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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Jay Hein
Jay Hein
Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

January 19, 2007

Jay Hein
Good afternoon. It's an honor for me to participate in Ask the White House today and to interact with you about the President's compassion agenda. President Bush is known as a compassionate conservative because he wants to respond to human need but he wants to do so in a manner that accomplishes results. This week, we launched a series of events called Compassion in Action to profile this work. I welcome your questions about these events as well as our related policies and programs.

Anne, from Tennessee writes:
Jay, what are the upcoming topics for the Compassion Agenda Roundtables?

Jay Hein
Thanks for your interest in our policy roundtables, Anne. We inaugurated the series at The White House this week with a look at grassroots solutions to reducing youth violence. We’ll select a new theme each month and the next couple of topics include faith and community solutions to prevent malaria in Africa and to help ex-prisoners return to a successful and healthy life following their release.

Did you know that one million children die every year from malaria in Africa? This is so horrible because our country learned that malaria is a treatable and preventable disease many years ago. And on the prisoners topic, did you know that over one half million prisoners return to 65 major metropolitan areas every year? Due to discrimination and often a lack of skills to make it in the mainstream, many of those men and women wind up back in prison.

Our next two roundtables will help define the nature of the malaria and prisoner re-entry problems and we'll demonstrate the innovative solutions that faith and community organizations have put into practice. We also consider how to design new federal policies and promote private financial support to expand those same solutions.

China, from KCMO writes:
why is a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives neccesary? and when you say 'faith', do you mean exclusiviley Christian faith or do you also include initiatives for Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Shintos, pagans, etc?

Jay Hein
I think that the best way to answer your question is to say that President Bush thought it was both necessary and simply a good idea to establish the OFBCI. It was necessary because the United States Government had adopted policies over the years that artificially (if unintentionally) precluded faith-based community serving organizations from effectively competing for public grants. That is not good government. So we needed to establish the OFBCI to eliminate those barriers and enable the most qualified groups to win the right to provide social services.

But it is also just simply a good idea for the OFBCI to exist because the best way to solve problems in communities is through collaboration between government, the private sector and the nonprofit sector. Our office identifies and promotes these type of multi-sector solutions which you’ll see featured in our Compassion in Action events.

To your question of how we define faith, it is important to note that our initiative supports groups of all faith persuasions as well as those groups claiming no faith at all. We are interested in supporting any group that wishes to serve their communities better and we use the tests such as innovation and effectiveness to guide our partnerships.

It is worth also noting that our office does attempt to promote interfaith understanding. In this increasingly complex and interrelated world that we live in, it is imperative that government officials, business leaders and all citizens understand and respect the full spectrum of religious thought.

john, from Texas writes:
What kind of oversight is given to Faith-Based programs to make sure they're as cost-effective as their secular and government counterparts?

Jay Hein
That's an important and interesting question, John. As I stated earlier, the President is most interested in expanding partnerships with faith and community groups because he wants to achieve better results. And if that's the case, then we need to have more rigorous oversight on all our programs and we need to write our contracts in such a way that we require high performance outcomes in exchange for our funding.

There are some who think that the bar needs to be set even higher for faith-based groups than for secular ones. While we need to be vigilant about respecting the line separating religious and service activities that I referenced below, I think that the cost efficiency and program effectiveness standards should otherwise be the same for any group receiving government funding. And I share the sentiment behind your question that the federal government should be very committed to these type of "return on investment" considerations.

James, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota writes:
Doesn't the promotion of faith based initiatives of any background violate the spirit of seperation of Church and State?

Jay Hein
James, you ask one of the most important questions surrounding the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. Where exactly do we draw the line separating church and state? The President often says that the church should not be the state and the state should not be the church. This is in respect of the First Amendment of our Constitution that prohibits government from establishing religion. But the First Amendment also protects the free exercise of religion and our nation has a long history of public services inspired by faith. Thus, my office fulfills the spirit of the Constitution when we prohibit any action that favors one religion over another and prohibit favoring faith groups over non-faith groups but also when we prohibit discrimination against faith-based groups because they have a faith identity.

Sam, from Fairfax, VA writes:
Mr. Hein, what types of events and seminars were held at the conference on the 18th of January?

Jay Hein
We were in Seattle, Washington on January 18, 2007 to conduct a regional conference to educate and equip policymakers and nonprofit leaders on government partnerships with private voluntary organizations. We have conducted 29 of these conferences across the country and offered training to approximately 30,000 nonprofit leaders.

Representative examples of our training sessions included:

Legal Guidance on Partnering with the Federal Government

Accessing Private Resources

Promoting Volunteerism

Outcomes-Focused Planning and Evaluation

Grant Writing Tutorials for Five Federal Programs

In addition to these White House sponsored events, the federal agencies provide similar training for state and local officials and nonprofit leaders. The agencies have trained over 50,000 leaders to date. We look forward to reaching even more people through our website and other materials to increase understanding and help build the capacity of both faith-based and secular nonprofit organizations.

Cathy, from Alexandria, VA writes:
Hi Jay, good luck in your new position. Can you tell us how the initiative is working in many states and major cities (how many now?) and give some examples of good public-private partnerships in some of them? Thanks

Jay Hein
I'm very pleased to report that there are 33 governors and over 100 mayors that have established faith and community initiatives based on the President’s model. Governors and local officials are the public servants closest to the people receiving services, thus they are very pragmatic. They want more tools in their toolbox and faith and community groups represent some of the best tools available to solve tough social problems.

My office is in regular communication with the state and local representatives that work on this initiative. We supply information and insight to help them do their jobs better and we help the states communicate with each other to share ideas and best practices. We also learn a lot from the state and local leaders. They are terrific innovators and we have the privilege of witnessing their groundbreaking work and seeking to transfer it to other places. There seems to be a movement of bottom-up reforms taking place.

One of the best types of innovations we see taking shape in communities often are a result of the public-private partnerships that you also asked about. For example, our recent Compassion in Action roundtable event featured a grassroots strategy called Violence Free Zones. This program recruits former gang members who have turned their lives around to work at schools where youth violence is a problem. These formerly troubled youth now serve as youth advisors to the kids at the schools. They use the knowledge gained from their old lifestyles to detect problems between rivals and they use their credibility to intervene before the problems turn into tragedies. One Dallas high school had 113 violent incidents several years ago compared to zero following the involvement of the youth advisor!

The US Department of Justice invested funds to help launch the Violence Free Zones project and now private philanthropists and local school officials are investing millions of dollars to expand the model to new cities. It is a wonderful example of grassroots initiative and public-private partnership.

Jay Hein
Thank you for all the thoughtful questions this afternoon. It was a delight for me to hear from you and to see that so many people are interested in the President's compassion agenda. I hope that you listen to President Bush's State of the Union address next Tuesday night to learn more about the administration's domestic policy priorities in the coming year. And I hope that you keep on the OFBCI's progress through our website: Best wishes to you all.