New Chief Oversees a Less Visible Faith Office

Jay F. Hein says faith-based initiatives remain a high priority for President Bush.
Jay F. Hein says faith-based initiatives remain a high priority for President Bush. (By Dayna Smith -- The Washington Post)

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By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 25, 2006

The White House announced Jay F. Hein's appointment at 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday three weeks ago, the kind of timing usually reserved for news the administration wants to bury.

Hein is the new director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the third person since 2000 who has headed President Bush's effort to help religious groups win public funding to counsel addicts, mentor prisoners' children and provide other social services. Before he took up his duties this week, the position had been vacant for more than two months.

To some supporters of the president's "faith-based initiative," those circumstances are a stark indicator of how low one of Bush's signature programs has fallen in the priorities of his second-term, wartime administration.

"It's part of a continuing story of ambivalence. It's hard to look at the evidence and see any real passion for the initiative from the White House," said J. David Kuo, a former deputy director of the White House's faith-based office.

Hein, 41, who moved from Indianapolis to Washington last week, is a born-again Christian who previously ran the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, a small but well-respected Indiana think tank on civic issues. He said in an interview that he is convinced of Bush's full support.

"I had 30 minutes of Oval Office time with the president before I accepted the position, and that spoke loudly to me about his personal interest in seeing this initiative made successful and that it remains a high priority on his desk," Hein said last week. He added that he had met Bush on one prior occasion, at a meeting two years ago of experts on AIDS policy.

Hein was an adviser to former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson (R) and has worked closely in recent years with former senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who helped connect him to the White House. Both Thompson and Coats were major players in the 1990s effort to overhaul welfare policy.

"Welfare reform was a government-centered question," Hein said. "I believe the faith-based initiative is a natural extension from that work. The question is: How does society at large more effectively do those things -- relieving human suffering and equipping the poor to achieve greater self-sufficiency?"

Hein enters the administration as a deputy assistant to the president, a rung lower than that of his predecessors, H. James Towey and John J. DiIulio Jr. He is not as well known as either Towey, who had worked closely with Mother Teresa, or DiIulio, one of the intellectual architects of Bush's "compassionate conservatism."

But White House officials said it would be wrong to read anything into the timing of Hein's appointment or his job title. They noted that Towey also started as a deputy assistant to the president and was promoted after three years of White House service. He resigned in April to become president of St. Vincent College, a Roman Catholic school in Latrobe, Pa.

"Since the Faith-Based and Community Initiative is one of the president's top priorities, we conducted an extensive search to ensure we found the right person to lead this important program," said White House press officer Emily A. Lawrimore, explaining the gap between Towey's June 2 departure and Hein's Aug. 3 appointment.

Coincidentally, Hein's first week on the job was the 10th anniversary of "Charitable Choice," a key predecessor of the faith-based initiative. On Aug. 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a bill designed to "end welfare as we know it" by, among other things, allowing states to use federal funds to pay religious groups to provide social services.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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