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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.

Jim Towey
Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

March 8, 2006

Jim Towey
It is great to be back with you and I look forward to answering as many questions as I can. Tomorrow the President will address the National Conference on the Faith-based and Community Initiative, and we will have a packed ballroom - over 1500 registered, and we had to cut it off so that every one could get a chair! It will be a great day and the President will share his thoughts on what has been accomplished to date and what challenges remain.

John, from Raleigh, NC writes:
There is considerable resistance to faith-based prison programs that are proving very effective in reducing recidivism. What is the administration doing to support and encourage these programs, given that most prisons are state-maintained?

Jim Towey
I agree - penitentiaries were meant to be places of penitence, and the reality is, if we don't help inmates transform their attitudes we can expect recidivism rates to remain sky high. I have visited Governor Bush of Florida's prisons that concentrate on character and values, and I was very impressed Early data shows that these prisons, at a minimum, have less disciplinary problems. At the Federal level, the Department of Justice has funded five pilot programs in Federal prisons attempting to do the same. President Bush launched a prisoner re-entry initiative and the first $20 million (30 grants) are at work, and many of these involve groups going into the prison prior to release dates to build a bridge so that inmates return to the world intent on contributing to society instead of destroying it.

Saul, from San Antonio writes:
Will Texas host a White House Technical Assistance Conference this year? Saul

Jim Towey
Yes. We haven't set a date, and we are in negotiations on where to site it (we'll try to make it convenient for as many as possible). Hope to see you there! Look at our web site for the announcement.

Chris, from Pennsylvania writes:
A group of men from my church traveled to Louisiana to help clear debris and assist in building some homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Are their other faith-based orgs out there that you know of that are providing similar assistance?

Jim Towey
Hundreds actually. It has been phenomenal to see how many churches and synagogues opened their doors and converted their facilities to homeless shelters and feeding centers after Katrina hit. I have been to the region many times and I am in awe of what groups like your church did. And I have to say - please continue to help. There is so much that needs to be done in the months ahead, and for some residents, it may be years. The President at this very moment is there with Mrs. Bush meeting with officials in Louisiana and Mississippi and he will continue to attend to the needs of the displaced as well as those still in the region.

Joan, from Santa Clara writes:
What is the purpose of the conference? How many will be attending?

Jim Towey
The Conference will focus on helping faith-based and grassroots groups access corporate and foundation grant money. Many large corporations prohibit any grants to religious organizations. Some are doing great things in partnership with these groups. So the President will challenge corporations and foundations to do more. Also, there will be workshops on a number of issues of interest to America's "armies of compassion." We will have over 1,000 there (1500 plus are registered). The President also will release new data showing that for the third straight year there has been a documented increase in Federal grants to religious charities.

Bill, from Puget Sound writes:
I'd like to encourage my company to get more involved in community outreach. Any suggestions on how I can get started?

Jim Towey
Some corporations match employee contributions. Others have grantmaking practices focused on community initiatives. The Foundation Center in DC might be able to provide your company some information. I think it is great that you are thinking of challenging your company to do more - they need to be good corporate citizens and have generous volunteer opportunities for employees. Go to for more info. Good luck Bill!

Benjamen, from Waco, TX writes:
I just got home from classes today and they had the road next to my apartment blocked and a coast gaurd helicoptor was circling and 3 or 4 black SUV's with antennas and what not with what appeared to be the presidential seal on the sides with the American flags flying on it.Did I just see my president? or somebody important in our government?

That would be really well for lack of better words "cool" I know its kind of a dumb question but I have always wanted to see President Bush.

Thank you Benjamen

Jim Towey
Bingo! The President was in Waco and Crawford yesterday, and left Waco this morning around 7:15 so you might have seen a motorcade moving him. Hope you waved! And I hope you weren't inconvenienced. Thanks for your patience. He will be back to the area often because he has his home there, and when he leaves office, he will live there.

Phil, from California writes:
The 1st Amendment to the Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". Was your Office created by the passage of a law? If so, does that law violate the 1st amendment? If it is not a technical violation, do you feel that it violates the spirit of the principle of the separation of Church and State?

Jim Towey
Our Office has been set up in a way that is constitutional - we don't favor any faith, nor does government fund religious activity. We do welcome faith-based groups in the public square and this has helped the poor access new and effective programs. The Constitution does not speak of a "wall of separation" (that was a phrase that Thomas Jefferson used in a letter) and in fact, Thomas Jefferson attended church services in a government building. So we have to find the right balance, and the President's approach has been sensible and upheld by the courts. We're proud of that.

Clint, from Seal Beach, California writes:
What will the Administration be doing for the duration of this term for Faith Based Initiatives?

Jim Towey
Clint - I better let the President say this himself tomorrow. You can read his remarks after he speaks at noon tomorrow by going to

Mark, from Newark NJ writes:
First thank you for taking the time to answer my question.My question is: would it be better for the economy that companies focus on creating jobs and good pension plans other than spending money on social events? Some of that money doesn't go in the right hands , but creating jobs is an unquestionable matter

Jim Towey
Good question, Mark. Government has many responsibilities, and the President recognizes the important role that government can play in stimulating economic growth through sound tax and spending policies. Government also has vital responsibilities to provide for the common good and I think your question points to the importance of funding EFFECTIVE programs. For too long we have just thrown money at programs without measuring whether they work or not. So we ask: how much did we spend on drug treatment? instead of asking "how many people recovered from Federally funded programs?" President Bush wants to change the focus to results. He doesn't want to promote religion, but he does want government to fund effective programs that provide compassion.

John, from Fairfax writes:
What is your office doing to implement recommendations made in the White Houses Katrina Lessons Learned report?

Jim Towey
Just yesterday, President Bush signed an order implementing one of the "lessons learned". He established a new faith-based and community office at the Department of Homeland Security to make sure that the armies of compassion are integrated with our disaster relief and recovery responses. For too long we have treated these vital groups as "candy stripers" when they have been the "foot soldiers".

darryle, from knoxville,tenn. writes:
how can i know which faith-based group that i can trust? please let president bush andvice-president cheney that i pray for them daily....

Jim Towey
Get to know the groups is my best advice so you can feel comfortable about what they do and how they do it. And thanks, Darryle, for praying for the President and Vice President. I know he greatly appreciates your prayers and those of countless Americans. We all need it!

Jim Towey
Well, as always, it has been fun answering some very good questions, and frustrating that I couldn't get to them all. Glad to know that there is so much interest in the Initiative. President Bush considers it one of his most important domestic policies and tomorrow you will see how this Initiative is about transforming lives and expressing the great compassion of America. I hope you find time to reach out to those who are in need in your community. God bless you all and have a great day!

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