Change Watch: Obama continues Bush policies on faith-based social services

The White House's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP), which oversees a network of faith-based and neighborhood partnership centers at eleven federal agencies, writes Sarah Posner in The Nation,
while still a work in progress, is plagued by a lack of transparency and accountability and has seemingly already been exploited as a tool for rewarding religious constituencies with government jobs--exactly the problems that marked Bush's faith-based initiative.

Indeed, the structure of Obama's OFBNP looks quite similar to Bush's: a White House office (now under the direction of 26-year-old Joshua DuBois, the former religious outreach director of the Obama campaign) guides the project overall. Mara Vanderslice, founder of the Matthew 25 PAC, which supported Obama, works with DuBois. In addition, the centers at federal agencies oversee the disbursements of grants to faith-based and community nonprofits, some of which will, in turn, train faith-based organizations.

The Obama administration has said the project will not just dole out money; it also intends to form nonfinancial partnerships with faith-based and community groups to deliver social services. But the financial relationships remain. For example, although Obama's 2010 budget eliminated the Compassion Capital Fund, the pot of money administered to faith-based groups through HHS in the Bush era, $50 million has been authorized in the stimulus bill for a new Strengthening Communities Fund, which will be disbursed to nonprofits and state, city, county and tribal governments to train faith-based and other nonprofits to help "low-income individuals secure and retain employment, earn higher wages, obtain better-quality jobs and gain greater access to state and Federal benefits and tax credits."

Watchdogs are concerned that, as with Bush's fund, controls are insufficient to ensure constitutional protections, transparency or accountability. "These problems will persist until this administration stops operating under the Bush-era executive orders and regulations that still govern the faith-based programs," says Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way.
The rest of the story: The Nation (2009-07-15).

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