WASHINGTON – As the Bush administration comes to a close, the office created by President George W. Bush to "level [the] playing field" for faith-based organizations seeking federal funding reflected on its strengths and weaknesses over the past eight years.
In its final report released on Monday, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) highlighted the wide range of services it has supported, as well as how the concept of the office is being replicated in dozens of U.S. states and cities.
Faith-based non-profits and community groups have worked with the government to tackle homelessness, substance abuse, vulnerable youth, and diseases such as malaria and global HIV/AIDS.
In 2008 alone, more than $8.1 billion was committed to various initiatives through the FBCI.
"We're proud of the way the Initiative has transformed government's approach to addressing human needs, making it more creative, compassionate, and personal," said Jedd Medefind, acting director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, to The Christian Post ahead of the official report's release. "We're also very proud of how it has leveled the playing field for faith-based organizations.
"But most of all we're thankful for the way that it has lifted millions of lives across the country and around the world for the downtrodden and hurting."
Among the achievements of the Initiative are: supporting more than 250,000 recovering addicts through the Access to Recovery voucher program; providing more than 2 million people infected with HIV with anti-retroviral treatment in sub-Saharan Africa; providing billions in domestic nutrition assistance and food aid overseas; and helping to reduce recidivism through the President's Prisoner Reentry Initiative, among other successes.
But the FBCI's director admits there were obstacles to overcome as the Initiative sought to link faith-based and community groups with the government.
"Many people have misunderstood the heart of the initiative," Medefind shared. "And more than anything else, the President intended it as a determined attack on needs and that is just what it has done."
When pressed, he clarified that the most common misunderstanding is that the Initiative is "exclusively" for faith-based organizations or primarily about government-funding when in reality it is about "more effectively addressing" human needs and "welcoming every willing partner" in that effort.
To critics – from both the faith and secular communities – who say the Initiative has not done enough, Medefind said that they need to look at the results of FBCI.
"When you see 100,000 children of prisoners matched with caring mentors, when you see homelessness cut 30 percent in the United States, when you see over 10 million people impacted by AIDS cared for throughout the world you recognize that this has an impact of far beyond what most people understand," Medefind responded.
He said his team has been in contact with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team and confirmed that Obama plans to continue the Initiative.
The top two pieces of advice he would give to the Obama FBCI team are to keep the focus on human needs and building effective responses to it, and to continue to "honor the unique character" of faith-based organizations and "ensure it is protected."
FBCI was launched on Jan. 29, 2001, by Bush to lead a "determined attack" on poverty, disease, and other social problems in partnership with faith-based and other community organizations. Bush called these organizations the "armies of compassion," and said that in many ways they could work more effectively with the local communities and those in need than government programs alone.
The concept of FBCI has been replicated by 36 governors (19 Democrats, 17 Republicans) as of 2008. Furthermore, over 100 mayors have created an FBCI office or liaison.