Dr. DiIulio Goes to Washington

Dr. John J. DiIulio Jr. (left): Keeping the faith.

Dr. John J. DiIulio Jr. has taken leave from his position as the Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion and Civil Society and professor of political science to run the first White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. The office will channel as much as $10 billion a year to faith-based groups to provide social services traditionally carried out by the government.

    According to DiIulio, a Democrat who was appointed by President George W. Bush, the extent to which community-based religious organizations are already major social-service providers “has been largely underappreciated and largely unheralded [“John DiIulio Gets Religion,” October 1997, and “Gazetteer,” January/February 1999]. In Philadelphia alone, looking across a range of 215 different social services based on data gathered from 2,000 congregations, you’re talking about one-quarter of a billion dollars a year in social services provided right now. If they went away tomorrow, somebody would have to provide those food pantries, clothing [banks], soup kitchens—as well as one-third of day care. There’s a lot going on.”
    DiIulio, who is taking a year-long, unpaid leave of absence from Penn, says he is committed to the new post for at least six months but plans to return to campus well within two years.
    The first two major objectives for the program, said DiIulio, are to increase charitable giving and participation, and to determine how the federal government spends its money “across a whole range of cabinet agencies.” (A corollary objective is to level the playing field so that “organizations that haven’t traditionally been in the loop of government funding” can participate if “they’re willing to meet all of the performance-based contracting standards,” anti-discrimination laws and other regulations.) The third goal is to identify and encourage “really promising models of public-private cooperation that involve community-based organizations, both religious and secular.”
    Although many people associate Washington with the federal bureaucracy, DiIulio said, “most of what the federal government does in the way of administering programs is done not directly by federal employees but through complicated mazes of state and local government agencies and non-profit organizations, both religious and secular.”
    If DiIulio succeeds in his new job, churches, synagogues and mosques will play an even greater role in social services ranging from drug treatment to literacy programs. While there has been much debate about the dangers of having religious groups provide social services, he said, “this ignores the existing 95 percent of the religious sector” which does not think that the social programs they offer “have anything to do with proselytizing, immersion, attending church. And to the extent that they’re going to participate in [federal programs], they’re going to have to follow the same [procedures and policies] as everyone else.”
    DiIulio made it clear that he speaks with an independent voice. When asked if one of his goals was to cajole Republicans into paying more attention to social services, he quipped: “I think they should all be Democrats.” He went on to say, however, that Bush is “not allergic to government” and added: “I think there is a realization now—and the President communicated it quite eloquently—that we really need to figure out a better way of doing the people’s business, which may require us to stretch ourselves a little in terms of how we address problems like joblessness and unmet social needs.”

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