On Jan. 29, 2001, the first day of the first full week of his new administration, President George W. Bush announced an initiative to expand opportunities for faith-based and community organizations to partner with federal, state and local government in the delivery of social services such as substance abuse treatment, prisoner re-entry and aid to at-risk youths. During the 2000 campaign, Bush’s Democratic rival, Al Gore, also had promised to expand government’s relationship with faith-based groups to serve at-risk populations.

It now appears that some version of the faith-based initiative is likely to continue no matter who wins the 2008 presidential election. On July 1, 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama announced his support for partnerships “between the White House and grassroots groups, both faith-based and secular” and unveiled his plans for an expanded program if he is elected president. Republican presidential candidate John McCain also has expressed his support for faith-based partnerships and has stated he “would continue along the model of” the current initiative should he be elected president.

To discuss how McCain might implement his faith-based and community initiatives, the Pew Forum posed a series of questions to Stephen Goldsmith, who has worked closely with this issue. Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of Government at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of Putting Faith in Neighborhoods: Making Cities Work Through Grassroots Citizenship (2002). Goldsmith was the mayor of Indianapolis for two terms (1992-1999), where he was very active through his “Front Porch Alliance,” a faith-based initiative. He is also the chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Also see, John DiIulio Previews How Faith-Based Initiatives Would Change if Barack Obama Elected President

Stephen Goldsmith, Daniel Paul Professor of Government, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Stephanie C. Boddie, Senior Research Fellow in Religion & Social Welfare, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Navigate this discussion
How McCain might foster faith-based partnerships
Promoting a culture of life through adoption
Religious hiring
Working with Congress and states
Private philanthropy, volunteerism and “government by network”

Question & Answer

After Sen. Barack Obama announced his plan for a faith-based and community initiative in July, the McCain campaign issued a statement saying Sen. McCain “supports faith-based initiatives, and recognizes their important role in our communities.” McCain told The New York Times that he thinks “faith-based organizations have been one of the more successful parts of the Bush administration and I would continue it.” What exactly is his administration likely to do to foster government partnerships with faith-based organizations?

Let me start with two disclaimers. First, the answers to these questions are based in large part on statements by Sen. McCain as well as from my personal observations about how a McCain administration might approach faith initiatives. Second, I never have, and still do not, view these issues as partisan ones. The goal here is to understand how faith-based organizations can better fulfill their missions to help those who are struggling, not how they can further political goals.

Sen. McCain would:

  1. Extend the focus of the current initiative to include additional critical priorities;
  2. Increase the ability of beneficiaries of services to choose their service providers;
  3. Seek to engage and facilitate strategic partnerships with social entrepreneurs and leaders at the local level; and
  4. Safeguard religious liberty.

Much has been accomplished in recent years to fully engage faith-based and small community-based organizations (FBCOs) in the delivery of social services to benefit neighbors and communities across the country. Regulatory changes have reduced barriers and expanded the opportunity for government to partner with faith-based organizations. Eleven federal government agencies and the Corporation for National and Community Service created centers within their organizations designed to more fully engage FBCOs. A number of innovative programs are returning positive results. I would anticipate Sen. McCain building out such programs to continue with this momentum.

One example of this is the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, which today has more than 100,000 children matched with a caring adult mentor. Sen. McCain will build upon the success of this mentoring project to tackle the high-school dropout rate and improve academic achievement. Graduation rates from urban public high schools are hovering at 50 percent, with devastating ramifications for those youths, their families and communities. Nearly half of all dropouts, and two-thirds of minority-student dropouts, are concentrated in 12 percent of America’s high schools, which are concentrated mostly in large cities. Recruiting and equipping volunteers and tutors to work with youths to improve educational achievement and high-school graduation rates will be a priority in a McCain administration. This effort may lead to a cross-sector collaboration that will provide incentives for youths completing high school, including education and training opportunities that lead to employment through vocational schools, community colleges or universities.

Another area of attention will be to promote a culture of life through adoption. The McCain administration will develop better and less cumbersome ways to involve faith organizations in both adoptions and in efforts to decrease teen pregnancy. FBCOs would help infants, children, special needs children and orphans find adoptive families and would improve outcomes for children in foster care.

Sen. McCain will also extend and expand government partnerships with faith-based institutions serving in Africa to prevent, treat and eradicate malaria. Malaria is a fully preventable and treatable disease and yet it kills more than 1 million people in Africa every year, mostly children under five and pregnant women. Bed nets that families can sleep under to avoid the deadly bite of a mosquito and miracle artemisinin-based combination therapy drugs are two powerful tools that help prevent and treat malaria.

Choice is another key theme for Sen. McCain. He will identify opportunities to implement social service models that allow beneficiaries to choose their service provider to include those that have fully integrated their faith tradition into their services. The Access to Recovery (ATR) program competitively awards grants to states and tribal authorities to operate voucher systems that allow individuals to select a provider for substance abuse treatment and supportive services, including transportation, child care and mentoring. The outcomes of this program have been promising, with more than 200,000 people participating and more than 27,000 FBCO partners engaged in service delivery, many of which were partnering for the first time with government. In Connecticut, 40 percent of the organizations redeeming vouchers were new providers, and in Louisiana, 70 percent were partnering with government for the first time. Studies in several states, including California, Texas, Florida, Missouri and Connecticut, indicate ATR’s distinctive model is achieving better outcomes than traditional recovery models.

Recently, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives focused on strengthening federal networks and partnerships with governors and other leaders to make a greater and more sustainable impact at the state and local level. This important strategy needs to be expanded to include an intentional outreach to and development of social entrepreneurs who are actively seeking new approaches to stubborn problems by challenging assumptions and reframing the problem to be solved.

Sen. McCain will make safeguarding religious liberty a priority and will protect the right of faith-based organizations to participate fully in public programs without renouncing their beliefs, removing religious objects or symbols, or becoming subject to government-imposed hiring practices.

McCain’s campaign has said that he “believes that it is important for faith-based groups to be able to hire people who share their faith.” In the interview with The New York Times, McCain said, “Obviously it’s very complicated because if this is an organization that says we want people in our organization that are Baptists or vegetarians or whatever it is, they should not be required to hire someone that they don’t want to hire in my view.” Some have said that allowing religious organizations to hire on the basis of faith opens the door to church-state entanglements and amounts to discrimination on religious grounds. How do you respond to such criticisms?

Protecting religious hiring rights is a central component to any meaningful and effective partnership between public government entities and faith-based organizations. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides an exemption for religious organizations, and it states that it is not illegal discrimination for faith-based organizations to take religion into account when selecting employees, whether that employee is a chaplain, social worker or receptionist. It does not permit faith-based organizations to discriminate on the bases of race, color, sex or national origin. Yet even with this exemption, there are federal programs such as Head Start and the Workforce Investment Act Fund that forbid religious staffing. Limiting the number of effective partners at the local level in this way serves only to reduce the public value of government investment and compromises the expressed interest and value of government partnerships with faith-based organizations. Sen. McCain will defend religion-based hiring by faith-based organizations and will remove the hiring restrictions that exist in some federal programs.

If he is elected, recent polls suggest that Sen. McCain will work with a Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and an increasingly Democratic U.S. Senate. What advice would you give him for forging a bipartisan approach to faith-based policies?

Sen. McCain understands that one of the main existing strengths of the faith-based and community initiatives (FBCI) is its existing bipartisan support. While the directional emphasis of your question points to Congress, it misses the larger story about where bipartisan consensus has already solidified the FBCI as a permanent strategy: the states. Thirty-five governors -19 Democrats and 16 Republicans – have followed the president’s model for implementing an FBCI in their states.
White House FBCI Director Jay Hein impressively made the growth and expansion of the state strategy his signature leadership emphasis during the past two years. Each state has implemented a different model matched with its unique strengths and pointed toward its unique challenges and priorities. Some focus on capacity-building through volunteer recruitment and nonprofit training. Others focus on addressing particular issues, such as reducing youth violence or increasing affordable housing. And still others react to unwelcome challenges such as the series of hurricanes that have pummeled the Gulf Coast over the past several years. Indeed, the states of Florida, Alabama and Texas have each impressively utilized both their state’s FBCI and volunteer commissions to recruit volunteers, raise private philanthropic funding and enhance government-nonprofit sector collaboration in disaster preparation, response and recovery.

The sum total of these state-level developments is that it would behoove the next U.S. Congress to see the FBCI through the prism of their districts rather than their party caucuses. The initiative is not dependent on legislation, though significant funding and administrative questions will arise before Congress. It is also not dependent on party politics, though political leaders will elevate or diminish how the public views its work.

Sen. McCain will continue to grow FBCI strategies with this pragmatic approach in mind. And he will look forward to working with both sides of the aisle, as well as all state and local officials interested in expanding government partnerships with faith-based and community nonprofits.

What are your thoughts on the future of faith-based and community initiatives?

In this election season, it is undeniably clear that the voters want change. Yet both presidential candidates have embraced one of President Bush’s central domestic policy legacies as a key plank in their forward-leaning agenda. Why?

A bipolar debate over whether government or the market offers a better prescription for problem-solving is no longer good enough. We obviously need a smart government and a strong economy. Yet we have always relied on something else: a vibrant nonprofit sector relying on and bridging the strengths of the other two sectors.

Giving USA reports that Americans gave $306 billion in private philanthropy in 2007, the highest amount ever reported. Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy reports that much of our nation’s philanthropic gifts are small donations. Many of us give our money, as well as our time, to neighbors in need. We now know that 61 million Americans volunteer. A careful analysis of this data shows revealing trends that will be important to the next administration. First, the fastest growing markets for volunteerism are the millennials (born 1982-1994) and baby boomers. It also shows that the leading source of volunteers are faith-based institutions.

Policymakers from the White House to the statehouses would do well to make private philanthropy a high-priority item on the faith-based and community initiatives agenda and to leverage the strengths of volunteers. One way the Bush administration has sought to combine these strengths is through the Pro Bono Challenge. President Bush has called on corporate America to donate $1 billion in skilled volunteering and pro bono services to strengthen the communities where they do business.

These profiles of philanthropy, volunteerism and corporate citizenship are not new inventions. Rather, they are the ingredients that form healthy communities. The challenge for political leaders in the 21st century is to understand and leverage these strengths with smart government policy. You could call this approach “government by network.”

The FBCI is an ideal vehicle to catalyze this effort.
While I was mayor of Indianapolis, the city implemented outcome-based granting, activity-based budgeting and competition in service delivery that challenged the status quo. We also included entrepreneurs in the process, and they helped transform the delivery of city services and revitalize urban neighborhoods. This opened the door for social entrepreneurs to become our partners, many for the first time. The rewards were significant.

Social entrepreneurs achieve results in education, health care, workforce development, economic mobility and the environment by providing new solutions to age-old problems. YouthBuild is one such group that now operates in Indiana. They engage unemployed young men and women by giving them jobs to build affordable housing. The program also enables them to earn their high-school diploma or GED while learning valuable leadership skills.

Recently, a coalition of social entrepreneurs called America Forward presented a series of policy ideas to the presidential campaigns. Their message: Government must transform its focus from inputs and activities to outcomes and results.

The New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote that “the older do-gooders had a certain policy model: government identifies a problem. Really smart people design a program. A cabinet department in a big building administers it.” Yet the FBCI reorients the equation to decentralize the approach. It asks bottom-up questions, such as: How can Washington become more flexible to accommodate local officials’ agendas? How can we engage new nonprofit partners? How can we change our systems to work less about inputs and more about outcomes?

The America Forward coalition’s agenda for the next administration includes a Social Investment Fund Network to leverage federal dollars and invest in ideas that work. This idea converges nicely with the FBCI agenda already in force tapping into America’s spirit of innovation.
The future of the FBCI will depend on a proper understanding of the initiative itself; that is, community-centered problem-solving through enhanced government-nonprofit sector partnerships as well as new strategies to leverage the strengths of social entrepreneurs, volunteers and philanthropists interested in meaningful social change.

A McCain administration would act on these impulses in advancement of an agenda that asks all Americans to devote a substantial amount of time in service as a way to involve everyone in solving community challenges. It would also operate particularly in a bipartisan fashion, including adopting many of the good ideas of my good friend, Professor John DiIulio.

Photo credit: AP

This Q&A has been edited for spelling and grammar.