The Innovation Case for the Faith-Based Initiative

The Innovation Case for the Faith-Based Initiative

Stanley Carlson-Thies and Chelsea Langston Bombino, March 30th 2017

As the Federal government continues to work to serve all communities with excellence, a vital requirement is to continue to transform how the federal government works so that federal resources are used not simply to provide services and goods, but to uplift communities and transform lives. This requires sparking innovation, promoting competition for federal funding, and robustly engaging local and faith organizations that have shown their effectiveness.

Greater innovation is integral to the vision of the faith-based initiative. This vision includes removing barriers that exclude effective local organizations from competition for federal partnerships simply because of their religion or their small size. The faith-based initiative puts the focus on local solutions that work, and aligns federal efforts to support, not replace, effective and cost-saving bottom-up solutions.

The faith-based initiative developed innovative equal treatment rules that now have a two decade history and broad backing. These transformed federal regulations enable faith-based organizations to participate in federally funded programs of service (homeless shelter, substance treatment, re-entry programs, low-income housing, international relief and development, etc.) while fully living out their religious identity. The initiative includes a White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and counterpart Centers for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership in major agencies, including HHS, HUD, Ed, USAID, Justice, Commerce, USDA, and DHS.

The equal treatment rules are based on Charitable Choice provisions enacted during the Clinton administration and on US Supreme Court neutrality principles. They were developed by the Bush administration and were affirmed by President Obama by Executive Order and additional rulemaking. The rules require that federal, state, and local government officials, using federal funds, not exclude religious organizations because of their religious character and activities. Because of the rules, federally funded programs are able to utilize the most effective providers, whether religious or secular. The White House Office and agency Centers are crucial for ensuring that these equal treatment rules are understood and followed by federal officials and their state and local counterparts, and that they are made known to potential grantees and contractors.

The Office and Centers have the potential to further empower local organizations that often know how to best serve the particular needs and interests of their local communities. Moreover, the faith-based initiative can continue to build the capacities of these faith-based and neighborhood groups to understand how to compete for government funds. This is good for the governmental cost savings, for the generation of the most innovative and outcomes-driven government partnerships, and for communities themselves. The faith-based initiative can also help the Federal government learn from community-based organizations about innovative solutions that may be meaningful and effective models for the government to consider adopting on a broader scale.

The Trump administration should embraces this vision of how the Faith-Based Office and Centers can play a key role in achieving its aim to promote efficient and effective public services, help to connect and energize neglected rural and urban communities, and renew America’s promise and values for everyone in our diverse nation.