National Service

The Case for National Service

October 15, 2020  • Aspen Strategy Group

As our nation faces an unprecedented set of crises—pandemic, recession, racial injustice—Americans must respond with bold measures that will unite our country, expand economic opportunity, and help our country recover. We in the Aspen Strategy Group believe a new National Service mission must be part of that response. Our group of Republican and Democratic foreign policy professionals calls upon Congress and the White House to commit to a major initiative to make national service a reality. 

America needs a renewed common purpose.

An America as bitterly divided as it is today cannot aspire to be the global force it will need to be for the next decades. America’s ability to promote democratic values around the world is based on our reputation as a country in which many become one despite their differences.

National service would offer binding and life-shaping shared experiences to help young Americans of all economic, ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds understand and respect each other. By participating in this common endeavor, they will have the chance to build a stronger and more unified nation.

If we had a National Service mission in place now, it would help us tackle other domestic risks and economic weaknesses that have been brought into sharp relief by the pandemic. As over 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, national service members could help respond directly to the pandemic by facilitating tasks like contact tracing, laying the groundwork for increased resilience in future health crises. Additionally, in a time of high unemployment, national service would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and provide service members the opportunity to develop practical skills while tackling some of our society’s deep-rooted issues. They could assist parents who now find themselves unable to access childcare; upgrade our infrastructure and learn to appreciate and protect the environment by working in our national parks; and teach STEM and other skills in underprivileged communities, thereby helping to close opportunity gaps domestically while increasing U.S. competitiveness internationally.

Efforts to lay the foundations of a National Service program are already underway. With 70 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats supporting increased federal investment in national service, this vision is ripe for action. The bipartisan Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act offers a promising down payment on that vision. It would increase the number of AmeriCorps positions from 75,000 to 250,000 and raise the stipend from $15,000 to $22,000, making national service a more viable option for a broader range of young Americans. As the benefit of national youth service to society is 3.95 times greater than the cost, the CORPS Act would plant wise seed money for our future. With this first step, we could make a year of paid full-time service a common expectation for all young Americans, which is the mission of the Service Year Alliance, the Serve America Together campaign, Voices for National Service, and other promising organizations. Moreover, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has already developed extensive guidelines on how to successfully implement a robust national service plan.

This moment calls for bold ideas. National service would build the next generation’s patriotism and commitment to a robust American future. It would help to reinvigorate our democracy and help to heal our political and racial divides. It is an idea whose time has come.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr.
University Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Harvard Kennedy School; Co-Chair, Aspen Strategy Group

Condoleezza Rice
66th U.S. Secretary of State; Tad and Dianne Taube Director, Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Co-Chair, Aspen Strategy Group

Nicholas Burns
Goodman Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School; Executive Director, Aspen Strategy Group

Anja Manuel
Co-Founder and Partner, Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel, LLC; Director, Aspen Strategy Group

Madeleine Albright
64th U.S. Secretary of State; Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Doug Beck
Vice President, Apple, Inc.

Robert D. Blackwill
Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

Christian Brose
Chief Strategy Officer, Anduril Industries

William Burns
President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Sylvia Burwell
President, American University

Kurt M. Campbell
Chairman and CEO, The Asia Group, LLC

James Cartwright
General, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.); former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Senior Partner, JEC Associates, LLC

Ertharin Cousin
Former Executive Director of the World Food Programme; Distinguished Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Howard Cox
Special Limited Partner, Greylock

Tom Donilon
Former U.S. National Security Advisor

Diana Farrell
President and CEO, JPMorgan Chase Institute

Peter Feaver
Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Duke University

Michèle Flournoy
Co-Founder and Managing Partner, WestExec Advisors

Naima Green-Riley
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Government, Harvard University

Stephen Hadley
Former U.S. National Security Advisor

Jane Harman
Former United States Representative; President and CEO, The Wilson Center

Kathleen Hicks
Senior Vice President, Henry A. Kissinger Chair, and Director of the International Security Program, CSIS

Chris Howard
President, Robert Morris University

Kay Bailey Hutchison
United States Ambassador, U.S. Mission to NATO

Walter Isaacson
Professor of History, Tulane University

Wolfgang Ischinger
Former Ambassador of Germany to the United States; Chairman, Munich Security Conference

Aditi Kumar
Executive Director, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School

Mitch Landrieu
Former Mayor of New Orleans; Founder, E Pluribus Unum Fund

David McCormick
CEO, Bridgewater Associates

Dina Powell McCormick
Member of the Management Committee, Goldman Sachs

John McLaughlin
Former Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Distinguished Practitioner-In-Residence, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Sam Nunn
Former United States Senator; Co-Chair, Nuclear Threat Initiative

Deval Patrick
Former Governor of Massachusetts; Founder and Chairman, TogetherFUND

David Petraeus
General, U.S. Army (Ret.); former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Partner, KKR

Penny Pritzker
38th U.S. Secretary of Commerce; Chairman and Founder, PSP Partners

Tom Pritzker
Executive Chairman, Hyatt Hotels Corporation

Susan Rice
Former U.S. National Security Advisor; Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow, SIS, American University

Laura Rosenberger
Director, Alliance for Securing Democracy

Wendy Sherman
Professor of Practice and Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School

Susan Shirk
Research Professor and Chair, 21st Century China Center, UC San Diego

Anne-Marie Slaughter
CEO, New America

Jim Steinberg
University Professor, Social Science, International Relations and Law, Syracuse University

Torrey Taussig
Research Director, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School

Frances Townsend
EVP, Worldwide Government, Legal and Business Affairs, MacAndrews & Forbes, Inc.

Fareed Zakaria
Host, CNN

Philip Zelikow
Professor of History, University of Virginia