December 20, 2011

Former National-Service CEO Says Politics Drove Him Away

When Patrick Corvington announced in April he was leaving his post as head of the Corporation for National and Community Service after just 14 months on the job, many people speculated about the circumstances behind his abrupt exit.

At the time, Mr. Corvington said he was leaving to take an unspecified "opportunity in the nonprofit community"—and corporation and White House officials declined to comment beyond that.

After learning that Mr. Corvington now works for Habitat for Humanity International, serving in a new senior position that oversees the organization's volunteer programs, The Chronicle contacted him to ask about his new position and about his departure from the national-service agency.

In an interview, Mr. Corvington said he made the decision after the 2010 elections, which changed the political climate in Washington. Quite simply, he said he no longer felt he had the right skills for the job.

"I wanted to get back to doing something I do well," he says.

Mr. Corvington had taken the position at a time when the national-service agency was set to grow, thanks to the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which was enacted in 2009 with bipartisan support. By the time he left, the corporation was under assault by House Republicans, who have been trying to slash the agency's budget and kill AmeriCorps, the flagship national-service program.

"The job went from, How do you build an organization? How do you build a field?" Mr. Corvington says, "to spending all the time on the Hill fighting to get a budget approved."

Mr. Corvington says he told the White House it needed someone in his position who was more of a "political animal."

He says he did not actually have a single "opportunity in the nonprofit community" when he resigned but was weighing several options.

Mr. Corvington accepted the job with Habitat in early June, he says, but insisted on taking the summer off and began work at the end of September.

At Habitat, he still has a toe in national service: as senior vice president for volunteer and institutional engagements, he heads a new division that manages the group's AmeriCorps and Vista volunteers. It also manages the Global Village program, which sends people overseas to build houses; high school and college volunteers; and advocacy.

The organization created the division because "volunteers are such a critical component of the Habitat culture, but they didn't have an organized place where that work was managed and run," Mr. Corvington says.

Meanwhile, Mr. Corvington has still not been replaced at the corporation, although President Obama nominated Wendy Spencer, who heads a state volunteer body in Florida. Her nomination was approved by a Senate panel last week and now goes to the full Senate for a vote.