During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to establish a Civilian Assistance Corps that would "provide each federal agency a pool of volunteer experts willing to deploy in crises." The program would include "a ready reserve corps of private civilians that can participate in post-conflict, humanitarian and stabilization efforts around the globe."
The State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations includes the Civilian Response Corps -- a group of civilian federal employees from nine departments "who are specially trained and equipped to deploy rapidly to provide conflict prevention and stabilization assistance to countries in crisis or emerging from conflict." Participants have backgrounds in public health, law enforcement, engineering, economics and law.
The effort actually had its origins in the administration of President George W. Bush, but the funding for it came through in mid-2008, so much of the work to get it up and running has fallen to the Obama administration.
In 2010, the program had 264 permanent specialists and a standby force of 1,000 from eight agencies and departments, the Christian Science Monitor reported. The goal is to eventually have 4,250 civilians, including a "reserve" corps akin to the military reserves.
"The Civilian Response Corps is about conflict prevention, so that problems in some of these failed and failing states do not become major crises," John Herbst, the State Department's coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization, told the Monitor in 2010. "That really is smart power."
In an address to the Alliance for Peacebuilding's annual conference on May 11, 2012, Rick Barton, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of Conflict Stabilization Operations, gave an example of what the corps has been doing.
"We recently got a call from the U.S. Ambassador in Liberia seeking our help," Barton said, "The day before the presidential runoff in November, a demonstration turned violent and one person was killed and eight were injured by gunfire. Some felt the police were implicated. The Liberian commission set up to investigate the incident didn't have the capacity to conduct an inquiry which in turn put the credibility and the goodwill of the government at risk."
So the Civilian Response Corps sent an expert from the Justice Department to help carry out an investigation, he said. "Liberian investigators interviewed 70 or 80 people and found a 15-second slice of video of the demonstration that showed specific police firing on the crowd," Barton said. "It turned out that it was a high ranking member of the presidential guard. … That became the critical evidence that has led to police suspensions, further investigation, and the president of the country taking responsibility. It's a great case for the rule of law and for the strengthening of the political process."
When evaluating the promise, however, it's worth noting that the promise refers to a corps of "private civilians," which we read to mean private-sector individuals. The Civilian Response Corps is made up of government employees, and while the department says it is working on expanding the effort to include non-government employees, that is still a work in progress. For this reason, we rate this a Compromise.