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New Chief Oversees a Less Visible Faith Office

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.

From the start, Charitable Choice was seen as a way to broaden the services available to single mothers, the homeless and impoverished elderly people. But it was also controversial on church-state grounds, particularly because it allowed government-funded groups to hire and fire employees on the basis of religion.

During his first campaign for president, Bush promised to unleash "armies of compassion" by extending a charitable tax deduction to the 70 percent of taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions. After taking office in 2001, he pushed other tax cuts through Congress but met resistance over his efforts to apply Charitable Choice to all federal social spending. In the end, Bush issued executive orders to put the faith-based initiative into effect administratively, dropping his plan for major tax breaks to spur charitable giving.

One result, according to a study by the independent Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, is that government grants to religious charities are rising, but grants to charities overall have been squeezed.

Another result, according to former administration officials, is that the office Hein occupies has become more of a coordinator of existing executive branch activities than a producer of bold new policies and legislation.

"What he needs to do is consolidate and put into practice a lot of things that have already been talked about," said Stanley Carlson-Thies, who worked in the faith-based office during Bush's first term.

In contrast to his sometimes-flamboyant predecessors, Hein is a "very orderly and businesslike person" who is well-suited to run the faith-based effort for the remaining 18 months of the Bush administration, said William A. Schambra, an expert on philanthropy at the Hudson Institute, a think tank where Hein once worked.

Because the faith-based office "has a very poor track record when it comes to getting legislation passed," Schambra said, Hein's task will be "to pull out of the wreckage of the faith-based initiative the pieces of it that really should be preserved as a legacy for the next Republican administration."

Hein agreed that "the initiative is well under way operationally."

"The policies are being implemented not only at Cabinet agencies but at the state and local level, as well," he said. "So I'll be taking a policy wonk approach into the job."

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