The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 25, 2008

Press Briefing by Teleconference with Jay Hein, Director of the Faith-Based and Community Initiative

3:04 P.M. EDT

MR. HEIN: Good afternoon. This is Jay Hein. Thank you for joining this call and for your interest in the conference. Tomorrow, Thursday, the 26th, and Friday, the 27th, the White House is convening over 1,000 policymakers and faith-based and community leaders, researchers and others who are interested in the initiative. The purpose of this national conference is to survey the landscape of the changes that have been made and the progress that's been achieved since the President launched the Faith-Based and Community Initiative during the second week of his first administration.

So it's a longstanding initiative. The initiative has evolved and expanded throughout the federal government -- the White House and in federal agencies, in policy reform and innovation. Thirty-five governors have implemented similar initiatives following the contours of the President's leadership. The initiative also has an international dimension.

The conference attendees will hear from the President of the United States and Cabinet officials on Thursday -- the federal government perspective. And on Friday, we'll hear from many of the leaders from the field themselves, as we focus on social entrepreneurship -- a concept that's very important to the President. And as we seek to help the helpers, these are the leaders in communities that we have served by changing policy to be more accommodating of new partnerships, and by training these leaders who provide community services with direct training, such as this conference will provide, because -- in addition to the plenary speakers, we will have workshops on all the areas of great human need that they're engaged in and serving and our federal programs administer. And we'll also hear from Senator Lieberman, who has been a great champion of this initiative on the Hill.

So what I'd like to do is just close there, by making brief comments on the front end so I can answer your questions.

Q Hello. I wanted to see if you feel that there's any fair and comprehensive way of measuring the financial impact of the initiative. I know the President had promised billions of dollars in incentives in the beginning. Is there any -- has that materialized? Is there some fair way of measuring that?

MR. HEIN: Right. There's a couple of different ways to measure it and, if I understand the question correctly, are you talking about funds to faith-based and community groups, broadly speaking?

Q As opposed to what?

MR. HEIN: That's what I'm asking.

Q Yes, no, that's what I'm talking about. I don't know if there's some other way of phrasing it that maybe I'm missing.

MR. HEIN: Right, right, I understand. Well, that's why I wanted to clarify because there's distinctions between faith-based and secular, for example, and I can address that. But I think that the appropriate starting point is that this initiative is one of the most intentional efforts by any administration to understand what these partnerships look like in their current form, in addition to all the new strategies we're seeking to grow them.

So when we took office, there wasn't good data -- to your question -- about who was receiving the fund, and what the profile of these organizations was like, you know. As you're familiar, federal agencies operate programs in their own domain; within a federal department like HHS, there are multiple programs and those program officials run their operation.

Well, we took a look all across government to begin to collect data on which organizations were winning these grant competitions, and what type of organizations they were. And we were able to draw distinctive between faith-based and secular. We were able to see geographically where these organizations are located. And that, as a first attempt, has been useful just because it's created now a statistical landscape, with which we can better understand the state of play, and then to begin to ask important governing questions about how we might be able to improve.

Q And when was it that you started to collect that data?

MR. HEIN: The data collection was first issued for the fiscal year 2003. And we have made that -- those reports publicly available, and we'd be pleased to send the latest report to you following this call, if you'd like. But I would say that at tomorrow's conference, we have the 2007 data that we'll be releasing. So that will be presented at the conference. But we do have the past several years' data available. As a matter of fact, the shortcut version is, we keep that information on our website:

And we can help you, following this call, if you'd like, to navigate the site to find it. But all of the detail is present in those reports, and, as I said, we'll be releasing new results for fiscal year 2007 at the conference tomorrow.

Q I see, okay.

Q Yes, Mr. Hein.

MR. HEIN: Yes, hello.

Q Hi. What would you rate the prospects of the Faith-Based Initiative surviving President Bush's administration? He has, you know, just a matter of months left in office; a new President will be coming in. Will this go out with him?

MR. HEIN: Well, this initiative was indeed an invention of the President. He created the White House Office and the centers at federal agencies, the executive order. And there has been a strong embrace and wide replication since he's launched this initiative. I did mention in my introductory comments that are 35 governors who have implemented their own initiatives -- that's 19 Democrat, 16 Republican governors. Matter of fact, 12 states have experienced gubernatorial transition since the Faith-Based and Community Initiative has been started in the states. And in every case, even when the parties changed hands in those states, the initiative has been maintained, which is, I think, a strong statement that this is not a political initiative; this is a programmatic governing initiative. And considering that the question about how governments can form stronger and more effective partnerships with their nonprofit sector, you're seeing that type of consensus forming that we need intentional strategies such as we'll be discussing over the next couple of days.

And I think that's led to both presidential candidates now speaking to the initiative at least at a high level -- Barack Obama at a CNN forum. Senator Obama made a specific statement about his interest in keeping the Faith-Based and Community Initiative, and as I understand it, Senator McCain has also made reference to the initiative. I think he's on record saying something in the order of this initiative being one of the more successful initiatives of the Bush administration, suggesting that he, too, might be interested in keeping it.

But I think the more fundamental point is that the Faith-Based and Community Initiative now is policy and practice. It's deeply embedded all across federal government, as we changed policy to create equal treatment for faith-based organizations. And as we've launched innovation, as will be profiled at the conference, that has created new strategies on addiction recovery and prisoner reentry, and addressing other human needs. You'll hear about the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and how indigenous nonprofit partnerships are central to that strategy; that the Faith-Based and Community Initiative is now manifest and a new way of doing business across the federal government. And that will be a lasting achievement. It will also be an achievement that pays dividends regardless of the political calculus in 2009.

Q I am curious what criteria did the White House use in inviting the groups that are participating in the conference.

MR. HEIN: Sure. It's actually an open invitation; it was broadly publicized. And this conference is actually part of a series. We hold approximately a half-dozen of these type conferences each year. We've held them all across the country over the past five years. A few of the conferences have been billed as national conferences, where we take a little higher profile. But other conferences held in states oftentimes are held in partnership with governors, and consider regional strategies and approaches.

But we advertise on our website and through our listserv and other contacts. And so it was an open invitation. And I think an interesting data point -- we have space in the ballroom for a little over a thousand people, we have a wait-list. I think we've had somewhere in the order of 1,600 or so that have registered, which I think is a remarkable statement about the continued and, indeed, growing interest in the initiative. Here we are, seven years later, we'll talk about a lot of the accomplishments of the initiative, the results, but there's a great appetite for, you know, for thinking new strategies through and forming new partnerships. And the attendance figures I think speak to that.

Q And I'm sorry, but I missed the first part of the call. What are you really hoping to gain out of a conference? What are you hoping to learn?

MR. HEIN: Right, it's several-fold. The President's remarks will feature the progress that's been made. I just made reference to the fundamental way that the federal government does business differently now, and he'll describe that, the philosophy behind it. He'll chart the progress that's been made, the achievements and the results. And the members of his Cabinet that will be present and others who will speak will unpack those achievements, each in their own domain. For example, Secretary Chao will speak to prisoner reentry, and Ambassador Dybul will speak to the PEPFAR program.

So at once, the conference -- that looks back and gives meaning to the changes that have been made over the past seven years, but it's also a training conference, so a thousand or so social entrepreneurs will be in attendance. They'll be receiving direct training from all the federal agencies that administer this initiative on how to better provide after-school services, or housing -- affordable housing solutions for the poor, or employment services for the dislocated worker -- all the great human needs that the faith-based and community groups are engaged in in their communities. They'll receive direct training on it.

It will also be a platform for us to talk about some of the research that is forming to look at the Faith-Based and Community Initiative, and in particular, the programs that are administered by it.

Q Great, thank you.

Q How prominent do you think the church/state issues will remain in this whole realm? I mean, there's obviously a huge amount -- I've looked at a lot of the people that are presenting in the next couple days, and many -- I think most of them, or maybe all of them -- I didn't see any that really got in any of the church/state issues. They were basically reporting on the quality of the programs themselves, what works and what doesn't work. So there wasn't -- there doesn't seem to be any real focus on some of those controversies.

And there's obviously many, many groups who were just looking to fairly compete and didn't realize that they had the right to do so. But there's obviously organizations that wish to not only compete, but also to have no limits on their ability to evangelize and discriminate. So I'm wondering how prominent you think those church/state issues will remain, or if that's something that you think was more just associated with the beginning of the program and will fade.

MR. HEIN: Right, that's a great question, I appreciate it. The essence of the program, as you've described, focusing on the problems and the programs that real community leaders face and are engaged in addressing is the lion's share of the conference, because it's the lion's share of this issue space. Leaders and their communities are very pragmatic, and they want to grow the supply of compassion; the President shares that point of view.

But we understand that there's a faith factor in the nonprofit sector. Faith motivates many people to serve, and so one object of the initiative, of course, has been to end the discrimination of federal policy towards those organizations when the administration began. We did a survey of federal programs and found that, as a legacy of some of the mid-20th century policies, that there were prohibitions against faith-based organizations. If "saint" was in your name, sometimes that meant you had no ability to compete for federal funding, regardless of your effectiveness.

And I think really one of the stellar achievements of this initiative is that we've clarified, in a very acute sense, what is allowable and what is not allowable, according to the First Amendment. We felt -- the President felt very strongly that it was wrong to just artificially close the door for those who were motivated by their private faith to perform a public service -- if they were creating these housing solutions for the homeless, and other important community outcome.

At the same time, we know that the First Amendment prohibits establishment of church, and so the President said very clearly that tax dollars are not to be used for spiritual mission -- only for secular mission; only for community service mission.

So as a core part of our training -- and indeed there is a workshop at this conference on this theme -- we talk about what these organizations can do and what they can't do with taxpayer dollars. If they're a faith-based charity, they can compete. And if they're effective at what they do and they can prove that in a grant proposal, they ought to win. But they cannot proselytize. They cannot have an unlimited expression of their faith by purchasing religious materials and providing a religious message. Instead, they need to be focused on social outcome. And motivated by their faith is fine. Taxpayer support, though, is going to go for social outcomes in the pluralistic manner with which the Constitution allows. And the President, who often speaks of his appreciation for those of faith, of different faiths, or no faith at all, is what guides our policy and our training.

Well, I thank everyone for their interest.

END 3:22 P.M. EDT

Return to this article at:

Click to print this document