him a lot. I actually had to represent him in a debate in my English class. I was a horrible debater and I did absolutely terribly and I felt awful, like I had let him down. That was important to me. The other
thing I spent a lot of time doing when I was young, is I worked – my mother was head of the Sunday School in our church, so I was a Sunday School teacher all through high school, and I was a piano teacher too. So, I worked with a lot of young people. So, while I can't say that I had – that puts a lot of responsibility to think how do you help other people, and I have to say, my mother was an amazing role model. She was somebody who, she was a nurse, but back then you didn't have to go to college to be a nurse, so she always felt sort of bad that she didn't have a college education and yet she was very empathetic to people. She was always the person who would do that extra thing or would take in somebody who was struggling and try to help them. She was – everything I can remember from being young was her always trying to help people. We had people who – she had a restaurant at one point, and the people who worked in the restaurant had a lot of issues. Some of them end up in jail and she was the person who really tried to mentor a young man who eventually killed himself, but she would take the most troubled people and try to help them. I always thought, as I worked on National Service, it's too bad that we need something like National Service to enable people to develop the kind of lifetime ethic that my mother had naturally.
(END OF RECORDING)
Scarpino: Alright, so the recorder is back on. I had asked you about events that shaped the adult that you became and we were talking generally about your education. So, you earned a Master’s in Public Policy and Public Administration from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1984. Why did you decide Public Policy and Public Administration?
Sagawa: Well, because of my experience interning, I knew I wanted to come back to Washington and work in public policy and I thought I probably wanted to go law school, but actually thought it would be useful to have some opportunity to compare the U.S. System to another country and it seemed like that was a good opportunity.
Scarpino: What was the takeaway you took when you compared those systems?
Sagawa: I think what I took away is in the British system, the parties were very far apart in their ideologies. In the 1980s in the U.S., parties were not, even with Reagan, there was some fundamental understanding about how government operates and there were not completely – it wasn't like socialism and total free market. There was some middle ground. I didn't see that middle ground in the U.K. I think we obviously have a lot in common, but I found that to be a very big difference.
Scarpino: You did go back to law, you earned a JD from Harvard Law School...
Sagawa: I did.
Scarpino: … in 1987. And just to put some information in the record for people who might use this, also in 1987, you were hired to work for the United States Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee as Chief Counsel for Youth Policy and Education Counsel. The Committee was chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy. You stayed there until 1991. Just so users of this interview can keep the players straight, Ronald Reagan was President, and then he was followed by George H.W. Bush, who served from January of '89 to January of '93. I mentioned that this interview was co-sponsored by the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, so I want to ask you something, and you clearly are a leader, although I gave away my first question and that is related to leadership – do you think of yourself as a leader?
Sagawa: You mentioned that when we talked on the phone and I think I'm a servant leader. I am very much in the business of trying to make a difference, and to do that sometimes means trying to get other people to go along and, to me, the important thing is cause first, you're second always. I think a lot of people aren't, but that's kind of how I think about it.
Scarpino: From that point of view, how do you define leadership?
Sagawa: I think leaders are able to articulate a compelling vision and convince others to go along. I think it's a simple thing. And I think that leaders are – you know, can you be a leader without any followers? I didn't think so.
Scarpino: That's like if the tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody there.
Sagawa: Exactly, yeah. So, I don't think it's something you can kind of proclaim yourself. I think either the record shows it or not.
Scarpino: As a leader, how have you gone about trying to persuade people to follow you?
Sagawa: Well, I'm trained as a lawyer and as a journalist. Communication is a tremendously important part of it, so I think it's important to be able to paint the picture and then show the pathway, and get people excited and make them believe that what you're laying out is possible. I also think that there's a way of behaving that you have to walk the walk. I'm sometimes maybe not very good at that, but I think that's another important piece of it.
Scarpino: Tell me what you mean by a way of behaving.
Sagawa: Well, if you are talking about wanting youth to be able to, you know, youth voice and then you don't have youth voice in your effort, that would be a dead giveaway. So, those kinds of things. I think that people are always looking, especially young people today, are always looking for hypocrisy and I think it's important to be honest and transparent. I've always felt a little bad, I never did National Service, so who am I to say other people should do it; I've never done it. I've done, obviously, public service and massive amounts of volunteer service and when I was the right age to be figuring it out, I didn't even know it was an option really. So, I have an excuse, but I still think that is something – I'd like to see on this next
generation coming up to have had a service background if they're involved in the space.
Scarpino: Do you see any indication that society is trending that way?
Sagawa: I do, I do, I absolutely do.
Scarpino: Again on leadership, having done quite a bit of background reading and talked to you on the phone and so on, you've worked with some really interesting leaders in your life.
Sagawa: Yes, I have.
Scarpino: Who stands out as a really effective leader?
Sagawa: I talked about Ted Kennedy already. I think he was an amazing leader, really maybe not as well understood sometimes, but a tremendous leader. I've had the chance to work with both of the Clintons and I do think both of them are real leaders. I've worked with General Stan McChrystal. I think he's a leader. They're all very different, but I worked with people who are maybe less well-known, like Eli Segal, who was the first CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. I worked with Harris Wofford, a former Senator. So, I've worked really closely with some pretty extraordinary people.
Scarpino: What do you think makes a leader stand out?
Sagawa: I think, in all of these cases, they were cause first. That is, to me, really important. People maybe don't appreciate that, but all of these people, they were about making a difference and smart and strategic, they surrounded themselves with good people, they invited dissension. I think that is something that is – I actually wrote a book called The Charismatic Organization. The whole premise of it was that charismatic leaders are actually terrible and that charismatic organizations need to not act like what you think of as a charismatic leader, but instead build the kind of following that you would have in a more of a servant leader kind of space. So, I did some research on charismatic leaders, and we clearly have one in the White House right now. I think that it is a real pitfall if you will not invite dissension, people who disagree with you, you know, listen, because if you're really about the cause and are trying to find the best pathway, you need enough information to – you need the information on all sides in order to help make good decisions. So, I think that's another important thing. I also think all of these people were willing to hear the arguments and then actually make a decision. So, that's important.
Scarpino: So, you get a Master’s in Economics, you have a JD...
Sagawa: The Master’s is actually in Public Policy.
Scarpino: Public Policy, I'm sorry. I mentioned that you worked for the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Relations in the areas of Youth Policy and Education. I'm wondering, for somebody who was just using this
interview and just trying to follow along, what was it about having a JD and having the degree you have from London that qualified you for that position?
Sagawa: Oh, probably nothing.
Scarpino: I'm sure there was something.
Sagawa: Yeah, okay. So, actually, when I first started, I was not Chief Counsel for Youth Policy. I think my title was something like Education Associate or something like that, but I did have a fair amount of experience. I'd been in Washington, I'd taken classes in college on child care policy and was pretty-well versed in that. In London I had written about – I think my thesis was about child care policy in both the U.S. and in the U.K. and just the differences in approaches basically due to underlying etiologies. Then when I came to Washington, I spent probably the first year I was working in the Senate, kind of like apprenticing for people who had more experience. So, it was very much on-the-job learning at that point, but I'm a pretty quick study. And in law school, I'd done work in employment discrimination, so I had taken a course on that. I'd interned at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. So, I had a variety of backgrounds on social justice and education as it relates to civil rights and employment. So, putting all that together is a background that's not completely uninformed.
Scarpino: No, my question wasn't uniformed, it was just based on the information that I had, I wondered how you were able to persuade them that they should hire you.
Sagawa: Well, the other thing is, the truth is these offices in Congress, they don't have a ton of money to hire people and they want people who will deliver, and I knew some of the people from when I had interned there and I think they got me pretty cheap. It was good on both sides I think.
Scarpino: So, you did become the Chief Counsel for Youth Policy and Education Counsel. What does that mean? What were your responsibilities?
Sagawa: Yes. At one point, I basically said, “I'm tired of being the associate in this office; I'm good enough to handle issues on my own,” and they said, “Okay, you can have some issues,” and they gave me Child Care, Early Childhood Development and National Service. At that point, I got the title of Chief Counsel for Youth Policy largely because I had responsibility for setting the direction for national policy for the Committee in those areas. This is just an aside, but I've always been very troubled by the idea that youth development and education are two different fields. It seems shocking to me and yet they are.
Scarpino: And they remain so.
Sagawa: Yes, and I had worked a lot on education policy and I just really felt that youth policy needed to be lifted up and they really should be the same thing, but they're not.
Scarpino: Your resume says that while you were on the Committee, you staffed Chairman Edward Kennedy at Committee mark-ups on issues affecting children and youth. What does that mean for somebody who isn't familiar with Congress, that you staffed the Chairman?
Sagawa: The Chairman has to cover a lot of issues, so that Committee has everything from union issues and pensions and some nominations and labor policy and education and healthcare, I mean, it's a large portfolio. Senator Kennedy was pretty knowledgeable about all that stuff, but there's no way one person can be expert and also managing all of those different issues well. So, that's what the staff does, is the staff keeps up-to-date on these policy areas. They talk to people who want to, I guess you'd call them lobby them, you know, people who come in to give their points of view on different things. The Senator can't meet with all those people, so that's what I would do. Then, when the Senator is going to be holding a hearing, somebody's got to invite the witnesses, make sure the witnesses know what they're talking about, prepare the Senator to know who's coming, make an opening statement, be able to ask them questions that are smart, and follow-up questions. So, that's a staff role, so you prepare a notebook basically.
Scarpino: When you were doing that, does that mean you wrote the first set of questions or you just provided information and the Senator...
Sagawa: Wrote the questions. I'm pretty sure that's what you would do in almost any office. So, I would write the opening statement, I would write the question – now, this does not mean that the Senator would read the opening statement or wouldn't make his own opening statement or that he wouldn't ask his own questions, but you wouldn't want a situation where a senator was looking for you to provide something and it wasn't there.
Scarpino: I'm going to just put a little information in here and then ask you some questions.
While you were serving on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, you developed legislative strategy, you drafted Bills that included National and Community Service Act of 1990, Head Start Transition Project Act, Child Care and Development Block Grant Act. I'm going to talk to you about National and Community Service Act of 1990, but I want to ask you a couple of more general questions first.
You told me, when I talked to you on the phone, that you went to Washington and joined the staff of the Senate Committee because you were interested in issues related to child poverty. How did you go about trying to shape policy in the area of child poverty? How did you do it and how much influence do you feel you had?
Sagawa: I always say I had more influence in my first job than I have had in any other job. One thing that a lot of people have come to understand is that the opportunity for a good education is not an equal opportunity and that that inequality begins in the earliest years. So, I worked on a variety of Bills that – I actually wrote several Bills that were designed to address the inequity from those early years. Some of them passed, some of them didn't. In education, the federal government pays really only a tiny part of our education system. People don't really understand that. It's actually considered – whenever Presidents kind of overstep, there's definitely a lot of people to push back because most of the money for education, as you well know, comes from state and local sources. So, when the federal government gets involved, it really needs to do so from a position of equity, I think. That's what I was taught in Senator Kennedy's office, is that we're here because there are sort of market failings, that there are, for example, rich districts and poor districts, and poor districts can't tax their people more because they don't have any money and we still need to make sure that people who live there get a strong education. So, that's why we have programs like Title 1. So, as we kind of thought through any changes that anybody wants to make to the underlying infrastructure of federal funding for education, it needs to be, from my point of view and from Senator Kennedy's point of view, through that lens. Are we making opportunity more equitable or not? Because what you don't want to do is do things that inadvertently do the opposite of what you're trying to do.
Scarpino: What was it like to work for Senator Kennedy?
Sagawa: Oh, he was great. I loved Senator Kennedy. He was so, you know, a tremendously decent person and committed and smart. He had his good days and his bad days, of course. One of my jobs was to go down and correct the record. Every senator had somebody who could go and when they said something that didn't make sense, edit it so it made sense.
Scarpino: Like correct the record Congressionally.
Sagawa: Literally correct the record. But he was great.
Scarpino: How would you describe the perspective on the purpose of government that he brought to his job as a U.S. Senator?
Sagawa: I think he understood the role that government plays in helping people, is probably the simplest, and that it's a complicated thing to get everything from making people safe to providing equitable workforce development and education opportunities. I think that he was very much a pragmatist. So, he was like, I would say probably a liberal visionary and a political pragmatist. So, he could work with anybody. He had amazing friendships with some of the most conservative members of Congress. He was also somebody – I remember really clearly, when we were first working on the National Service Bill, he was somebody who would go over to the House – first of all, senators do not go meet with people on the House side; House side people come to the Senate. He would go over there and meet with
like a freshman republican to try to convince them to do something. So, that was just the kind of person he was. He would do something extra. He would make everybody feel comfortable around him. He was incredibly gracious and, you know, a really effective senator.
Scarpino: And you had a similar view of the purpose of government?
Sagawa: Yes. I think government should not; I believe in markets. I think that if you don't – markets that have failings and you have to fix them, but you certainly don't want government controlling everything. That would stifle innovation, it would stifle opportunity in a whole variety of ways and the country wouldn't be as good, but that doesn't mean that we don't have things that we need to do to address excesses; or when the private sector and ordinary human beings do bad things, you need to set some rules. So, I think that there is always a role, but it is not a commanding control system, and I think that was a big difference with the U.K. I think the Labor Party there has a much more...
Scarpino: Was a commanding control system.
Sagawa: … at the time, yeah, much more of that orientation.
Scarpino: What I am doing is trying to set a little context here. So, now I want to talk about National Service. Because people who, I hope, will use this, are not necessarily going to be people who know a lot about the subject going in, I'm going to start by having a general discussion of National Service with
you and then focus in on the National and Community Service Act of 1990.
President George H.W. Bush signed the National and Community Service Act, Public Law 101-610, on November 16, 1990. That Act authorized the creation of the Commission on National and Community Service, which was supposed to be bipartisan and I hope we'll talk about that. I'm going to stick a short version of the legislative history in here so that people will have that and then we'll talk about it.
Short version, to start with the U.S. Senate. Senate Bill 1430, introduced into the 101st Congress by Massachusetts Democratic Senator, Edward Kennedy, on July 27, 1989. There were 38 co-sponsors in the Senate; three of the co-sponsors were republicans and 35 democrats. The three republicans were James Jeffers of Vermont, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and David Durenburger of Minnesota. When the Senate voted on October 6, 1990, the vote was 75 yea, 21 no, four not voting, and of the 21 no votes, 20 were republicans. On the House side, they voted on October 24, 1990. The final vote was 235 to 186. Of those House members who voted yes, 213 were democrats and 22 were republicans. Out of the House members who voted no, 41 were democrats and 145 were republicans.
The first general question, a quick look at just the raw numbers of the sponsorship could lead somebody to the conclusion that the National and
Community Service Act of 1990 was largely a partisan democratic effort. Would that be a correct conclusion?
Sagawa: I would say no. I mean, it was signed by a republican president and there was substantial republican support. I would say today, seeing numbers like that, it would be pretty unusual to see that, right?
Scarpino: That's true, it’d be on the evening news every day for a week.
Sagawa: Yes. So, it would seem to be partisan, but we worked really hard to make it not partisan.
Scarpino: I'm going to ask you who “we” were in a minute, but were there, even at that time, differences in the way most democratic Congress people and most republican Congress people understood service and the role of government service?
Sagawa: It was a very complicated set of people. The reasons people supported it in the end or didn't support it probably fell into a group of different buckets. But in a very simplistic sense, I think if you think ideologically, there's a conservative side of the world that thinks government should do as little as possible and certainly this is an area where they would argue that service is something that shouldn't be compensated, there's no need to have the government involved and it's fine, you don't need to do anything, this is the government overreaching. On the other end, there are liberals who would not support this either because, you know, why shouldn't we be paying
people to do stuff that needs to be done. So, those would be the extremes and, in fact, we had folks from the democratic side who wanted a lot of this to be means-tested because this is the best; if it's so good for people to do service, let's just let people who don't have any money benefit from this and everybody else can just do it on their own dime. So, that would be the extreme. We were, obviously, trying to get enough votes in the middle to pass the Bill.
Scarpino: As I read through the record, there seemed to be two key members of Congress who appeared to have important roles in the passage of what became the National and Community Service Act of 1990 – Leon Panetta and Edward Kennedy. There may have been others, and I'll ask you to talk about that, but Edward Kennedy is the better-known of the two, but Panetta was a democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1977 to '93, and held several important positions under democratic presidents – Secretary of Defense, Director of the CIA and White House Chief of Staff. What role did Leon Panetta play in the passage of the National and Community Service Act of 1990?
Sagawa: That's a great question. I don't recall him having as big of a role some other people. He was sponsoring the Conservation Corps Bill, as I recall. That was a really important piece. The coalition we were trying to put together, included people who supported the Conservation Corps model, which would be Senator Dodd, Congressman Panetta and some others; the people from the Democratic Leadership Council who wanted to test
the idea of tying financial aid to service, and so Senator Nunn would be an example; people who felt like service should be something everyone does, which would be the McCain perspective, and today would be General McChrystal; and then people who were worried about our civic health, that we need to bring people together and common purpose and exercise, so that would really actually kind of be the Kennedy perspective. And I think there was like a religious dimension to it too, so that I would guess that the fact that Senator Hatch was Mormon probably had a lot to do with his willingness to go along with this legislation because Mormons do a year of mission service and they know how it changes as a person. So, I think what I felt was my job in the Senate Staff to do was to help all of these different perspectives see themselves in this Bill. It was not going to be a Bill that said this is about means-tested opportunity, that's going to be kind of like job training and that's what we're going to run with because I would have lost all the other people. And it couldn't have been we're going to take away everybody's financial aid because everyone needs to do their service, because then we would have lost a lot of other people. So, how do you get enough people to support a piece of legislation when they're all coming with different perspectives?
Scarpino: Was part of your job on the Committee to help build that coalition?
Sagawa: Yes. It was to create a big enough tent – you know, we kind of led this – there was a group working from the outside that Youth Service America had put together, and then there was – we were kind of the inside people
who, I had to put a Bill together that represented the perspectives of all of these different interests and help – the people who were involved in advocating for the Bill were not – the most sophisticated lobbyists we had were people from the American Way, Melanne Verveer and John Buchanan, but most of the people involved in that coalition, this was their first rodeo and so...
Scarpino: So, that'd be like Youth Service America?
Sagawa: Yeah, there was a need to help them figure out kind of who should you go talk to. So, we would have a list of like you’ve got to go get these people and we'd try to figure out like who's the best messenger to go talk to so-and-so. So, it was a lot of that kind of strategizing and traffic copping day-to-day. And I certainly had some help. We had some terrific people in the Senate Staff who had done this before, so I was learning on the job, but it was great.
Scarpino: A significant part of your contribution was to tap...
Sagawa: My job was to traffic cop and direct and troubleshoot. You know, somebody would throw up this objection and I would have to come up with what do we do.
Scarpino: National and Community Service Act, Youth Service America – where did this idea come from that became the Bill? I mean, did it come from the Senate Staff? Did it come from outside organizations?
Sagawa: That's a good question. It came from a lot of places, so that what the ultimate Bill that passed was, I wrote it and it was listening to a lot of different people, but where did those other people get their ideas? I certainly didn't come to the Senate and go I'm going to pass a National Service Bill here and here’s what it’s going to do. I'd never even heard of National Service. So, basically, what I like to think of in the political science context is agenda setting – who made this something that would cause their to be an agenda? I would say that the group that had the most influence there was the DLC because they proposed something bold. They said, “We're going to take away financial aid unless you do a year of National Service.”
Scarpino: The DLC?
Scarpino: And that is?
Sagawa: The Democratic Leadership Council, which was sort of a centrist democratic think-tanky group. I don't even know what to call them, but they were a set of more conservative democrats.
Scarpino: In Congress?
Sagawa: No, in the world. Bill Clinton was involved with that as a governor and Sam Nunn in the Senate, and he wrote and introduced this Bill that galvanized a lot of conversation, positive and negative. On the negative
side, people were like no, we cannot take away people's financial aid. It was a huge, huge thing so the higher ed institutions were not supporting it either. But the conversation itself made it possible to kind of have other people starting coming forward wanting to talk about it. One of the things that happened was, and this letter is going to be in the Archives, was Father Ted Hesburgh, who was the President of Notre Dame, a fine institution, sent a letter to Sergeant Shriver, Senator Kennedy's brother-in-law. Sergeant Shriver, as people probably know, was instrumental in creating the Peace Corps and did many other things during the Kennedy Administration. Sergeant Shriver sent a note to his brother-in-law, Ted Kennedy, and said, “You know, there's something to this; you should look into this.” Senator Kennedy sent that letter to my boss, the Senate Labor Committee – he would be the Chief of Staff, I'm not sure what his title was, Tom Rollins – and then basically saying let's do something on this, and then he tasked me with that job. So, that's kind of how we ended up in the business of doing anything, because we were otherwise just going to ignore it because National Service taking away people's financial aid would not be something Senator Kennedy would have supported.
Scarpino: So, there's that input and then there's Father Hesburgh...
Scarpino: … and they kind of came together?
Sagawa: Yeah, he was somebody who – you often think the only people who have an influence are these paid lobbyists. Well, this was a citizen who reached out to somebody he knew and...
Scarpino: An amazingly important citizen.
Sagawa: … an important citizen, but nonetheless, not somebody who was – you know, he wasn't saying “if you do this Bill, I'll pay you a lot of money.” He was saying this is the right thing to do and people listened. So, that's how government should be. We started working on a Bill and at that point, when people said oh, there's somebody working on this Bill, a lot of people came out of the woodwork to come and see me about it. So, I talked to probably a hundred people, I will remember some of them, who had different perspectives on it.
Scarpino: Can you identify some of the different perspectives that were trying to I assume influence you as you were writing this legislation?
Sagawa: Yeah. So, it's sort of funny thinking here I'm like 28-years old and these people are coming to lobby me, but it was my job to figure out what they should do. So, People for the American Way, I mentioned, and they had just done a report that basically said the civic health of the country is in jeopardy and they really thought the solution was the service learning and to get kids involved when they're young. So, that was a piece we ended up actually drafting a Bill on that. We also had the higher ed community
came forward, Campus Compact was just getting started. So, Campus Compact...
Scarpino: Thomas Ehrlich was involved in that.
Sagawa: … Tom Ehrlich was involved with that and there was a woman named Catherine Milton, who had started the Haas Center at Stanford...
Scarpino: I know her.
Sagawa: … yes, lovely dear friend. Catherine – she's heard me say this, so I can say this publicly – the worst lobbyist I've ever seen. She came in and said, “I'm not sure we want the federal government to do anything.” I'm like “that's not the script you're supposed to say.” So, Campus Compact was definitely involved and really in a very thoughtful way. There were the people who were interested in Conservation Corps. There was an association called NASCC, National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, or something like that. They came to see me, they were there a lot, and they were representing the existing programs. There were some programs predating all of this and they represented those Conservation Corps. They would be like able to provide witnesses who could come and testify at hearings and say how great the experience of being in Conservation Corps was. And then there would be people who were interested in volunteer programs, there were people who were interested in the existing programs, like VISTA and RSVP and Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions.
Scarpino: RSVP stands for?
Sagawa: Retired Senior Volunteer Program, I believe. So, those were all programs that had been created in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Scarpino: And, of course, there were the Democratic Leaders, they were still out there.
Sagawa: They were still out there. They thought I was, if you read The Bill by Steve Waldman, you will see that they thought I was public enemy number one, which still hurts me to this day, but they were out there, too. I didn't deal with them directly particularly much. I mostly dealt with Senator Nunn's office who was dealing with them. So, the people who – and then there were a few, I'm trying to think if there's anybody – the interesting thing about this issue is not very many people would come in and say anything negative. It wasn't like there were two sides. People were coming in and saying, “If you're going to write a Bill, make sure my thing is in it,” which is probably different than most issues. Like, if you're working on healthcare, you've got health insurers, you've got patient groups, you've got doctors, you've got a whole (INAUDIBLE) of people. Well, this was like a pretty small field that didn't really almost exist.
Scarpino: But there wasn't an act to lobby against it.
Sagawa: Nobody was coming in and saying this was a terrible idea, which is unusual, but that doesn't mean anyone was going to vote for it either. So,
after talking to, and most of these different streams, had some senator who was their champion. So, when it came down to putting a Bill together, if there was somebody championing a piece of legislation, that would help me work with them to put it all together into one comprehensive Bill that could pass.
Scarpino: Was there anything that you decided not to put in there that people were advocating?
Sagawa: Means-testing was one. I always leave these folks out, but there was a group called – the WT Grant Foundation had done a report called the “The Forgotten Half,” which was really about young people who don't go to college and we don't do anything for them. So, that was another perspective that I think was pretty important to the ultimate crafting of the Bill.
Scarpino: So, you received the assignment to do this, you talked to all these individuals who represented various interests in the area of service, and the crafted – I want to use this word correctly – kind of an omnibus piece of legislation that pulled everything together.
Sagawa: Yeah, that's right. I mean, a couple of other things happened in addition, like there were hearings, and I should mention a really important dinner that happened. I'm going all out of order, but my brain is a little addled these days. When we first decided to do a Bill, Senator Kennedy decided to have a dinner at his house for just a handful of people to come and talk
about what should be in the Bill. So, he invited Senator Harris Wofford, who at the time was not a senator; he was the Secretary of Labor and Industry in Pennsylvania, but really interested in this topic. He invited Melanne Verveer and I think John Buchanan, who was a former republican congressman from People for American Way. He invited Peg Rosenberry, I believe, who was with the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps and his college roommate. This is kind of interesting. His college roommate was a guy named Jeff Coolidge and Jeff was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson. Jeff was lovely and he had been running a service program at the Kennedy Library in Boston for young people.
Scarpino: You mentioned one person's name I didn't recognize. It was Melanne something...
Sagawa: Melanne Verveer. Melanne went on to become Hillary Clinton's Chief of Staff and, you know, just a really important leader in her own right.
Scarpino: What did she represent that got her a ticket to that dinner?
Sagawa: She was the lead person at People for American Way.
Sagawa: Yeah, so she – I may be mixing things up, but I recall that there was this dinner, if not those specific people, people like that.
Scarpino: Were you there?
Sagawa: I was there, and that was an opportunity to have a conversation about what should be in this Bill. So, I wasn't like just making it up myself; these people were advising and Senator Kennedy had given some direction. So, the idea of creating a comprehensive Bill was something that came out of that process. I will also say that I think part of the reason I was assigned this Bill and also – nobody thought this was going to pass. I'm like pretty junior, you know, “give her something to do.” I don't think anybody thought it had any chance of passing and nobody told me that, so I just worked my butt off because I’m like, well, this is a great opportunity to have a piece of legislation that actually makes a difference. So, I just ran with it.
Scarpino: You draw up the legislation that goes to hearing.
Sagawa: Yeah, with hearings in the Senate Labor Committee. Senator Kennedy had three or four hearings. A lot of them were people who had done some kind of service; we had kids who had served, we had college presidents, big thinkers.
Scarpino: Did those hearings result in the legislation being modified?
Sagawa: I don't remember. You don't usually have hearings unless you know what people are going to say. You usually use hearings to bolster your
position. I'm sure that there were some things that were affected, but I can't remember what they would be.
Scarpino: So, you write the legislation, it goes through the hearing process, it goes for a vote and it passed?
Scarpino: I take it you thought it was going to, but other people apparently were surprised.
Sagawa: Well, you know, a lot of work went into it and eventually I think they all thought it was going to pass, but at the time we started working on it, nobody thought it was going anywhere.
Scarpino: Why do you think it passed?
Sagawa: Because we worked really hard to make sure we had the votes. It's a numbers thing. Two really important things happened. One was Senator Hatch decided he would work with us. If Senator Hatch had said, “no way, I don't want this to see the light of day,” it would have been pretty hard to move something, but he worked with us. So, what we had put together was a bipartisan Bill.
Scarpino: Senator Hatch's position in the Senate at that time was what?
Sagawa: He was the Ranking Member on the Senate Labor Committee. There's always a Chairman and a Ranking Member, depending on which party is
in control. So, the republicans on the Committee and the Senate would look to him for like what's the position. That doesn't mean they're going to go along with it, but he would have some influence over people who didn't care that much.
Scarpino: But if he hadn't supported it, it would have been harder...
Sagawa: It would have been very hard to pass. So, that was really important and that's what makes it bipartisan, and he brought a lot of republicans with him, not everyone, but a lot. There were democrats who didn't support it too, just a couple, but and then the House, obviously, you have to pass the House. So, that was important and that was hard and then obviously President Bush, we should talk about his role.
Scarpino: Who were the key people in the House?
Sagawa: The House, so Gus Hawkins was the Chairman of the House Committee, and his staff person was a guy named Gene Sofer.
Scarpino: The House Committee was?
Sagawa: The House Education and Labor Committee; they had different names. The House was different because it just tended to be a little more left and a little bit more, you know, let’s means-test this thing and more support, you know, more concern that the programs be beneficial to low-income kids, all good instincts, but it did take some negotiation to kind of get them to support the piece of the Bill that was most controversial, which was the
demonstration program where we were testing the idea of providing education benefits to people who did a year of service.
Scarpino: So, passed the Senate, passed the House, it goes for the President’s signature...
Sagawa: No, you missed the Conference.
Scarpino: Oh, Conference Committee, okay, alright.
Sagawa: So, you have to have a Conference and at some point – I wish I could have – the dates are not clear to me anymore – at some point – President Bush had been elected by the time we were really working on this and he had a guy named Gregg Petersmeyer, who was...
Scarpino: I’m going to talk to him tomorrow.
Sagawa: … a wonderful person. He headed up a thing called the Office of National Service in the White House, and he was somebody who was probably – he’ll tell you the story, but most of the people in the White House didn’t really have any interest in this Bill, but Gregg...
Scarpino: When I talked to him on the phone, he said that most of President Bush’s senior advisors signed a memo saying to veto this.
Sagawa: Exactly. But Gregg was just tremendously committed and he had followed the legislation all along and had been in conversations with us. We had no idea ultimately if the President would ultimately support the Bill, but we
did everything we could to keep Gregg informed and work with his staff and he was very gracious. At some point, he, working through Senator Hatch, because that’s kind of how it would work, negotiated – it was really eleventh hour – negotiated to reduce the cost of the Bill significantly and add the Points of Light Foundation to the Bill.
Scarpino: Reduce the cost meaning eliminate funding for programs?
Sagawa: Yeah, cut funding from – I honestly don’t remember what the numbers had originally been. I think they were probably like $300,000, I mean $300 million, in that neighborhood, and I think President Bush wanted the numbers to be sort of less than a third of that, which was hard, but not crazy. There was also, you know, we had created a Commission to administer these programs and the White House wanted to change the way the commissioners were appointed. So, we did that.
Scarpino: And the change was to have the President appoint them?
Sagawa: Yes, because previously, with many commissions you have people employed by both Houses of the Congress, both parties, and the President. Because this was grant-making commission, they argued this was an Executive Branch agency and it’s unconstitutional to have the members of Congress appointing people, which may or may not be true, but it’s certain a colorable argument, so we went along with that too. So, in the final negotiation, we made the changes and President agreed to sign the Bill.
Scarpino: In large part because of the arguments made by Gregg Petersmeyer.
Sagawa: Yeah, I think Gregg’s a big hero in this.
Scarpino: I mentioned when I set this up that there were 38 cosponsors for the Senate Bill 1430 and three of them were republicans – Jeffers of Vermont, Specter of Pennsylvania, and Durenburger of Minnesota. Do you know why those three supported the Bill?
Sagawa: They were, you know, just traditionally more moderate than many. Senator Durenburger from Minnesota – Minnesota has a tremendous history of nonprofit activity. I think it would be – you know, he was always one of the republicans we could get who would support things the democrats liked. Specter, I think partly because Harris Wofford was from Pennsylvania and UPenn had been pretty involved in the higher education provisions. I think there was kind of a good base of support in Pennsylvania and, again, Senator Specter was not a tremendously conservative senator.
Scarpino: You mentioned a little while ago Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame, and you talked about him contacting Senator Kennedy and so on, the message coming down, but did Father Hesburgh, to the best of your knowledge, play a larger role in National Service than just suggesting that something needed to be done?
Sagawa: I don’t think so. He may well have; I don’t remember him being very involved. I mean, I think that there were a variety of college presidents who were involved and he’s probably one of them. I think the President of Georgetown – it was interesting because higher ed community was obviously not interested in seeing financial aid change substantially, but they were certainly interested in service and service learning, so, and that’s very reflected in the Bill.
Scarpino: Do you think that there’s any likely connection between the fact that Father Hesburgh was a Catholic priest at a Catholic university and Kennedy was a Catholic?
Sagawa: Yeah, I think that probably was significant. When I think about the perspectives that people bring to this, having the religious perspective is one that is important, both Mormons and Catholics.
Scarpino: Other than the people we’ve talked about in the past 20 minutes or so, were there other people who played significant roles in the passage of the National and Community Service Act of 1990? House or the Senate or White House staff or...?
Sagawa: Well, Gregg Petersmeyer and his staff at the White House were really critical. Some of the programs that were sort of baby-stepping, newer programs that were just getting going, I think of City Year and YouthBuild; there were a number of those programs that were kind of out there. There was a woman named Carol Kinsley who ran the service learning program
in Springfield, Massachusetts, who had a lot of influence on the service learning piece, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Senator Kennedy’s niece, she had been the head of the office in Maryland for service learning. Basically, Maryland is, I think, still the only state that has a service requirement for graduation from high school, and she was the person who kind of brought that about and made it and was leading it. So, she was pretty influential.
Scarpino: Just for the benefit of somebody who would use this, YouthBuild is what?
Sagawa: YouthBuild is a program that combines volunteering and education and job training and leadership for low-income kids who have barriers to employment. They spend a week doing like building community centers or housing for low-income people and the other week they would spend in getting their GEDs or high school diplomas. So, it combines those things. It was started by Dorothy Stoneman.
Scarpino: City Year?
Sagawa: City Year was designed to be sort of a model for National Service. In the day, it was the hallmark of having diverse people serving alongside each other.
Scarpino: And it pre-dated the Act of 1990?
Sagawa: Kind of, yeah, just by a year.
Scarpino: Again, just a little bit of information, so Congress passes the National and Community Service Act of 1990 in the second year of George H.W. Bush’s only term as President. I also would note that in the ‘89-’90 time frame, President Bush created the Office of National Service in the White House, which was actually prior to the passage in the Senate…
Scarpino: …with Gregg Petersmeyer as the Founding Director, and he also created the Points of Light Foundation to encourage voluntary service. So, part of what a lot of that Bill to get through Congress and to get signed by the President, was incorporating the Office of National Service in the White House and Points of Light...
Scarpino: … into provisions in the Bill.
Sagawa: Yeah, not the Office of National Service, but the Points of Light.
Scarpino: Okay, Office of National Service…
Sagawa: Yeah, the President can decide what offices he wants to have.
Scarpino: Part of the process was reducing the cost. So, does that mean when that legislation was passed, there really wasn’t a lot of money to support National Service?
Sagawa: There wasn’t, but in retrospect, it was the time when we – it was a fairly untested idea and so, it was enough money to get started. Unfortunately, it took a long time for appointments to get made. So, we actually I think lost the first year of appropriations due to the slow nature of government.
Scarpino: Yeah, because that was one of the things I was going to ask you. It was passed in 1990, but the first awards are not until 1992...
Sagawa: Yes, because they had to get nominations done, had to get them passed by the Senate, confirmed by the Senate and then the people had to be convened, they had to hire staff. I was very involved in all of that phase of it as well, and it was like not obvious that it was going to move very quickly.
Scarpino: And was the not obvious it was going to move very quickly part of design to sabotage it or just the wheels of government?
Sagawa: I think the wheels of government, and I'm sure if this is something that the rest of the Bush Administration had valued highly, it might have moved quicker, but the way – I’m sure Gregg can tell you more about it – but getting the names together and it was a really substantive group of people. It wasn’t like just random political people, and they had to be confirmed by the Senate. There’s a huge amount of paperwork involved even.
Scarpino: So, each member of the Board had to be confirmed by the Senate?
Scarpino: And do you remember how many initial Board members there were? I mean, I can look it up.
Sagawa: Yeah, it was maybe, I’m going to say it could have been 15, 21; I don’t know. A lot.
Scarpino: Of that founding cohort, looking back on it, who stands out?
Sagawa: So, you know, I was on this Commission...
Scarpino: I do.
Sagawa: … yeah, Alan Khazei, who has been a leader in this movement, he was one of the founders of City Year, he was on it. The first Chairman was a guy named Pete McCloskey, who’d been a member of Congress. Tom Ehrlich was on it; he was very important. There were some young people – Wayne Meisel, who had started the organization called COOL, and Karen Young were there kind of representing the youth perspective.
Scarpino: What is COOL? That doesn’t sound right; what is the organization?
Sagawa: Okay, it is Campus Outreach Opportunity League, which was an organization that Wayne started. He did something like a walk across the county – I won’t remember the details – but it was all about student-led service on campuses. So, it was kind of the balance of like Campus Compact was more about institutional support for service learning,
whereas COOL was about student-led activities and Wayne founded COOL, which no longer exists. It’s incredibly hard to fund the infrastructure organizations in the service space. It was a really good organization. And Johnny Smith was a preacher. There was a guy named Glen, who I can’t remember his last name, from Kansas. Reatha Clark King, who was I think the Foundation Director for General Mills. I’m not remembering everybody, but it was a pretty diverse – oh, Joyce Black who was sort of a (INAUDIBLE) volunteer from New York, and a really important person on there was George Romney...
Scarpino: Yep, Governor of Michigan.
Sagawa: … Governor of Michigan, father of Mitt Romney, and Mormon, and then Patty Rouse, who was the wife of James Rouse, who was a developer in Baltimore who created Columbia, Maryland, and created the Enterprise, now the Enterprise Community Foundation.
Scarpino: He was the developer who created Columbia, Maryland, out there in the middle of...
Sagawa: I think so. I could be misstating that, but he was sort of a visionary developer and his wife was on the Commission. So, it was, again, substantive people, I’m forgetting somebody I’m sure.
Scarpino: I’ve got a list, but what I was interested in is like looking back on all these years, who really stood out for you?
Sagawa: Oh, Digger Phelps. He stood out because I was always fighting with him. Just as an aside for your readers, the transcripts of all of these hearings for the Commission will be in the Archive.
Scarpino: Digger Phelps was the basketball coach at Notre Dame. Did he know anything about service?
Sagawa: I think within the Reagan Administration as the Director of a program called Weed and Seed. So, this will sound very anachronistic, or it will sound like very old thinking in today’s world of understanding of equity and other things, but the idea of Weed and Seed was you had a neighborhood that had high crime and you would weed the neighborhood by getting the people who worked like causing the crimes out, and then you would seed the neighborhood with positive things. It was an interesting way of envisioning how you help communities that have high crime rates. Anyway, Digger was in charge of that and he came to the Commission. He and I often didn’t see eye-to-eye and I don’t remember, I don’t think it was even substantive, but he was the one person I remember arguing with the most.
Scarpino: This Weed and Seed program was a Reagan era program?
Sagawa: I believe so.
Scarpino: The Act passes in 1990. From somewhere around July of 1990 through March of 1991, the country was in a recession...
Scarpino: … economic crisis, and yet in that period of economic crisis, both Houses of Congress passed the law, the National Service Community Act, which even though the budget was cut, it wasn’t free. I’m wondering how that got through Congress, a spending Bill in a time of recession?
Sagawa: Yeah. The other thing that’s extraordinary is, when I worked in Congress, we were under the Byrd Rule. So, there was a lot more attention than there is today in not spending money. The fact that we got any money at all...
Scarpino: I’m going to guess that most people who would be interested in this aren’t going to have an idea what the Byrd Rule was, so can you give a brief...
Sagawa: It basically said you had to pay for – if you’re going to spend money, it has to be paid for.
Scarpino: Be offset somewhere else.
Sagawa: Yeah, the balanced budget kind of idea. There was a higher threshold of being able to pass things were spending. It doesn’t exist anymore. The key person in Congress, other than Senator Kennedy, I would say was actually Senator Mikulski. We haven’t talked about her at all, but she played an outsized role. She played a role in the authorization, so she had a Bill with Senator McCain that was about part-time service that got rolled into my comprehensive thing. She was on the Appropriations
Committee then, controlled spending, and she made sure that this got funded, and if it weren’t for her commitment, we wouldn’t have gotten the funding.
Scarpino: Just so people will know when they’re looking at this, she was the Senator from...
Sagawa: Maryland. She’s often referred to as the Godmother of National Service.
Scarpino: Appropriations Committee?
Sagawa: Yeah, because you pass a Bill – so, the way it works, I'm sure you know, but for your readers, the Authorization Committees, which would be the Labor Committee, design a program and pass it and say it’s okay to spend money on this and then the Appropriations Committees are the ones who actually spend the money. So, if the Appropriations Committees don’t support it, then you could do all the work of getting something passed and then there would be no money for it, and that happens all the time.
Scarpino: Did you ever ask her why she supported this?
Sagawa: I never asked her, but I would surmise, and you could ask her – I think she’s now, I think, at Johns Hopkins. She’s a great lady. She had been a social worker, so I think she well knew the value of having people serving, and she was just a tremendously committed supporter of this Bill, and afterwards, in the implementation, provided a level of oversight that was really good. She made sure everybody did what they were supposed to
be doing and she let you know that she was watching and she was a champion, but she was a tough champion and I just really respected her a lot.
Scarpino: So, in January 1993, the Commission on National and Community Service issued a report, and I think it may have been its only report...
Sagawa: Yep, that’s the only one.
Scarpino: … What You Can Do for Your Country?, which I assume was inspired by President Kennedy. The Executive Summary of the report says, and I quote, “The Act authorized creation of a bipartisan Commission on National and Community Service governed by a 21-member Board of Directors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.” So, all of those Board members were appointed by the President?
Sagawa: Yes, yes.
Scarpino: Did they govern in a bipartisan way?
Sagawa: Yes. I would say, it’s funny, often people use the term bipartisan when they actually mean nonpartisan. This was actually nonpartisan. Like nobody, to this day, I don’t know what the parties were of most of the people on the Commission.
Scarpino: I guess by bipartisan, I meant did they get along and produce results.
Sagawa: They did. We had real debates, but it was all coming from a place that we want to get this done. I ended up doing a lot of staff work on the Commission because I just knew a lot about the topic, having written the Bill, and the commissioners had hearings and they had to make decisions about the different grant programs and they had to write this report. So, Les Lenkowski, who we didn’t talk about, who was one of the commissioners.
Scarpino: But we will.
Sagawa: Let’s get to Les, after I named everybody – it’s sort of like a trivia game, like who can you remember? So, Les was, I would say, the self-appointed kind of conservative voice. I’m sure there were other conservatives on the Commission. He and I did a lot of work together to try to, you know, we debated things, we figured out like what’s that middle ground that we can both accept to get the, especially the demonstration program set up and operating. So, I would say Les stands out to me as one of the more important figures on the Commission.
Scarpino: And your position was what?
Sagawa: On the Commission?
Sagawa: I was a Vice Chair. There were three Vice Chairs.
Scarpino: And what are the responsibilities of a Vice Chair, particularly because they are three of them?
Sagawa: I think probably none. Maybe it was a leadership kind of thing. I think they picked people who maybe knew a little more than other people. I think Alan Khazei was one; I think Reatha Clark King was the other one.
Scarpino: How did the Board of Directors go about setting up this program? Congress passes it...
Sagawa: Well, this is the funny part. By the time people are appointed, and I had been appointed and confirmed, they had to have a meeting and then we had to hire staff. It took forever for this all to happen and we were just worried that we were going to lose the money, so...
Scarpino: Like all of 1991.
Sagawa: … yeah, so from 1992, we had to do a lot of things really fast. So, it was a federal agency and federal agencies can’t just write checks. You have to have a whole process that you go through, through issuing regulations and creating applications and holding – the law required competition, so you had to let people know this money’s available and here’s how you get it and then have a competition and then make the awards. So, all of that had to happen really fast, and then you had to learn from what you did and write this report.
Scarpino: So, these were drawn up by staff and then approved by…
Sagawa: The truth is, I wrote most of them because – we eventually had staff, but the initial work, Catherine Milton, who we were blessed to have come on board as the Acting Executive Director, eventually became the permanent one, she and I worked really closely and we wrote – we did a lot of the writing together.
Scarpino: Just so we get this in one place, and people understand what we’re talking about here, tell us what it is that you wrote.
Sagawa: There were two things that had to be written, actually three things, and I'm not saying I did all the work on this. There was a general counsel who came on board, like obviously, I didn’t do all of it, but I was very involved in most of it. So, you have to write regulations. So, the law will say something like, you know, the Commission will develop rules relating how you file a grievance procedure, or something like that. You have to actually write those rules. So, we had to write a set of rules that defined things, that gave more detail on what is meant by this particular piece of the law. And that has to be done through notice and comment, so you actually have to write it, give a certain period of time for the public to submit comments on it and then, only then, can you issue a final rule. So, that’s one thing that has to happen. So, writing those rules, so as a lawyer, it’s like something I knew how to do. A second piece was you had to have a grant competition and to do that, you actually have to have an application which has what do people have to say and what criteria are you going to use and what’s the deadline. So, you have to write the
applications, was the second, and those have to conform to what the regulations say. So, those were two big projects. Then a third piece is, well, then you have to have the required peer review. There had to be a competition with a peer review process. Only then could the grantees be selected.
Scarpino: So, the peer review is of the grant applications?
Sagawa: Yeah, and keep in mind that there’s not that many peers, right; this is a new field, so this was like hard. Then finally, you have to have the report. So, the report has to reflect what did we learn and what do we recommend, and so the report is something that Les Lenkowski and I had a lot of involvement in, although there was someone hired to write it.
Scarpino: So, the report was What Can You Do...
Sagawa: What You Can do for Your Country, which came out right after Bill Clinton had been elected.
Scarpino: Right. You played a significant role in writing the rules, developing the application, organizing the peer review, and all that stuff.
Sagawa: Yeah, I mean, the staff obviously played a huge role. I was sort of a person to kind of help.
Scarpino: I’ll ask in a different way – you guided the process.
Sagawa: Well, helped to guide the process.
Scarpino: Alright. Who else was involved, in significant ways?
Sagawa: Well, I mentioned Les, I mean, I'm sure everybody, Tom Ehrlich, I’m sure, played a huge role. I’m not exactly sure what individuals did. Catherine Milton and the staff, obviously, played huge roles.
Scarpino: Congressman Pete McCloskey was the first...
Sagawa: First Chairman.
Scarpino: … and he served for about a year and stepped down.
Sagawa: Yeah, yeah.
Scarpino: Why did he step down?
Sagawa: I can’t remember.
Scarpino: How did he do?
Sagawa: He was...
Scarpino: I mean, he was the inaugural...
Sagawa: He was a pistol. He was a tremendous supporter of the Bill, of the programs. I think Tom Ehrlich then became the Chair, and he was terrific. He was somebody who had the kind of gravitas and experience with many of the other aspects of the program, and maybe he should have been Chairman from the beginning, but he was, I think he came in in a pivotal
time when we really needed somebody who could provide that kind of leadership.
Scarpino: But McCloskey was republican?
Sagawa: He was, and I think that was part of the reason why he was selected. The feeling, he campaigned heavily to get the position, I think he really wanted it, and I think people felt that having a republican in that position would help ensure that the programs would maintain the republican support that they had had in the passage.
Scarpino: And your title was Vice Chair, right?
Scarpino: Again, I mentioned the report What You Can do for Your Country and it does specify the amount of grant money for the first year of operation. It said, during its first year of operation, the Commission received 504 applications from 388 applicants for $226 million, and you were able to make 154 grants, totaling $63 million.
Sagawa: Sounds right.
Scarpino: How were you involved in selecting the applications that got funded?
Sagawa: The staff would put forward the recommendations from the peer review and their own review and the Commission would vote on it. I do recall
being more involved than that. I think I actually went to the peer review, but I just don’t remember.
Scarpino: As you look back on the 1990 Act from several years later, how would you rate its success?
Sagawa: I’d have to give it an A. I don’t think we would have what we have today if it hadn’t been for the 1990 Act. Obviously, AmeriCorps, which I'm happy to talk about too, because I was involved in that, is a much bigger Bill and even that people feel is too small, but we wouldn’t have had it if we hadn’t laid the groundwork. So, the fact that we had a Bill that had been signed by a republican president, we’d wrestled through some of the harder issues, so that they didn’t have to be re-thought...
Scarpino: In 1993.
Sagawa: … yeah, in 1993. I knew what the politics was. We basically had a dry-run, so we could avoid some of the traps that might have been easily fallen into.
Scarpino: That Act had an expiration date.
Scarpino: And that was in there for what reason?
Sagawa: Well, it’s really hard, you know, I think that back in the day, there was actually attention to when things expired; and when they expired, there
was a rule that allowed you to continue funding for like a year, and then they would truly expire. So, Congress actually viewed this as a demonstration kind of pilot Bill and that was how we got it passed. We weren’t saying we were going to have this in perpetuity and billions and billions of dollars. Nowadays, everything just is on autopilot, but back then, they really thought that deadlines meant something.
Scarpino: Talk about AmeriCorps.
Sagawa: Okay. So, AmeriCorps, actually President Clinton campaigned on the idea that it was sort of a much better version of the DLC idea, that instead of saying you can’t get financial aid unless you serve, it said if you serve, you get money for college. That was much more – it was very popular on the campaign trail. In the period of time between when he proposed the idea and he was elected, Melanne Verveer, who we’ve about earlier, was part of the campaign at the time, she was the First Lady’s Chief of Staff, and she knew I was somebody who could be helpful and she knew that there was a value to actually having a Bill ready to go in the first hundred days. So, she and I worked together with a few other people to actually design a Bill. That said, by the time they set up a formal transition, the DLC folks had their own people involved in writing a Bill. And then Eli Segal, who had been the Chief of Staff for the campaign at one point, was a close friend of the President, wanted to be the Office of National Service Director, and it turned out that was a great choice. So, he was appointed to be the head of the office that would be in charge of the legislation. I
worked for Hillary Clinton, so I was given the position of – I think I was probably the first person who ever was like a First Lady’s representative on the Policy Committee for the White House. So, I worked for her. I worked on a lot of children’s stuff. I was working healthcare, but basically everyone realized that like they needed my help on the National Service Bill, so I was sort of spending a lot of time with the Office of National Service. There were several other people in that office who were also involved in the substance of the Bill. A guy named Jack Lew, who went on to become Treasury Secretary under Obama and Chief of Staff, he was, at the time, like the number three person in the Office of National Service, but the only one who had legislative experience, having worked for Tip O’Neill. So, he and I worked together on designing the AmeriCorps legislation. We actually were able to get it written and introduced on 101st day, which people can’t believe that, but lots and lots of conversations with folks, unions and organizations and etcetera, etcetera. The way that people in the White House, you’ll hear a lot about how President Bush’s White House listened to, interacted with their Office of National Service. Well, this Office of National Service wasn’t exactly the most popular place either because, I think, there was sort of a view that yeah, this was a nice idea, but not that important, and we always thought of it as like the little engine that could. So, even though the President was dealing with a lot of other stuff, when you have one office that has one thing it’s supposed to do, turns out that office was going to plow ahead even if there’s a big
healthcare thing going on and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and there was a lot of stuff. So, we got the Bill introduced. We worked a lot with Senator Kennedy and basically between the time – in the meantime, the Commission is off doing its stuff, right? So the President introduced the Bill in April and it was signed into law in September, which is kind of, it’s like a pretty fast.
Scarpino: Pretty quick.
Sagawa: Yeah, and all the stuff I talked about that we had to do for the other Bill, that had to happen again. They had to have the House Bill and the conference and etcetera, and there were definitely people who were opposed to it, but it passed in September and I think because it had been fairly recently enough, like again, people knew the issue, it was not like a fresh impression. I think that really helped that Bill be able to pass quickly, and again, funding was an issue. It’s never – you know, huge negotiations brought the number down from what I think President Clinton had hoped to start with 100,000 people serving. We ended up with authorization for 20,000, or funding for 20,000. I left the office – basically they executed a trade. When Eli Segal set up the Corporation for National Service, he wanted me to come with him and be his number two person, but I was like, “I’m not leaving Hillary unless Hillary tells me I’m supposed to do this,” and so he traded Jack Lew and me. So, Jack, who was much better suited to work on healthcare than I was, I’m sure the First Lady got a great deal, and I went over to National Service and helped set up the agency.
So, we went through the whole process again, had to have new regulations, had to have new applications, had to have a grant competition, and in a year – and had to create a new agency that was actually a merger of an existing agency called Action, a new thing called the NCCC. People who came over from the Office of National Service and the Commission, all got merged together; and in a year, from the time the legislation passed to the time we swore in the first 10,000 members, was like one year.
Scarpino: You’re talking about the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993?
Scarpino: That included AmeriCorps?
Sagawa: Yes. It got named – the legislation at no point calls anything AmeriCorps. So, the legislation was the National Base of Service Trust Act and the night before the President was going to sign the Bill – I believe that’s right – they had to come up with a name for the program and it was down to Corps America and AmeriCorps, and AmeriCorps won.
Scarpino: It’s a better name. So, National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, President Clinton signed that act that created AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service, this becomes a part of AmeriCorps at that point?
Scarpino: The new Corporation for National and Community Service had an annual budget of about a billion dollars?
Scarpino: That’s a lot more money than...
Sagawa: A lot more money.
Scarpino: … working – a government agency that acted like a foundation. So, it became the largest annual grant-maker supporting service volunteer in the nation.
Scarpino: Once it was up and running, the Corporation for National Service operated three programs under AmeriCorps – AmeriCorps State and National, AmeriCorps Vista and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. What role did you play in the drafting of that legislation?
Sagawa: I did all the program parts. So, Jack, I think, did most of the administrative parts and I did all the program parts.
Scarpino: And you did that from your position in the White House?
Scarpino: As a person who had drafted the National and Community Service Trust Act of ‘93, what did you want to accomplish that had not been accomplished by the 1990 Act?
Sagawa: I think the most important thing was scale. The 1990 Act was, everything was very small, scale and this was an opportunity to kind of take it to the next level.
Scarpino: So, the 1990 Act passes under a republican president. The 1993 Act passes under a democratic president. Does that help account for the fact both scale and money?
Sagawa: Yeah, I mean, anything that’s a presidential priority tends to get, you know, people take it seriously, but democrats would take it more seriously if it’s a democratic president and vice versa. So, it absolutely helps...
Scarpino: And did you...
Sagawa: … and the fact that it was a campaign promise also mattered because I think people understood this is something that has political salience.
Scarpino: Did you play a role in moving that legislation through Congress?
Sagawa: Yeah, I mean, I did from the White House. So, the people in the Congress actually had to do all the parts of the work that involved holding hearings, etcetera, but I spent a lot of time up on the Hill explaining pieces of the Bill to people. And when it was on the floor, we were sitting in the, there’s a
lobby outside where the Vice President has an office, you know, sitting there trying to negotiate amendments and things like that. So, yeah, I played a pretty big role in that.
Scarpino: Was it a difficult sell?
Sagawa: Doing these kinds of Bills, there’s always people who are getable, but they want something, so you have to negotiate stuff and some of it has nothing to do with the Bill at hand. You’ll recall probably from the 1990 Act, there was an amendment on Amtrak waste disposal that got done, and I think on the AmeriCorps, but I may be mixing them up. There was a flag burning amendment. There were like stuff that just people throw on there and that all has to get negotiated. So, it’s hard and the Bill, both of those Bills were on the floor for multiple days because it was definitely not something that was going to go like, you know, this is on the consent calendar. Instead, you really had to have a debate and people came down and said what they didn’t like and then there were amendments. So, I remember like there was an amendment Senator Dole had about a fund for people with disabilities to be able to serve. You have to decide am I going to accept that amendment, am I going to accept it with amendments, am I going to try to prevent that from ever coming to a vote by treeing it up. Like there’s procedural stuff that you learn about when managing a floor, a Bill on the floor. So, helping to like decide how do we handle each of these amendments is something that the White House, and like in this case, Jack and me would have done because we couldn’t
have a Bill going back to the President that he couldn’t support. And so often is the case, somebody will try to stick like a poison pill amendment on that will, well you can have your AmeriCorps program, but it’s going to come with something awful. So, you have to keep those things off.
Scarpino: Were there any notable poison pills?
Sagawa: I can’t remember. I mean, there were some. I think we dealt with them all; I don’t remember.
Scarpino: So, 1993 to ‘97, basically the first four years of the Clinton Presidency, you worked for Corporation for National and Community Service, Founding Managing Director, Executive Director, Executive Vice President. You were a Senate-confirmed appointee. You were responsible for the startup of basically what amounted to a new federal corporation. What did that entail?
Sagawa: Well, it entailed figuring out like how it was going to be structured, like what offices would there be, what kind of people did you need in each office? I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where do I move the existing staff. Like you work here, figure out what their skills and talents were and where they ought to end up. We created a new personnel system because the law required that they allowed for a new personnel system, so I had to work with people to, you know, there was a team that worked on that; so, have to coordinate that. We had to write all new regulations. We had to create brands for the programs. We had to do a
roadshow. We went around the country to tell people about here’s this thing and here’s how you apply. We had to set up a consumer hotline kind of thing so if people wanted to serve, they could call and get information. We had to decide whether we were going to do – keep in mind, this is like pre-internet, okay, or this was like right when the internet started.
Scarpino: I remember pre-internet.
Sagawa: Yeah, so this is right when the internet is starting and we had to decide like is there going to be – how are people – is there going to be a live human being if you call the 800 number or not? And the forces that won got their live human beings. So, that had to be decided. Had to decide – there was like a ton of stuff that had to be decided and it was incredibly complicated. The legislation was complicated. How were we going to make sure that the spirit of what the President was looking for was maintained? I think that was, in retrospect, it was like an incredibly hard lift and I feel like it was pretty successful.
Scarpino: Do you still feel that way when you’re looking back on it?
Sagawa: I do, I do.
Scarpino: The Corporation for National Service associated with the 1993 Act, how was that different from the Commission that came out of the 1990 Act?
Sagawa: Well, size is one and it was a merger of the existing agencies, but the main difference is the previous Commission was largely controlled by the Board. Although the Board was appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the Board itself selected its own officers and hired its own staff. So, it had a degree of independence that Eli Segal specifically did not want the Corporation to have. So, the Corporation had a Board, but it was more like a nonprofit board kind of – I don’t even want to say it was a nonprofit board. It was more like an advisory board. It doesn’t have any real power and the CEO is appointed by the President, not hired by the Board. So, that’s the biggest difference.
Scarpino: Which means the CEO reports to the President and not to the Board.
Sagawa: Yes, exactly.
Scarpino: So, the Board was...
Sagawa: Just a board.
Scarpino: I mean, did it set policy?
Sagawa: Not really.
Scarpino: Recommend policy?
Sagawa: Yeah, I mean the Board, in the early days, we took the Board very seriously. The Board met, there was a full board appointed. It was a lot like the Commission Board, it just didn’t have the kind of authority the
Commission Board had. Today, there’s like three people on the Board and the Board is I think very much an afterthought. It’s never been a priority in the last two administrations to get members confirmed; that’s hard to do anyway. So, it’s very different now, but that’s, I think, the natural result of having the Board having not much authority.
Scarpino: Eventually, when it was up and running, you were directing the staff of somewhere over 400 people?
Scarpino: You had a budget of around $600 million, but I assume part of it was for overhead and so on, but a significant percentage for grants?
Sagawa: Yeah, most of it was for grants. The other really complicated – this is a little random fact, but Eli Segal had promised members of Congress, I believe, that there would not be more than 100 new people hired in order to run, that nobody wanted this to be a new big bureaucracy. So, trying to get that amount of work done with only hiring a hundred people was incredibly hard. So, we were managing slots, we used to call the FTEs really, really centrally at the CEO level. We figured out a lot of ways that you could actually get more help by using contract hires, etcetera.
Scarpino: The Corporation for National Service, I mean, at this point, now you’ve got a few years under your belt in terms of – did you, I mean, have a
philosophy of service that somehow saw it related to changing society for the better?
Sagawa: Well, there was always, I always believed that there was a three-part, you know, you had three different important missions. I was not the only one who thought this, but I really believed that if you don’t have really meaningful work that makes a difference, you can’t get the other results. So, everyone can recognize make work and I had worked on, I mentioned when I was an intern, I worked on job training policy, and it was right after President Reagan had eliminated public service employment, so I knew that if it was like if people are leaning on rakes, this thing is not going to have any staying power. And also, it was a lot of money. You can’t spend that kind of money just to make people feel motivated. It has to have a fundamental important purpose in terms of what people are doing. I think that was a really important decision, but the other parts were really important too, and I think overtime some of these parts have gotten a little bit atrophied. So, one part is it really needs to change the lives of the people who serve, and that’s complicated because people come from different perspectives. So, they may be a lawyer, they may be a high school dropout, and so how do programs really think about making this a life-changing experience for the people who serve. And then the third piece is how is this really building our civil society? I think that’s the piece that’s always been the hardest and has probably been done very unevenly
and differently every place in the country, but I think if we’re going to go forward, we have to lift those pieces up more.
Scarpino: As you look back on the time you spent with the Corporation for National and Community Service, what do you see as your most significant successes?
Sagawa: I think we had some extraordinary programs. You know, more than a million people have served. I almost never hear a story of somebody who had a bad experience, you know, this was terrible. I mean, they’re out there for sure, but the more likely thing is I just hear this really heart-wrenching stories of people who kind of came to service for whatever reason and it had such a big impact on their lives that I just have to believe it’s something that we ought to make more available. We now know how to do this, so the framework that we set up, I think was the right one and the way that programs have to approach, it’s not just about low-wage labor to solve public problems, it’s really about bringing people to the table who are idealistic and care and want to make a difference and deploying them in a way that actually does make a difference, and only then do they feel that they’ve had that transformational opportunity and does it give – yeah, they learn a bunch of job skills, they make some connections, but you have to have that inner transformation to have the real power. There’s a lot of academic research and otherwise about the importance of purpose and people becoming successful in life really at any level and at any age, and this is one of the few ways that public policy
actually can help people find their purpose. So, to me, you know, we’ve proven that you can do this. So, we’re now at a point where I think the biggest frustration I have with this whole space is two things. One is, this is really too small and it’s partly too small because for a whole host of weird reasons, the politics of it has not been handled well in Washington. So, it has become a very siloed program, not many people on the Hill know about it or understand it, it’s years and years and years of partisan fighting around it. Now we’re at a point where people haven’t done a re-authorization in 10 years, so there’s nobody on the Hill who really knows the policy very well and the leadership and the agency has not been – there’s been some good leaders, some bad as well, but they’ve not been in a position to really help shape the future. So, here we are, we’ve proven this thing works and yet it’s the same size as at the end of George W. Bush’s Administration, despite the fact that we had eight years of Obama, but on the other hand, it’s still here even though we’ve had two years of...
Scarpino: It didn’t really grow during the Obama years.
Sagawa: It did not grow at all. So, that’s a huge disappointment to me. I think the other thing that’s been very frustrating is that the infrastructure around service, you know, any field needs some infrastructure. It’s pretty under-funded, so that’s also a problem.
Scarpino: Tell me what you mean by infrastructure.
Sagawa: Okay, so you need some organizations that are in a position to help programs get better, help recruit, help the state commissions – which we haven’t talked about at all, but it’s like a huge piece of the infrastructure – help them function well when there’s turnover. So, there are some organizations, Service Year Alliance, which I helped to start, America Service Commissions, which works with the commissions, and there’s a few others as well. They are really, there’s nobody, there’s no foundations that have National Service as a funding area. It’s just incredibly hard to raise those resources, and it’s not understood to be a central part of education or workforce development or a whole huge number of other areas where I see a natural fit, but obviously other people don’t, even though, for example, AmeriCorps is the largest federal program that funds nonprofits in education without regard to like, you know, you only work on after-school programs. So, it’s the most flexible, it’s the only flexible funding stream for nonprofits in education and yet nobody thinks about it in education policy.
Scarpino: So, every state has a commission?
Sagawa: Every state has a commission, appointed by the governor, modeled on the federal commission.
Scarpino: And are they, any of them stand out as particularly effective?
Sagawa: So, traditionally, Texas and California have been thought of highly and I know there’s others – Michigan usually has a pretty good commission. I’m
not very familiar with all the commissions and they change. Some of them, the governors bring new people in. You know, Maryland’s had a large amount of turnover in its commission. When I was there, there were like three different executive directors.
Scarpino: You left in 1997; why did you decide to leave?
Sagawa: The Corporation?
Scarpino: Yeah, the Corporation, yeah.
Sagawa: I had two kids and the second child you’ve met, is deaf, and I was just feeling like I had a lot going on that I needed to deal with. And Harris Wofford had come in and he had a different management style than Eli Segal and it was clear that I could be most helpful in strategy, but being like his number two person was going to be a really hard job. A great man, but really hard to work for. And I really felt like I needed a break to deal with my family.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you about one more thing before I ask you to wrap up, and that’s the President’s Summit in 1997 for America’s Future...
Sagawa: Oh yeah, that was fun.
Scarpino: … held in Philadelphia in 1997. It’s the idea to promote civic response to many of the country’s problems including at-risk youth, chaired by General Colin Powell, and every living President, I think, attended...
Sagawa: Yes indeed.
Scarpino: … Bush, Ford, Carter, Nancy Reagan represented Ronald Reagan. They all signed a summary document at the end...
Sagawa: They did.
Scarpino: … which was then signed by the next two Presidents. What role did you play in planning that conference?
Sagawa: I played a big role early on until there were other staff hired. So, Harris Wofford wanted to make this happen. He had promised George Romney on his deathbed that he would do it; it was George Romney’s idea. Harris really saw his role as CEO is to bring together republicans and democrats and get rid of any partisan feelings that might have been left over from the previous leadership. So, he wanted to do this and so I was the person on the Corporation staff who was to lead the Corporation side of it. Then there was a guy named Ken Allen who was leading the planning from I think it was America’s Promise at that point.
Scarpino: I think America’s Promise grew out of this.
Sagawa: Oh, right. So, it was Points of Light. Yes, okay, that makes sense. So, Ken and I were the planners of this thing for probably about three or six months until they hired somebody who took it over.
Scarpino: And you attended?
Scarpino: This comes up all the time, and I’m going to talk to Gregg Petersmeyer about this tomorrow, but when you look back on this, how do you access the significance of that summit?
Sagawa: I don’t know. I think America’s Promise is a good organization. I don’t think it has anything to do with National Service or much to do with volunteering. I think it certainly was helpful at the time create a more bipartisan understanding of the Corporation. So, but was it transformational for AmeriCorps? Not at all. It wasn’t about AmeriCorps.
Scarpino: That’s really what I was wanting to find out.
Sagawa: It was about something completely different, something good, but not something that was in the space that I was working in.
Scarpino: So, 1998-2001, the final years of the Clinton Presidency, you were back in the White House as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and you were advising Hillary Clinton on issues, and did those issues include service?
Scarpino: And what advice did you give her that bore fruit?
Sagawa: We spent a lot of time trying to get the President’s budget to be as high as possible and make sure that we had good appointees over there. The one
thing we did that really stands out is we did a fifth year anniversary for AmeriCorps out of the White House and we had awards. We gave out awards, but we brought in some sort of iconic Americans to give out those awards to show, again, the importance and bipartisanship of the program. So, we had, I believe – I’m hesitant to say these things on the record because I could have addled brain – but we had the head of the Republican Governors Association, we had Coretta Scott King, we had pretty important people and they – it was a great event. I was incredibly pregnant at that time. I had a baby at the end of that week. That was a whole other deal.
Scarpino: You were at this this thing, but you were toward the end of your...
Sagawa: I was as big as a house. I had two events that week. We did the White House Conference on Philanthropy, I believe, the first ever, and then this event. It was a crazy week.
Scarpino: So, 2008-2009, you were part of the Obama Transition Team...?
Sagawa: I was.
Scarpino: … and you were responsible, took the lead for the Corporation for National and Community Service?
Scarpino: What did that entail?
Sagawa: Kind of going over to the Agency and really understanding like what was the state of the Agency at that point, what needed to be done in like the first hundred days of the Obama Administration, in terms of like appointments that were essential. There had been a bunch of people who – I actually think the republican political appointees had not done a bad job at all, but they had let a number of people kind of what they call burrow in, and so we had to make sure those people were the right people to keep, as well as people who were – they had lifted up some of the civil servants and put them into political positions who they were going to be fired and I had to make sure they didn’t get fired because they were essential. So, personnel was something we dealt with. What were the policies that needed to be changed or reversed fairly quickly? What were the opportunities that should be seized? So it was kind of just doing a whole assessment, and also like kind of I think you often do these transitions to make the people who work in the agencies feel more comfortable about the transition. So, you now, met with everybody and tried to hear their perspectives and it was a very good process.
Scarpino: Have you been involved in National Service since then?
Sagawa: Oh yeah, constantly. So, since the Obama transition, I was not in the Obama Administration, but I was a Fellow at the Center for American Progress. So, I did some work and writing on the issue, and then a few years ago I started – I was the Founding Director of the Service Year
Alliance and we’ve worked really closely with the Agency, including the Trump appointees, on a variety of things.
Scarpino: The Service Year Alliance is not for government.
Sagawa: The Service Year Alliance is a nonprofit, and I stepped down from that position in September 2019.
Scarpino: Once again, you were in the business of building a nonprofit.
Sagawa: Yeah, I’m kind of a start – I realized I’m a startup person. So, I've been involved in this – in between the time I left the Clinton Administration until I started at Service Year Alliance, I was a consultant and I had a lot of clients, not all of them service-based, some in social innovation, some in policy, but I realized that I've done a lot of startups and that’s what I really like.
Scarpino: As a consultant, you were advising people on starting organizations?
Sagawa: Yeah, so, for example, Mayor Bloomberg had a thing he wanted to start Cities of Service. So, we helped to, my business partner, Deb Jospin, and I helped to frame and design the Cities of Service initiative which grew into an independent nonprofit.
Scarpino: That’s still in existence.
Sagawa: It is still in existence.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you a couple of wrap-up questions. Do you think of National Service seriously as a way to solve national problems?
Sagawa: I do, I do.
Scarpino: Has any of that ardor for using National Service to solve national problems been blunted in recent years?
Sagawa: I think it’s not well-understood. This is a big frustration for me, partly because of presidential leadership. If you think about the problems we have in the country today, a lot of them have to do – we can’t solve them with better technology. They’re human problems, opioid addiction and kids who still aren’t graduating, and helping young people go to college, all the aging folks who are going to need a lot of support. These are human problems and this is a way to get large scale people involved, whether it’s somebody who’s going to coordinate a bunch of volunteers or somebody who’s going to use that experience to enter a field they might otherwise not have chosen. If we don’t deal with the sort of human side of our human capital issues, of our need to solve it – this is the way you do it. And if you do it in a way that it’s also a learning experience and knits our country together so you’re serving alongside somebody that you wouldn’t otherwise know, we could do big things. It could be maybe we weatherize every low-income person’s house so that they’re spending less on energy and we have a greener footprint. I could come up with a dozen problems we could solve if we had a million people. We could solve these problems
at scale, but I don’t think anybody’s articulated that vision. We’re starting to hear it in the candidates today, talking about a Climate Corps, but imagine if every school had 10 corps members. So much of what happens in schools, again, it’s like you can’t just put kids in front of a computer and say they’re going to personalize their learning and get better at it. You have to have a human teacher to encourage them and help them, and we could do a lot.
Scarpino: You’ve been doing this for a long time. Do you think that that vision you just laid out of service as sort of civically transformative could actually happen in the political and social environment in which we live today?
Sagawa: You can’t work on this stuff without being an optimist. I think that as much as we’ve had the perfect storm of things happening in a bad way, I think we could have the perfect storm of good things. Like if we had a president who really believed in this and could call the nation credibly to service, if we had bipartisan support in the Congress so this doesn’t become a one-party initiative that goes away as soon as the other party takes control, if we had – you know, young people, I think, are ready to serve, but I also think that there’s a lot of competition for them now. So, maybe it’s not everyone – I’ve been pushing 200,000 as our next benchmark number because that’s the same number of people who enter the military every year and you can see how...
Scarpino: 200,000 young people entering service?
Sagawa: … yeah, so if you had civilian service to match military service, I think that would be the next level we should go to. I think we would, at that level, we would show that we could actually solve real problems.
Scarpino: I mean, people join the military for a variety of reason – you know, patriotism, they’re hungry – but military pays people. Would you imagine that for service...
Sagawa: It would pay...
Scarpino: … it would pay?
Sagawa: Right now, it’s not paying enough. It hasn’t kept pace with what you would need to pay to make it workable for people who don’t come from money. So, I think we should have bigger education benefits. I think the living allowance needs to be increased, and I think that there probably need to be other benefits incorporated into it. I’ve got a whole bunch of policy ideas which are too boring to talk about.
Scarpino: Isn’t that one of the points of contention though, particularly between democrats and republicans, is whether or not you should pay people to...?
Sagawa: Well, we pay people now, so, you know, it has been a point, but the people who don’t think anyone should be paid, I think they generally don’t want the government involved in it. So, we probably weren’t going to get them anyway. The real question is if you can see that you actually need to pay people, if they’re going to serve for full-time for a year, it’s not like
missionaries are not paid, it’s not like people who are spending a year in the National Health Service Corps aren’t paid. We need to pay them something or they can’t do it, and so it’s an enabling piece as much as anything.
Scarpino: Three questions – first one, as you think about all the years that you put into service and all the things that you’ve done, you’re not done yet, but someday we all retire someday, so when you finally do retire, what do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to be remembered for doing?
Sagawa: I would hope that it would be for having set off something that’s really changed the country.
Scarpino: Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn’t?
Sagawa: That’s always the hardest question. I think you’ve covered a lot. There’s tons more we could talk about, but I think that you’ve covered all the key things.
Scarpino: I wanted to be sure that I limited it to two hours ...
Sagawa: You’re very kind.
Scarpino: Is there anything you wanted to say that I haven’t given you a chance to say?
Sagawa: Well, I'm sure after you leave, I'll think of a million things.
Scarpino: Do you have some wrap-up thoughts on service that you want to end with or...?
Sagawa: Yeah, I think, first, if anybody’s listening to this or reading it, thank you. This is something that has been, I truly believe – I came to this issue because I was assigned to work on it. I did not come to Washington because I have this inspiration and vision. I believe that through the work and insights of lots and lots of people who we haven’t talked about, and I'm sure that someday somebody will be reading this and be like super mad at me because I didn’t mention them and it’s just because I'm getting older and I can’t remember anything, but this would not – there are so many people that have made a difference here. To me, it’s like in a way a case study of what we really want to have happen in general. It’s like if ordinary citizens who have something to say have a channel to do it, we can change. We don’t have to accept the things that right now we’re so angry about. I've always believed that – I’m not against protests; protests have a really important place, but I think that we can all do more. We can show up with the signs and then the next day we can do the hard work of solving problems. I hope that we don’t lose that because that’s really an important part of the sort of history of our country and I think its future. So, that’s kind of my last word here.
Scarpino: Before I turn this off, on behalf of all of us who are working with the National Service Archives project and the Tobias Center, I want to thank
you for being kind enough to let me come to your house and share time with me.
Sagawa: Well, thank you for taking the time and working hard to get all the people involved. I’m so excited about the Archive. It’s something I've wanted to have done for 20 years. So, I'm thrilled.
Scarpino: It’s quite a treasure.
Sagawa: Yeah, it’s so great.
Scarpino: Obviously what we’re doing here is trying to add context to the stuff that’s in there.
Sagawa: Yeah, I think that’s really important. So, I super appreciate it.
Scarpino: Thank you.
Sagawa: Good luck.
(END OF RECORDING)