News Release - Continuity and Some Change Expected in Obama Administration’s Faith-Based Office, New Rockefeller Institute Report Suggests

For Immediate Release –

June 11, 2009

Media contact: Mark Marchand – (518) 443-5283 / marchanm@rockinst.org

Continuity and Some Change Expected in Obama Administration’s Faith-Based Office, New Rockefeller Institute Report Suggests

New Administration is Building on Foundation Laid by Bush; Change Most Likely to be Seen in Faith Groups’ Hiring Rights and Religious Content of Tax-Funded Programs

Albany, N.Y. — While the Obama administration has sought to highlight its differences from its predecessors in the area of faith-based social services, there are signs of both continuity and change, according to a new report issued today by the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

The report says the Obama administration has kept intact the most substantive innovation wrought by the Bush administration in its effort to encourage more participation by faith-based organizations in delivering social services: A new federal infrastructure that includes a White House office dedicated to reaching out to religious charities, as well as centers within 11 federal agencies charged with easing the way for those charities to partner with government.

In February, President Obama appointed Joshua DuBois to lead the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He worked as an associate pastor at a Pentecostal church in Massachusetts and received a master's degree in public affairs from Princeton University.

“The previous administration effected nothing short of a culture change in the federal government, making it more open to partnerships with religious groups by establishing new offices to engage those organizations in increased social service delivery,” said Rockefeller Institute Co-Director Richard P. Nathan. “Now the Obama administration will build on that.

“As a minister, Reverend DuBois knows a lot about conversion. He may need to undergo his own conversion, as a bureaucrat, in order to be most effective in this important new role.”

According to the new paper, two areas are likely to present further challenges to the Obama administration. One area is whether government-funded religious charities can consider employees’ faith when hiring and firing. Another is whether taxpayer dollars should support the secular portion of programs that also include religious teaching or indoctrination. The new administration has said it will consider these contentious aspects on a case-by-case basis, as faith-based organizations apply for funding, rather than laying out broad principles.

Another unresolved issue, according to the report, involves whether and why religion influences differences in the effectiveness of services provided by faith-based organizations, if and where such differences do exist. Although anecdotes abound, there is scant evidence measuring the ways in which religion may explain differences in organizational performance. Faith-based organizations may be effective because they possess a higher probability of having certain traits — such as staff commitment, community ties, and strong relationships with clients — associated with strong performance.

They may resonate with certain clients, able to respond more effectively than secular groups to the needs of individuals for whom religion is already important. Or, it may be that by strengthening religious belief and practices among people in their care, faith-related programs enhance individuals’ capacities to make fundamental changes in their lives and achieve secular goals of public social service programs. Unpacking these different pathways of influence on organizational performance — the subject of ongoing research by the Rockefeller Institute to be released later this year — will suggest very different avenues for public policy.

The Obama administration also seems to be redirecting the focus of the federal faith-based effort, according to the 91-page report, by using its White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to advance policy goals — including improved interfaith relations, strengthened societal role for fathers, reducing poverty, and reducing abortions — rather than explicitly to level the playing field for religious organizations contracting with the government to provide services.

The new report was released June 11 in Washington, D.C., at a discussion hosted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Called “Taking Stock: The Bush Faith-Based Initiative and What Lies Ahead,” the report was written by David J. Wright, director of Urban and Metropolitan Studies at the Rockefeller Institute. The report draws on research produced and collected by the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, a special project of the Institute that tracked the Bush administration’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative from 2002-2008. Directed by Wright, the Roundtable conducted its work with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Particularly interesting to watch in coming months will be the debate over religious hiring rights, Wright noted, as key programs funding faith-based groups come up before Congress for reauthorization.

“One wonders whether advocates in those debates will again take up their positions in the trenches, or be pulled toward consensus in a new environment,” Wright said.

“Taking Stock” details the Bush administration’s efforts — both successful and unsuccessful — to advance its faith-based effort. These include:

For a full copy of the report, visit www.rockinst.org.

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About the Rockefeller Institute of Government

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, at the University at Albany, is the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Institute conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. Journalists can find useful information on the Newsroom page of the Web site, www.rockinst.org.

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