- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2001

The head of the White House faith-based initiative said yesterday he would resign his position, stating he had made good on a six-month commitment to help start one of President Bush's key social policies.
"The first 180 days were a vertical climb, and now [the faith-based initiative] has reached a plateau, at least in terms of what my 180-day plan set out to establish," Mr. DiIulio said in an interview yesterday. His resignation will take effect when a successor has been named.
"Now, everybody knows what faith-based is, or at least people have heard of it," Mr. DiIulio said. "We have a galvanized grass-roots, and we've been able to form one of the widest, most diverse coalitions of supporters."
Mr. DiIulio's unofficial announcement came the same day his Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives issued its mandated audit of how federal agencies treat small religious groups seeking welfare funding.
The report, "Unlevel Playing Field," argued that such groups have received little funding, even though the 1996 charitable choice law allowed it, because of regulatory obstacles and discrimination.
Besides Mr. DiIulio's January statement that his stay was limited, he also said the work has taken its toll on his family and health. The departure was discussed in White House circles for the past week or two.
"I'm not going to move my family down to Washington," said Mr. DiIulio, 43, a registered Democrat and self-described "born-again" Catholic who takes a 4 a.m. train from Philadelphia to the office. "I want to keep my family life in order and my health on track," he said, vowing to lose 60 pounds. He and his wife, Rosalee, have three children.
President Bush's hometown newspaper, the Austin American Statesman, reported his resignation in yesterday's editions.
Mr. DiIulio said that when a reporter called him on his cellular phone on the train home Thursday night, he didn't duck the question about his promise in January to limit his stay.
"I haven't lied in the six months I've been here, so I thought, 'Why do it any different now,'" he said. "It would have been announced very soon anyway."
Mr. DiIulio is the first high-ranking White House official to leave the administration.
"His resignation is not a surprise," said Stephen Lazarus of the Center for Public Justice, which has researched the charitable-choice policy since 1996. "Many of us knew from the beginning there was a short-term commitment [by Mr. DiIulio] to see the report through."
The White House also emphasized that Mr. DiIulio was only expected to last six months.
"Well, as you recall, when John DiIulio signed up for government service, he indicated publicly at the time that it was a six-month stint that he agreed to serve in the government," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
"The president will miss John DiIulio; we will all miss John DiIulio," Mr. Fleischer said. "John has done a wonderful job at launching the faith-based initiative."
"He is one of the nation's leading grass-roots activists in helping people who are in the midst of poverty. He's also one of the nation's leading intellectual heavyweights in thinking about ways to fight poverty. So he's the perfect combination and served the faith-based initiative well," he added.
In January, Mr. DiIulio — who had just opened the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society at the University of Pennsylvania — was tapped by Mr. Bush to head the White House office.
"I thought it was remarkable when the president persuaded him to head the office," said Stephen Goldsmith, who had that task for a few days after being Mr. Bush's chief domestic policy adviser in the campaign. "I thought John would be better than I would."
Mr. Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis, is chairman of the board of the Corporation for National Service and AmeriCorps and heads Harvard's "Innovation in Government" program.
He said he is not interested in the White House post, which he said may become a different kind of job now that the first report is out and the House has passed a bill that expands charitable choice.
"Now it's time to start doing projects on the ground," Mr. Goldsmith said. "We have resources to do that, but the White House office doesn't. What John wanted to do is do projects."
Mr. DiIulio agrees that the initiative, which still faces the hurdle of passing the Senate, now has different challenges.
"The next chapter requires a different portfolio of talents, skill, eccentricities, and there are several possible ways that can happen," he said. He said by next week a transition process would be in place.
Mr. Fleischer refused to speculate on who a successor might be or when he would be named. Mr. Dilulio will "stay on board" until the transition is completed, the White House spokesman said.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and the key to passing Senate legislation, yesterday lauded Mr. DiIulio's contribution. "John brought great leadership, character, graciousness and faith to the office," he said. "I look forward to working with John's successor and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to finish the job John so ably started."
Given the fractious setting of an often partisan debate on government funding, religion, discrimination and social problems, Mr. DiIulio said negative spins are likely to be put on his departure.
Some will say "the thing is falling apart" because he was a link to Senate Democrats, or that he couldn't take the political heat "so he got out of the kitchen," he said.
Joseph Curl contributed to this report from Crawford, Texas.


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