Over the past several years, poor decision-making by this administration has led to an alarming increase in negative opinions of the United States.  People-to-people engagement is one of the United States’ most effective public diplomacy tools and, today more than ever, we need to be investing in every opportunity to improve the perception of the U.S. overseas.

Studies have shown that, in areas where U.S. citizens have volunteered their time, money, and services, opinions of the United States have improved.  A 2006 Terror Free Tomorrow poll found that, “In Indonesia, almost two years after the tsunami, American aid to tsunami victims continues to be the single biggest factor resulting in favorable opinion towards the United States.  Almost 60 percent of Indonesians surveyed nationwide in August 2006 said that American assistance made them favorable to the United States.  This number has remained solid following tsunami relief, despite a growing number of Indonesians who oppose American-led efforts to fight terrorism.

The U.S. government needs to be taking a greater leadership role in providing opportunities for U.S. citizens to volunteer overseas.  That is why I am introducing the Global Service Fellowship Program Act along with Sens. Coleman (R-Minn.), Voinovich (R-Ohio), Casey (D-Pa.), Menendez (D-N.J.), Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Cochran (R-Miss.).  The Global Service Fellowship Program Act not only provides more opportunities for people-to-people engagement, but it also reduces barriers that average citizens face when trying to volunteer internationally in two key areas.

The bill would reduce financial barriers by awarding fellowships that can be applied towards airfare, housing, or program costs, to name a few examples.  By providing financial assistance, the Global Service Fellowship Program opens the door for more Americans to participate – not just those with the resources to pay for it.  My bill would also reduce volunteering barriers by offering flexibility in the length of the volunteer opportunity.  I often hear from constituents that they do not seek opportunities to participate in federal volunteer programs because they cannot leave their jobs or families for years at a time.  The Global Service Fellowship Program offers volunteers the opportunity to volunteer on a schedule that works for them – from a month up to a year.

Not only does this bill open up doors for more Americans to volunteer, it allows Congress to be part of the decision-making process.  The Global Service Fellowship Program integrates members of Congress by calling on them to nominate applicants to the Department of State for consideration.  Through this process, members of Congress will see firsthand the benefit international volunteering brings to their communities and the nation.