Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

How Firm a Foundation? Comparing the Bush and Obama Faith-Based Initiatives

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

How Firm a Foundation? Comparing the Bush and Obama Faith-Based Initiatives

Article excerpt

Introduction

When President Barack Obama issued an executive order in February 2009 establishing a new faith-based initiative, he was renewing and slightly revising a policy initiative that was originally established under President G.W. Bush. Initially, the Obama Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships initiative (FBNP) largely followed the thrust of the Bush Faith-Based and Community Initiative (FBCI), with what appeared to be only minor differences. However, in the second year of the Obama administration, the FBNP was poised to take on a very different set of foci with the potential to establish a significantly redefined faith-based initiative, and to incorporate the faith community in a new round of partnerships with the federal government. This possibility emerged from a set of far reaching recommendations by the Advisory Council established by President Obama to study ways of improving and strengthening partnerships between government and faith-based and community organizations. The recommendations of the Advisory Council promised to substantially redirect the core thrust of what had been some groundbreaking dimensions of the FBCI. What one president had established by administrative fiat, another was poised to substantially alter by similar fiat. While the Obama FBNP reflected the continuing appeal of the idea of formally incorporating the faith community in partnership with the federal government, it also suggested that the evolution of these partnerships would move far beyond the original notions of the Bush FBCI of incorporating local congregations and small, faith-based organizations in government efforts to aid the poor and needy. The comparison of the two initiatives illuminates the limits of change that may accrue to administrative policymaking, and the vulnerability of presidential preferences when anchored in the sub-optimized use of executive orders.

Policymaking and Public Management via Executive Orders

Executive orders are a particularly unique means of presidential policymaking and stand in sharp contrast to conventional legislative statutes. Conventional legislative statutes are passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. Although the President may play a highly influential role in the conventional legislative process, he is nonetheless a partner in that process. In contrast, executive orders constitute unilateral action by the president, in the absence of a tangible congressional role. Indeed, executive orders are frequently last-resort administrative measures utilized in efforts to circumvent congressional opposition or disinterest. Sometimes they are simply occasions for the assertion of presidential power, and presidential policy preferences. In all cases, executive orders constitute a seizure of political possibilities. With executive orders, presidents choose which policies to enact and the mode of their enactment. This "policymaking by other means" has been on the rise in recent decades. Analysts have found that presidents have issued executive orders at a frequency of about one per month over the past several decades. Mayer concludes that "Presidents turn to executive orders as a governing and policy tool when they need administrative flexibility and agenda control" and that "presidents issued more executive orders when they had congressional majorities and fewer when the opposition party was in control" (Mayer 2001). In the use of executive orders, presidents are able to exercise "power without persuasion." Executive orders carry the full force of law, and with them presidents "create or modify laws, procedures, and policy by fiat" (Mayer 2001).

In terms of their execution, executive orders primarily require action by the executive branch. However within the context of federalism, executive orders can serve as formal mandates for state and local governments and can incorporate non-governmental organizations into policy processes as well (Mayer 2001; Cooper 2002; Howell 2001). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.