A former White House official leveled criticism at the Bush administration last week over its so-called faith-based agenda, saying that efforts to promote the initiative have been more public relations than substance.
David Kuo, who spent more than two years working in the White House and eventually became the deputy director of President Bush’s faith-based initiative, lashed out at the “compassionate conservative” effort in a column on www.Beliefnet.com, a Web site about religion.
The president launched the faith-based initiative upon taking office four years ago to invite greater participation by religious groups in federal grant programs for such services as drug rehabilitation and after-school tutoring. Mr. Bush argued that religious groups had been mostly shut out of such participation in the past, and that they were well suited to provide such services.
Mr. Kuo wrote in his online column that despite professing his commitment to the idea, Mr. Bush hadn’t proposed to put money where faith-based groups could tap into it. One problem, Mr Kuo wrote, was that in Congress, “Republican indifference couldn’t overcome knee-jerk Democratic opposition.” But he said that “Capitol Hill gridlock could have been smashed by minimal West Wing effort,” which never came.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan defended the efforts last week and said the initiative remains a “high priority” for the president.
At the Department of Education, one of 10 federal agencies to have its own office focusing on improving the participation of faith-based and community groups in federal programs, drawing religious groups into the federal grantmaking process has seen an increase.
In fiscal 2001, $2.8 million, or 2.4 percent of the department’s discretionary-grant programs, went to faith-based groups. By fiscal 2003, those figures grew to $6.8 million, or 5.1 percent of grants. Numbers for fiscal 2004 are not yet final, said department spokeswoman Susan Aspey.
Though Ms. Aspey declined to address Mr. Kuo’s comments, she said the Education Department has made significant efforts to reach out to such groups, through conferences to help guide them through the grant-application process, technical assistance, Webcasts, and an e-mail listserv to more than 20,000 community and faith-based groups.
“We have quite an effort here,” she said. “We’ve really been working hard to get the job done.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week