Obama Names 26-Year-Old Director of Faith-Based Office

"If you look at the poorest places in the country, who knows the kid, the family, the streets better than the religious community? We're there; we're working on the ground. When you're there, you get perspective on what works and what doesn't," Wallis said.

Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

The Obama approach will keep the basic structure that the Bush administration took. There will be a White House-based office and Centers for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the executive agencies.

White House officials and outside advisors say that Obama's effort will be broader than his predecessor's and he will expand the scope of the office to include more emphasis on community organizations and a greater coordination with policymakers.

In meetings with religious and secular leaders since the election, Obama officials have indicated they believe the relationship between the federal government and the faith-based community can be more than a financial partnership and they will look to those groups for guidance and support on stated policy goals like poverty reduction at home and abroad, and international issues like HIV/AIDS work and conflict resolution.

One significant shift from the approach of the Bush administration is to move the faith office under the umbrella of the Domestic Policy Council, directed by Melody Barnes.

By moving it under the Domestic Policy Council, the Obama administration indicates it intends a close link between its policy agenda and how these community groups can accomplish items on that agenda, rather than just directing funding to projects at the local level

A White House official said the office will be a "substantial programming and policy arm of the federal government," and it will serve as the primary mechanism for federal agencies to connect with local community and faith-based groups to provide social services.

Some examples of the programs that agencies run through these local organizations include job training for low-income people through the Department of Labor, ex-offender re-entry programs through the Justice Department and international HIV/AIDS work through the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Jim Towey, the director of the Bush administration's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for more than two years, said that while he supports the shift, there is a risk that the faith office and its agenda could get swallowed up by the larger domestic agenda.

"If you want the faith-based initiative to work, [DuBois] has to be able to walk into the Oval Office," Towey said. "The reality is, using the president's favorite analogy of basketball, there are 10 people under the backboard looking for the rebound, looking for the time on the president's schedule, and he's going to have to throw elbows to get in there and get time with the president."

White House Reaches All Religions

A new component of the Obama faith initiative will be an advisory council made up of 25 leaders from secular and religious organizations who will provide guidance and policy advice to the faith office.

The White House said the council is bipartisan and will include voices from across the political, religious and community service spectrum. Religious leaders involved in the development of the council said that it is interfaith as well. Each of the 25 council members will be appointed to one-year terms.

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