Major Progress on Council Recommendations
President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships issued its first annual report in March 2010. Since that time, important progress has been made on a number of the Council’s recommendations. Here are just a few highlights of the ongoing work to implement many of the recommendations made by the Council.
- In direct response to the Council’s recommendations on increasing the capacity of the U.S. Government to engage religious actors in international affairs, the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP) has launched the Interagency Working Group on Religion and Global Affairs (RGA). The RGA is co-chaired by the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the National Security Staff. We have over 12 agencies participating in this working group. The first project of the RGA is to work with Agencies to undertake a comprehensive review of how they engage religious and community leaders in international affairs. (Inter-Religious Recommendation 1)
- The Council’s taskforce made strong recommendations on scaling up interfaith and community service initiatives. In response to these recommendations, on June 7th the White House hosted a convening of 120 college Presidents, chaplains, religion professors and student service groups to discuss scaling interfaith and community service on college and university campuses. Leaders joined from across the country and from a broad spectrum of religious and non-religious backgrounds. In addition, at the National Conference on Volunteerism and Service the OFBNP announced a new interfaith service pilot with the Corporation for National and Community Service to host long-term interfaith service projects in select cities across the country. (Inter-Religious Recommendations 4 and 5)
- The OFBNP Center at the U.S. Agency for International Development hosted a forum with 33 members of the Indian American community, directly responsive to Inter-Religious Recommendations 9 and 10. The dialogue was part of a day-long session aimed at enhancing partnerships between USAID and the Indian Diaspora in development efforts in India. Other Agency Centers are planning similar events to help Agency connect with Diaspora communities and religious minorities.
- Many of the Council’s fatherhood recommendations are in process or completed. Directly responsive to Recommendations 2 and 3, on June 21st the President delivered a major speech on responsible fatherhood and outlined his plans for a new, nationwide Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative.
- In response to Recommendation 5, the President highlighted his budget proposal for the Fatherhood, Marriage and Family Innovation Fund, requesting that Congress provide $500 million to support fatherhood and family strengthening programming. In addition, he also announced that the Department of Justice would work to support and strengthen the fathering court model, a program highlighted in the Council Report. Lastly, the President described how the Department of Labor would be providing funding for fatherhood programming through programs to support job training for non-custodial fathers.
- In addition, the OFBNP has held strategic convenings to connect fatherhood groups to other sectors, from women’s organizations to Latino groups. (Fatherhood Recommendation 1)
- In response to Recommendation 7, the Administration has made the Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative available in both English and Spanish. We are also working to make information available on Fatherhood.gov in Spanish, as well.
- At the Council presentation in March, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah promised the Council that he would carefully consider and follow-up on the Council’s recommendations for strengthening partnerships between PVOs and the US Government in international development. Many of those recommendations are being integrated into the strategic plan for the Agency. The OFBNP’s Center at USAID is taking the lead in an internal working group on better coordinating strategic engagement with non-profit organizations. (Global Poverty Recommendations 1 and 2)
- Administrator Shah has made procurement reform one of his top priorities. Central to this effort is Dr. Shah’s conviction, shared by the Taskforce, that USAID needs to emphasize local engagement and local capacity-building. The framework for the procurement reform was presented on Friday, June 4th, at InterAction’s annual forum. (Global Poverty Recommendation 3, 4 and 6)
- Members of the Taskforce and of the broader NGO community have been consistently asked for their guidance and participation in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review process being co-chaired by the State Department and USAID. US PVO representatives have been invited to roundtables with the Administrator and a series of meetings with relevant staff on many of the details of this policy process. In fact, on June 2nd Administrator Shah gave a landmark address on his vision for USAID at the InterAction conference in Washington, where many members of the Taskforce were present. He said he felt like he was ‘at a family reunion’ and that USAID and the NGO community must work in close partnership to achieve optimal development outcomes. (Global Poverty Recommendation 2)
- The OFBNP has held multiple meetings with the broader Domestic Policy Council and the White House Counsel’s Office and determined that there is agreement to move forward on many of the Council’s Reform recommendations. The White House Counsel’s Office then convened a working group of legal counsels from across federal agencies to create a plan for implementing these recommendations. This work is proceeding. (Reform Recommendations 4-12)
- The OFBNP has convened stakeholder meetings with experts on capacity building and technical assistance for non-profit organizations. We are using that input to shape an ongoing government -wide assessment of how the United States government supports nonprofits through capacity building and technical assistance, with the intent to streamline efforts and make them more impactful for the needs of local organizations. A major strategic dialogue with outside groups was held in April. (Reform Recommendation 1)
- Our Office is working with a number of cross agency efforts, including work at HHS and at the White House Office of Management and Budget to advance the government’s efforts to promote multi-benefit access sites and technologies, and streamline government efforts to provide income-enhancing benefits to those who are eligible. The Department of Health and Human Services just announced Social Services and Income Maintenance Benefits Enrollment Coordination Grants to support benefits enrollment outreach and assistance. In addition, we have hosted multiple planning sessions with the Office of Management and Budget and a dialogue with foundations on benefit access in New York on June 15th. (Domestic Poverty Recommendation 6)
- On June 1st the White House held an unprecedented convening of over 100 anti-poverty and social service experts to plan stronger partnerships between faith-based and community groups and government to combat poverty. This event was inspired by the Council recommendations to convene such a gathering. (Recommendation 1) Senior Administration officials, including Valarie Jarrett, and policy experts addressed the group about the Administration’s ongoing work to lift up communities facing economic challenges. The event also featured a panel discussion of model practices on Benefits Access, one of the areas of focus of this Taskforce’s work. Model programs, such as the Benefit Bank, Single Stop, and EarnBenefits were highlighted to the group convened. (Domestic Poverty Recommendation 7)
- The White House is hosting a strategic planning conference on the greening of non-profit buildings. In addition, the OFBNP is working with Administrator Lisa Jackson and her staff at the EPA on increasing EPA’s capacity for engagement with faith- and community-based organizations on shared priorities such as greening congregations and non-profit buildings. We have specifically connected to EPA’s Energy Star Congregations initiative and are building out from this initiative to other areas. (Environment Recommendations 1 and 5)
- The recommendation on engaging faith communities in urban gardening and promoting local sustainable agriculture is moving forward through the First Lady’s Office’s Let’s Move! initiative. Many of our Center staff worked diligently to include these issues in a toolkit created for faith and community based organizations to implement the Let’s Move initiative. (Environment Recommendation 6)
Mara Vanderslice is Deputy Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships