'The Initiative Is Working'

Jim Towey, Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives director, discusses putting "compassionate conservatism" into action.

Reprinted with permission from The Dallas Morning News


Jim Towey prides himself on his bipartisanship.

A self-styled "pro-life Democrat," he runs the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, President Bush's program to provide federal dollars for social services through private groups affiliated with churches and other "faith-based" institutions.

Previously, he worked for Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon, a Republican, and Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat.

One of the challenges he faces, he said, is putting Mr. Bush's philosophy of "compassionate conservatism" into action while avoiding the partisan battles that doom so many initiatives in Washington. He said he shares the president's belief that grassroots efforts can be more effective than big government in delivering services to the needy. And, he added, Mr. Bush has proven early critics of the faith-based approach wrong.


Mr. Towey, who has been on the job for 30 months, formerly ran Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit organization that helps families plan the care of members in their later years.

A Catholic and a lawyer, he served as counsel to Mother Teresa for 12 years. In 1990, he lived as a volunteer in a home she ran for AIDS patients in Washington.


Mr. Towey spoke with [Dallas Morning News] Staff Writer Ira J. Hadnot this week, while representatives from his office were meeting in Irving with local nonprofits interested in learning more about faith-based grants. Here are excerpts:


Question: The faith-based effort was a cornerstone of the Bush campaign in 2000, but it's barely been mentioned this time around. Why?

Answer: That may be the perception, but President Bush has talked about this at a number of events. The war and the economy have been his main focus. The initiative is working, and that is why he doesn't have to keep pushing it.

Question: How do you respond to critics who say that with the end of the welfare state, churches cannot be the safety net for social services?

Answer: The critics owe President Bush an apology. That was their expectation, but it did not happen. There never was a transfer of federal responsibility. There was a more effective use of federal resources.

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Ira J. Hadnot
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