MLE, I agree that the program always seemed a bit demeaning. If I recall correctly, the original intent was to help those who were on the cusp of becoming pioneers. It turned into (at least places I've been) a program for those who were low hour/irregular pubs. I saw a couple of reactions from pioneers who were part of the program: 1) Wanna be elders who looked at the program as an opportunity to "shepherd" ie tell others what to do. Generally this group were women who wanted the authority but realized this program was as close as they were ever going to get in the JW system. My MIL is in this category and 2) Complete lack of interest and in many cases outright refusal to participate.
The folks that were being "assisted" usually looked at it as if they weren't good enough to be "assisted" by the elders and were being pawned off onto the pioneers (usually the case). I know more that refused to be in the program than actually accepted.
Interesting theory regarding liability. As Sir82 mentioned, the WTS doesn't directly appoint regular pioneers anymore and I'm sure that was because of liability. But, I think you'd be hard pressed to make the liability connection based on this program. I remember there was a case in FL a few years ago involving a auto accident while in FS. The WTS was able to wiggle out because the plaintiffs weren't able to make the case that the individual pubs were actual agents of the WTS. I think there is enough information to make the case because:
1 - Elders are appointed directly by the WTS and lead FS groups including where and when to meet and where to work. COs also fall into this category.
2 - Individual congregation territory boundaries are determined by the branch.
3 - Meeting parts demonstrating what to say are given on a regular basis. Suggestions on how to present the sales materials are also given via the KM.
4 - Time and pubs are reported back to the WTS.
5 - The WTS designates that one Sat a month be devoted to making bible studies (showing that the individual pubs are not just doing this on their own).
6 - The WTS determines who can be a "publisher" and who can not. The local BOE actually enforces written WTS direction.
7- The lack of this type of "volunteering" impacts how the individual is viewed and utilized in the local congregation and at WTS sponsored events like DCs.
Sorry for the sidetrack.
Is the WTS easing up? I just don't see it. I think GB 2.0 is going to be every bit hardline as GB 1.0. Remember Jaracz handpicked many of the younger ones. The next year will tell the tale.