The faith-based initiative is making important progress to promote a level playing field so that faith-based organizations and smaller organizations (whether secular or religious) have a fair opportunity to obtain federal funds, whether the federally funded programs are operated by federal, state, or local agencies. The progress has not been well reported, given the media's focus on heated battles in Congress and the reported frustrations of some former officials. And, in fact, much more remains to be accomplished, including bending more of government agencies' practice into line with the principles of the faith-based initiative.
Nevertheless, much has been done and many changes have been set in motion. It should not be a surprise that progress is not very visible when the focus is on how many additional faith-based organizations are receiving federal dollars. Changed government practice always lags changed government rules. Faith-based (and other) organizations that in the past ignored federal funding because of secularizing conditions or complicated application procedures will only slowly change their attitudes and behavior--they need time to decide whether the changes are genuine, adequate, and lasting, and then time to modify their own processes to match government requirements. And, of course, no matter how hospitable government programs become to faith-based and grassroots organizations, many of those organizations will always have good theological, programmatic, or policy reasons not to seek government support.
The best measure for the success of the faith-based initiative is not the volume of government money flowing to faith-based organizations but rather how well protected is the integrity and religious character of faith-based organizations if they accept government money.
A central effort of the faith-based initiative is to re-engineer government procurement of social services—to revise the rules that apply when officials use grants, contracts, or vouchers to obtain services for the needy from private organizations.Changing overly restrictive church/state rules is one key goal; simplifying procedures and providing better technical assistance to smaller and less experienced applicants is another emphasis. Other important goals include increasing private support for small and faith-based organizations and piloting new government programs that draw on the particular strengths of neighborhood and religious organizations. For more details, read on below.