FAITH-BASED VACUUM…Less noticed during all the comings and goings over at the White House this week was the resignation of Jim Towey, who has run the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for the past five years. Towey is a good man–he is perhaps one of the only people in government, Democrat or Republican, who passionately cares about the fact that there are very few ways to track whether programs that receive federal funds actually accomplish anything, making it impossible to tell whether an organization like Head Start, for instance, is meeting the educational goals set out for it or whether faith-based programs are as effective as secular ones.

But Towey also chose to mouth the Bush administration’s fiction that government discriminated against faith-based groups until George W. Bush came to save them. And he stayed in his position long after it was clear to most observers that the faith-based office was little more than a political showpiece for the White House. On that score, it may turn out to be very difficult to replace him.

The first director of the faith-based office, John DiIulio, left after just six months in the position and later blasted the White House for using the office as a political tool. DiIulio’s deputy, David Kuo, said much the same thing after he left the office. It took Bush six months to find someone willing to fill the position after DiIulio left, and when Towey accepted the job, it was in February of 2002, too early to know for sure (although surely early enough to guess) that the entire operation was a religious PR stunt. Now, with even the most loyal congressional supporters of the faith-based initiative calling the effort a sham, it will be nearly impossible for the president to find a Democrat willing to take the job.

And that’s a problem for the White House. At the White House’s faith-based conference in March, Bush and a handful of cabinet members received polite applause from the (mostly minority) crowd, but Towey got boisterous cheers. He has been one of the only factors keeping those religious supporters in Bush’s camp. His depature shifts focus to the White House’s actual faith-based accomplishments, which are few and far between.

P.S. That record gets worse as Bush threatens to eliminate part of Americorp–one of the original community initiatives–because it has supposedly been deemed “ineffective.” Much better to shift the money to a faith-based program that will never be examined for efficacy. Or, more likely, to funnel those funds into a tax cut and do away with pesky social spending altogether.

Amy Sullivan

Amy Sullivan is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about religion, politics, and culture as a senior editor for Time, National Journal, and Yahoo. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2004 to 2006.