WEST BABYLON, N.Y., Sept. 28 (RNS)--For 20 years, beginning at age 14, Barry Baugh was a drug addict.

"Every day of my life I got high," said Baugh, 49, a former semi-probasketball player who lives on Long Island. "I started with pot. Fromthere it escalated to pills, to acid, and then to cocaine."

He spent five years in jail on drug charges. Released in 1989, hefinally kicked his habit, he says, through Teen Challenge, a worldwideresidential program that claims to cure addiction solely through thepower of Jesus Christ. Today, Baugh is director of outreach for theorganization's Long Island chapter.

"Teen Challenge brought me to a personal relationship with Jesus.That's how I got free from drugs," Baugh said.

Teen Challenge, founded in 1958 by the Rev. David Wilkerson, pastorof the evangelical Times Square Church and author of "The Cross and theSwitchblade," claims to be the oldest, largest and most successful anti-drugprogram in the world.

It is indeed a huge operation. According to the organization'snational office in Springfield, Mo., Teen Challenge has 300 centersworldwide, of which 130 are in the United States. Unlike organizationssuch as Phoenix House, Teen Challenge receives no public funding.

But both Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush and hisDemocratic opponent Al Gore, want to change all that and have voicedsupport for the expanded use of giving federal funds to faith-basedsocial service agencies. Gore, however, has been more general and lessspecific in his endorsement of what is also known as charitable choice.

With a claimed 86 percent success rate, Teen Challenge illustratesthe potential benefits of faith-based programs. But a lack of oversightand public accountablility have raised questions in some minds about howtruly effective these programs are.

Bush, far more enthusiastically than Gore, proposes "faith-based"charities, not the government, as the solution to the downtrodden anddrug-and-alcohol addicted. Bush believes these programs to be moreeffective than those the government runs and he says he wants to expandtheir reach.

The government, he said during his nomination acceptance speech inPhiladelphia, "can feed the body, but it cannot reach the soul." To helpthe needy, he says, the government should first turn to "FBOs."

And he often cites Teen Challenge as a prototype.

"We need to have mentoring programs energized by government, paidfor by government, but who exist not because of government. TeenChallenge is a way to get people off drugs and alcohol. Teen Challengeis a faith-based program that changes people's hearts," Bush told anaudience in Georgia in March.

He thinks the government should fund "FBOs," and he says he will setup an "Office of Faith-Based Action."

"Faith-based" is a vague term, and it can refer to anything fromCatholic Charities or The Jewish Board of Family Services--professional organizations that receive public funding and are thereforesubject to state and federal regulations--right down to your localautonomous storefront church that claims to cure drug addicts solelythrough Jesus.

It is of course the mostly evangelical variety that Bush isreferring to when he talks about "faith-based." And Teen Challenge isthe shiniest example.

Teen Challenge first caught Bush's attention in 1995 when Texas'state regulatory agency threatened to close down a local chapter forvarious violations. Bush as governor not only took Teen Challenge'sside, but even sponsored laws exempting faith-based drug programs fromstate regulations that apply to their secular counterparts.

Bush wants to do something similar on the national level. But hedoes not address the issue of oversight. Of the 130 Teen Challengecenters in the United States, only 14 elected to join the WashingtonD.C-based Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a sort ofConsumers Union for evangelical charities.

Long Island Teen Challenge is not among those 14. Executive directorJimmy Jack did not respond to repeated requests for information aboutthe chapter's finances or success rates.

"This isn't our priority," said Deborah Valentine, an administrativeassistant at the West Babylon Long Island office, when asked why Jack did not returncalls. Jack, she said, was too busy ministering to desperate people.

"Each Teen Challenge center is semi-autonomous," David Scotch,accreditation and curriculum coordinator at the Teen Challenge nationaloffice, said in a recent phone interview.

Each center, he said, raises its own funds. Still, Scotch said, eachof the 130 chapters must file monthly financial reports to the nationaloffice, as well as an annual outside audit.

Last year, he said, the U.S. centers together raised approximately$50 million. Scotch said he visits each center every four years. Centersthat do not comply with all the standards set by the national officelose their Teen Challenge accreditation, as happened at one centerduring this past year. He would not identify the center.